Radical listening is a term that goes by various names, such as rhetorical listening and deep listening. But in all its labels and applications, as antiracist work it gets to the same thing: in order to have successful interactions across racial and cultural realities, people must learn to listen to one another. English professor Krista Ratcliffe defines it as a “code of cross-cultural conduct” signifying “a stance of openness that a person may assume in relation to any person text or culture” (17). As such, it is a crucial part of civil discourse in classrooms and all other spaces.
Redefining power relationships, building bridges, and doing social justice work requires good communication between parties and the willingness to be disturbed. Antiracist professors Diab, Terrel, and Godbee explain that listening closely to each other--without automatically articulating or continually focusing on one’s own view--is an important aspect of the willingness to be disturbed by narratives that are emotionally difficult to processes, perhaps because they have long been marginalized. “Through listening and reflective response,” however, “we can move from the realm of narrative as a personal account to narrative as collective, transpersonal, and resistive knowledge,” they write (24). Radical listening is crucial in the cross-cultural aspect of antiracist work.
According to the psychologists who founded NYU’s Radical Listening Project,
When the ability to repair breaks in connection are blocked, we find ourselves turning away from conflict or seeking to dominate by imposing our views on others and silencing them. Alternatively, we may submit by silencing our own voice and abandoning or dissociating ourselves from our own experience. When we feel that who we are has not been or cannot be recognized or heard or responded to with respect, the experience of being listened to becomes very powerful. To break impasses in relationship, we need a way of listening.
Truly listening to one another “re-positions” us all as learners (Winchell et al. 21) and increases opportunities for cross-experiential connection.
Diab, Rasha, et. al. “Making Commitments to Social Justice Actionable." Performing Antiracist Pedagogy in Rhetoric, Writing, and Communication, edited by Frankie Condon and Vershawn Ashanti Young, University of Colorado Press, 2017, pp. 19-40.
Ratcliffe, Krista. Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness. Southern Illinois University Press, 2005
Winchell, Melissa, et. al. “Teaching/Learning Radical Listening: Joe’s Legacy among Three Generations of Practitioners." Practicing Critical Pedagogy: The Influences of Joe Kincheloe, edited by Mary Frances Agnello and William Martin Reynolds, Springer International Publishing, 2016, pp. 99-112.
NYU Listening Project psychologists
Thomson, Kathryn, "The Radical Listening Project: Healing Social and Political Divides." YouTube, uploaded by TEDxJIBC, Jan. 8, 2020, https://youtu.be/wlDYBw6gzW4.