An Interview with Dylan Marron

May 28, 2020

As a writer, podcast creator and empathizer, Dylan Marron has extensive experience having difficult conversations with people of differing perspectives. At a time when this skill is vital to the fight for racial justice, we sat down with Dylan to hear his perspective on the steps to creating lasting change.

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On Air Fest:
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, you launched a new podcast called Small Triumphs, Big Speech described as “everyday tasks celebrated with epic over-the-top speeches.” Why do you think it’s important to celebrate the little things these days?

Dylan Marron:
Everything feels so big these days. And of course it should. When coronavirus shut everything down, so many of us were wondering “what can I do???” — the same question that we are asking now that systemic racism has, for the countless time, reared its head on the national stage. The problem is that the answer to that question “what can I do???” always starts out way too big. I’ll become a nurse and join the front lines! I’ll volunteer 7 days a week for 15 hours a day! I’ll call all my friends and fix racism! These are all well intentioned, but they lead to burnout. The truth is that getting through these moments requires millions of tiny steps over and over and over again. We have to be kind to ourselves for achieving those small things. Yes, on some days getting out of bed is a triumph worth celebrating.

OAF:
A big part of your drive to launch this project has been that it doubles as a fundraiser for the National Domestic Workers Alliance and The Bail Project. Thank you for this work! Would love to hear in your words why these causes feel particularly urgent.

DM:
Yes! These were two organizations who I found were addressing the problem in ways that I wanted to support. The NDWA was tackling coronavirus by addressing how the virus and its aftershocks intersect with race and class. And while there are many incredible bail funds to donate to, The Bail Project, in addition to directly paying people’s bail, has a compelling program that walks its clients through the pretrial process. I found that to be the most hands-on program I researched.

OAF:
In your other podcast Conversations with People Who Hate Me you get on the phone with people who’ve fought each other online and facilitate dialogues between them. Since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a lot of White and non-Black people have started to open up conversations with their families about race and racism. What would you say to someone who is hoping to change (or at least engage) another person’s deeply held perspectives?

DM:
Oof. I’m literally writing a book on this so I’ll keep this brief. Don’t expect to change someone’s mind in the course of one conversation. This is a fantasy in your head from media and tweets that tell you what to do in all caps. Instead, all you can hope to do is plant a seed. Then, over time, you can keep watering that seed.

OAF:
A lot of your work revolves around being an empathetic listener to other people’s experiences. Here’s a two part question... What is the importance of listening? And how does one become a more empathetic listener?

DM:
Listening is what grounds us to something bigger than ourselves. It’s a way of quietly and intentionally taking in the world through others experiences. Doing it over and over again helps. But another thing that helps me, especially in difficult conversations, is seeing the person who I’m in conversation with as a product of their circumstances and choices. It’s my job to find out what those are. When you do this, empathy is a natural byproduct. You also have to conserve your energy. One-on-One Empathy For Everyone is an unrealistic goal that will burn you out. Who deserves your ear? Who are you curious to learn more about? Start from there.

OAF:
I was reading through your Twitter feed to prepare for this interview, and came upon this tweet you wrote:
"The only 'correct' way to protest is to have done it in the past. People who love Rosa Parks today would have hated her in her time. In the future those same people will demand that protesters be more like the ones from 2020. Keep going."
Agreed that our country is skilled at selective amnesia where it services white supremacy. How do you hope the next generation remembers today’s protests?

DM:
I hope that people catch up, so that rather than only liking protests in the past, they see these protests as the necessary step in the fight for racial justice.

OAF:
The reminder to keep going feels important to reiterate. What keeps you going?

DM:
The fact that change does happen. Slowly. Very slowly. And not because of One Big Thing but because of many little things. What can I do today? Or better yet, what can I do today that I can build on tomorrow and then again the day after that? That’s what keeps me going.

OAF:
Thank you so much for what you bring to the podcast medium, to conversation and to this moment in audio culture. We appreciate you!

"Listening is what grounds us to something bigger than ourselves."

Dylan Marron