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Same Same Different: Read The Room

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illustration of a man and woman talking with chat bubbles around them
Stephanie Rodriguez for Michigan Radio

How do you decide when it’s the right time to say something or stay silent?

Reading the room can be a constant and daunting task for people who find themselves dealing with “otherness.”

Someone says something you find offensive either directly to you — or maybe to someone else around you. Do you speak up or let it go?

Austin Channing Brown is black. She’s a writer (author of I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness) and speaker. She’s also a mother, daughter, wife. She says she’s moved in and out of otherness — even feeling like she’s not quite black enough for black folks at times.

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As a writer, one can imagine that Brown’s words or opinions aren’t always going to please everyone. So how does she respond when someone says something that offends her?

Well... she says that depends.

“So I'm a writer and speaker, so how I respond on, say Twitter, is often different from how I respond in person,” Brown said. “But I've also found that how far folks are willing to go to push me or to offend me is different based on whether or not this is in person or on social media.”

Sydney Harcourt is mixed — black, white and Cherokee. He’s an artist, son, husband.

Harcourt is also a musician and actor in New York who’s used to being one of the only multi-racial performers in the room.

(Excuse us while we geek out for a moment: he was also in the original cast of "Hamilton"!)

Harcourt says people make a lot of assumptions about him when it comes to his race.

Arabs “think I'm Arabic. Dominicans think I'm Dominican. Puerto Ricans think I'm Puerto Rican. And until I open my mouth, that's when people start, like, either asking questions or making assumptions,” he said. “Oh, well then where are you from? Oh, you're from Detroit. So you're black.”

How does Harcourt read the room to decide whether or not he should clap back at things that may offend him? He says he likes to take a quiet approach and prove it on the stage.

“In entertainment — especially here in the New York Broadway community — it became apparent very early on in the early days of Facebook, do not post your personal opinions about things because people will paste and copy them,” he said. “They'll be put on these things, producers will read them, and then people have these, you know, this ammunition about like, well actually he said this and it sounds like he's going to be trouble, so let's not go there.”

Reading the room is not something everyone has to be aware of. But for many “others,” the task is always present. But, as Brown notes, having a dialogue about the topic is pretty important.

“I think if we just had more conversations like this, and I think this is one of the maybe few good things about social media is that it allows all of us who are 'different' to find one another and to realize we're actually not the only ones who are maybe not as isolated as we feel in our daily lives,” she said.

Listen to host Bryce Huffman’s full conversation with Syndey and Austin in episode 1 of Same Same Differentfrom Michigan Radio on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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About the artist: Stephanie Rodriguez is a Bronx-born comic book artist and illustrator. She graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 2011 with a BFA in Illustration. Stephanie creates illustrations and self-published comics depicting the highs and lows of everyday life. She takes on various topics like heartbreak, slut-shaming, and anxiety. Stephanie's work has been featured on BuzzFeed, Remezcla and Vayner Media. Her debut young adult graphic novel is set to publish in Spring 2020 by Kokila an imprint of Penguin Random House. Website | Instagram | Twitter

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Paulette is a digital media reporter and producer for Michigan Public. She started as a newsroom intern at the station in 2014 and has taken on various roles in that time, including filling in as an on-air host.