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Do you hear what I hear: Morgantown activists launch listening project for racial understanding

When’s the last time you really listened to what someone had to say?

You know: Really listened.

In an actual conversation, about a serious, societal issue — in an exchange that didn’t involve a touchpad or emojis as punctuation marks.

How’d it go?

Or did you simply bide your time — so you could say what you were going to, anyway?

You know: By not even listening, really, to the other view.

Wait — what did you just say?

Susan Eason and Eve Faulkes like to think every moment is a listenable, teaching moment of where we’ve been — and whether or not we’re still in the same place after all.

The two community organizers spend a lot of time thinking about the politics and particulars of pigment, and that’s been even more so during these upended days of Charlottesville, the Border Wall, George Floyd, and Driving While Black.  

Because they like to foster dialogue in their work across Morgantown and the region, Eason and Faulkes last month launched what they call the “Listening for Racial Understanding Project,” an effort they hope will achieve just that.

Morgantown’s First Presbyterian Church is helping fund their work with a grant.

With Morgantown being a college town, and thus a pocket of diversity in predominantly white West Virginia, Eason and Faulkes are bringing together residents of all backgrounds and ethnicities — again, not so much to talk, but to listen.

White people. Black people. Brown people. Indigenous people. The sessions are just getting started.

Participants are being paired up for active listening sessions — the kind that start not with a laundry list of “Where do you live?” or “What do you do for work?,” since those can be more about social status than communicative work of social change.

Same for the “Wouldn’t you agree?,” “Don’t you think?,” and “Am I right?” offerings.

Eason and Faulkes want to know the ways people are informed of race: What are your first memories of racism, if you were on the receiving end of it, as children?

What if you were the one tossing taunts and slurs on the playground? What do you remember most about that as you look back now?

Do you get your news only from preferred sources? Do you catch yourself “profiling” as a matter of course?

Is your contact with a person of color only through the workplace and nowhere else?

Are you ready to listen to an opinion — even if you don’t fundamentally agree, or weren’t “taught” that way?

An unclear view

These days, views about the serious, societal issues of race couldn’t be more in the news.

“The View,” in particular.

That’s the name of the ABC panel show whose co-host, Whoopi Goldberg, was suspended last week for saying she didn’t think the Holocaust was entirely about race and racism.

In context, she and her “The View” co-hosts were discussing the vote last month by a local school board in Tennessee to remove the World War II graphic novel “Maus,” by Art Spiegelman, from its eighth-grade language arts curriculum.

The McMinn County school officials cited profanity and nudity in the novel, which Spiegelman based on the Holocaust experiences of his parents in Poland.

Spiegelman depicted Jewish characters as mice and their Nazi persecutors as cats in the work, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

Goldberg, while musing on school board politics, was wondering how much of that scaffolding of prejudices and cruelty, which led to the slaughter is still being propped up today, nearly 80 years after those death camps were liberated and the Third Reich unraveled.  

For her, it was about the wrenching inhumanity of it all — though not necessarily, or not entirely, race — and how such inhumanity can continue to surge in the 21st century, with intolerances as old as they are new.   

There’s still that searing image of the camps and their doomed archeology, however.

In all, 6 million Jews perished in them.  

So did 6 million more people of other ethnicities, persuasions and religions.

All deemed inferior.  

Critics, and others simply concerned, wondered aloud if the television host had even listened to the history of Hitler and all that implied.

I hear you, Brother (and Sister)

In hopes of reaching as many people as possible, Eason and Faulkes are taking their efforts beyond the classes.

Sessions, for those participants who give their blessing, will be recorded during the course of the six-month project and turned into a production that will also feature local musicians. It will also be made available on YouTube.  

The idea, Eason and Faulkes say, is to stay dialed in to that frequency of listening, even after the funding is gone and the project is complete.

For more information, email Eason at Faulkes may be reached at

Henri Nouwen, the late Dutch priest whose ministry was built on community and social justice causes, called it a “form of spiritual hospitality.”

He was talking about that act of amazing grace, which comes from simply listening to one another.

The organizers of the “Listening for Racial Understanding Project” are all ears.

As Eason said, bringing people together to hear stories from the perspective of race can make for a lot of noise — of the joyful, meaningful kind.

“It can generate greater understanding, and much-needed compassion,” she said.

“And we are ready to get to work.”

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