Was your gender a factor in your ability to build trust with the disputants?


Silke Hansen


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
Going in a very different direction now, let's talk a little bit about how you build trust with the people you are working with. One of the things that I am especially interested in is that you are a white woman.

Answer:
You noticed.

Question:
I did. But the people reading your interview won't know.

Answer:
Quick story: I belong to a church out in Montebello which is predominately African American; I am not the only white, but I am the exception rather than the rule. Anyway, our minister out there is African American as well, and he was preaching about race relations one Sunday the idea that color really doesn't matter, and how we ought to get along with everyone, and how inclusiveness is part of what we pride ourselves on in that church. And that's true. And he said, "You know, sometimes I forget that Silke is white," and I said, "Well, don't worry about it. Sometimes I forget, too." So it depends on the setting, it depends on who I'm talking to. Early on in some cases, I'll say, "Look, I understand that I am a white woman who used to live in New York. What do I know? So help me understand. What do I need to know to be able to work here? I don't try to pretend that I know what you are going through because I don't. Even if I do, I am not going to say that I know, because I recognize that I need to learn from you." And, most people appreciate talking to someone who doesn't think they have all of the answers. And again, I do a lot of listening. Time is no object. Those first few trips I schedule very few meetings, because I want people to have as much time as they need to tell me everything that they think I need to know. If they get angry, that is fine. If it takes a long time, that's fine. And if you want to beat up on the government, that is fine too. You know, I have broad shoulders I can take it. I also try to be very clear about what I can and can't do so that people don't have false expectations, and I think for the most part they appreciate that. "Now, here is what I can do and here is what I can't do." The other thing that I have found is that in many cases and particularly in some of these grassroots communities people just appreciate you returning their calls, not dismissing them, just acknowledging and validating their concerns. Even if I can't change the racism that prevails in a particular area, it doesn't take terribly long to have that common human denominator and get past the "Well you are white and I am not" or "You're Indian or you're black or your Hispanic or whatever, and I am not" phase.






Silke Hansen


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
What about the gender issues? You mentioned Jim coming in and being so effective. I am wondering if he was able to get across the message more effectively because he was male versus being a female?

Answer:
Well first of all, the message he was bringing across was supposed to come from a parent council and I wasn't part of the parent council, and so I wasn't even at that meeting. I just heard about it from police afterwards and how astounded they were. There is no question that he was probably the strongest participant from the white community. At the same time, the strongest leader from the black community was a woman. Sarah was her name, and she had been involved in civil rights in North Carolina, I believe. Early on, as we were sort of getting to know each other, she talked about some of her experiences there. One of the concerns that this council had was that, "There are so few of us, what can we really do?" and she was saying, "You know, Jesus Christ only had 12 disciples and look what he did! We've got 12 people here so we can do a whole lot in this place!" And so, she was great and she sort of became the mentor. Jim was a strong leader because he believed this situation wasn't right, but she was the one who had the experience. She was the one who could talk about her own history in this kind of a situation. So people looked to her for sort of some of the moral leadership in this. They made a remarkable team.




Silke Hansen


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

The other challenging thing was that almost everybody at the table on both sides were men, and here I was, a woman, taking charge of the process. But I did it, and it was fascinating, just because of the dynamics of what was going on, some of the interactions among parties.





Bob Ensley


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

don't be seen consorting with the ladies. That's something that you cannot do in this business and maintain any credibility. In any type of business you cannot consort with women that you meet. You know, during the struggle, most people stay at hotels or motels and some of the things that I've seen over the years have destroyed a lot of people's credibility and reputation. Sometimes they will try you. A group in Mississippi sent two of the most beautiful women to my motel in Memphis. I mean, they were gorgeous ladies. I was in the dining room and I saw them. I had my dinner and I went back to my room, and about an hour later somebody knocked on my window and said, "Mister, do you have any battery cables?" I said, "Yes, but just give me a chance to put a shirt on." So I went out and they said, "Well, we know you're there by yourself and we just thought you needed some company. You know, we're here alone too......." so they'll set you up. Another thing: don't be pretentious and dress like they do. Never be pretentious and again, let them do the talking and you listen and you take notes. After it's all over you say, "Well, I sure thank you because without that information I don't know which direction I would be able to go.





Silke Hansen


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Red Cross had a couple women there, so I wasn't the only woman in the room. And so, even though they were all sort of the white establishment, if you will, they were not one party. They were different entities. And so for those three days, all of them were there.





Angel Alderete


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
What about gender, specifically? Did that ever impact your mediations?

Answer:
Working with Native Americans, the female never really gets into it, except in the background leadership and in offering sage advice. They're never put out front; that spot's reserved for the macho, male Native American. With Latinos, back in the sixties, it was essentially the same way. But always a Latina is the smarter one. I view it that way. Well, not necessarily the smarter one, I guess, but the more emotionally secure one. She didn't have to run around, dancing and jumping up and down. She just offered the advice and in her own way got the guy to agree that maybe this is the approach he ought to take. It's been essentially the same in mediations that I've been involved in where the men have been involved. But again, I sense that the ones who actually brought most of the situations to the floor have been the females. Also the toning for discussion has been on the part of the women. Although I like Latinas and Asians and whites, the African Americans, as I've seen them, can be very assertive, very aggressive, and like I said, unlike the other folks, they present themselves extremely well and can be very intimidating to other people involved.

Question:
Did that help or hurt?

Answer:
You know, I never was confronted, although I was very concerned sometimes that I might be. What do you do? But I was never confronted in a mediation situation like that, nor in preparing for it, except where I was asked, "Why isn't there an African American here to mediate?" When we responded to things out in the street -- like the Los Angeles riots, that kind of thing -- then you were confronted with some very angry, assertive, and aggressive females. But they come short of violence as compared to other males, and not just African American males. Many times, in our discussions amongst ourselves, we discussed how we wished that all the other people were as aggressive and assertive and as intimidating and as angry as the African American women, because then you wouldn't have to worry about bringing officials in to be willing to listen. Again, that's our small group's view -- it's not necessarily everybody's view.







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