Society in the United States has repeatedly silenced, erased, and positioned Black people as a threat. It has rendered invisible the experiences of many based on the all-encompassing centrality and assumed superiority of others. Truth telling is an approach grounded in creating public spaces to respond to the turmoil and trauma incurred by structural racism, systemic humiliation, and police violence–spaces in which people share their experiences of oppression, engage in critical analysis of systemic racism, and explore possibilities for individual and collective action. Truth telling, like peacemaking, is public pedagogy, a form of education that occurs in shared spaces. It is a dynamic project that engages speaker and listeners who share a commitment to liberatory practices.
Truth tellers are those who have been traditionally silenced and disenfranchised in response to state-sanctioned direct and indirect violence, yet who amplify their voices about their experiences with those who witness or hear the testimony. To become a witness means to learn how to listen with authenticity in order to hear what the truth teller is truly saying. In Western culture, this deep and respectful listening is a skill in need of cultivation, as it is not historically taught. To develop empathy, to develop the capacity to take multiple perspectives, and to feel–all in order to act–we must learn how to listen.
Learning begins when we allow the mind to find comfort in quiet, still awareness. We wait. We wait for understanding to reveal itself. We come together in a circle in the spirit of harmony instead of power, cooperation, and patience instead of competition, and privacy instead of control. Authentic, radical listening is a term that emerged in social and racial justice circles, and is called for in truth telling hearings. In this way, radical listening is like a prayer.