Responding to Attempts to Derail a Conversation Part 1: What is Derailment and What Does it Look Like?

Virtual #Thriver Walk
August 11, 2020
Responding to Attempts to Derail a Conversation Part 2: Strategies for Responding to Derailment
September 21, 2020

Responding to Attempts to Derail a Conversation Part 1: What is Derailment and What Does it Look Like?

As we continue to hold space for conversations about systemic racism, Black Lives Matter, and anti-oppression work, it is important for us to recognize derailment tactics and learn how to address them.

To derail, as defined by, is to “cause to fail or become deflected from a purpose.” When it comes to conversations related to social justice and oppression, derailing a conversation can look many different ways. Some common examples of derailment include talking about the challenges white people and/or people with privilege face, discussing “worse” problems, or questioning someone’s intentions in bringing up a certain topic or conversation. The emotional distance required to use racism as the foundation to initiate a separate conversation is in and of itself a privilege.

It is important to remember that difficult conversations are inherently connected to intense feelings -regardless of what perspectives someone has, what beliefs they hold, or what stance they take. These feelings can range from anger to frustration to disgust. You may feel physically exhausted, drained, or sick to your stomach during and/or after having these conversations. Because of this, self-care and assessments of safety are important aspects of participating in conversations around oppression and determining the best ways to address attempts to derail them. From in-person conversations to social media posts, we all sometimes struggle to “re-rail” a discussion.

Over the next few weeks, we will explore different ways to address attempts to derail a conversation by sharing some helpful tips and concrete examples of what they may sound and/or look like. It is important to keep these conversations going in order to inflict real change in our society and systems. These strategies will hopefully assist in continuing to facilitate productive conversations around difficult topics such as racism and oppression. Check out our blog post next week to see what they are!

This post is a guest blog by Sexual Assault Counselor/Advocate Chris Ware. This is the first in a series of blog discussions on the topic of derailing and refocusing conversations. 

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