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slipping in the contact zone: falling from grace into growth

onewhowalks's picture

In her chapter, “’Slipping into Something More (Un)comfortable’: Untangling Identity, Unsettling Community,” Anne Dalke brings into focus the idea of “slipping.” Dalke presents this as unintentionally offending and hurting another group or person in a moment of uncensored words and actions. In the essay “Arts of the Contact Zone,” Mary Louise Pratt also speaks to how different cultures interact, and then applying a pedagogical view of learning through hearing the experiences and feelings of others in intersectional spaces.

            I interpret slipping as a moment in which a person or group forgets their intentions of being conscious of their privileges or the offense they could cause to others and allows their internalized biases, prejudices, and stereotypes emerge into the public sphere. Slipping implies that there is attempt at confronting, covering, or censoring the ways in which a person was socialized to think. Slipping reveals the fight between the subconsciously internalized and the active conscious.

 Slipping, through my definition, can only exist
            a) in places where people raised in different environments and with different identities intersect and interact and

            b) with people/cultures who are striving to interact pleasantly with people raised in different environments and with different identities.

In situations where each party is clinging to their own views and pushes out the possibility for other experiences and opinions, there is no slipping because there is no recognition of feelings and people outside of the ones that exist within one person’s mind and comfort level.

There is, in my reading, a negative connotation to the word “slipping.” It implies messing up, tripping, losing one’s hold on something that was desired to hang on to.  There’s also movement inherent in the word “to slip.” One must slip from something, which implies that there are multiple levels to move around on. The higher is the one we strive for, one that is politically correct in all relevant ways and allows us to move through the world without offending anyone. But that doesn’t mean that the lower level ceases to exist, the layer built before we thought to question it. This is the media we were exposed to, the conversations with the next door neighbors, all the ways our parents acted. This socialization isn’t always bad, but the world I grew up in was very discriminatory, and left me with plenty of instinctual thoughts that I can recognize and confront now but still lurk in that subconscious level. In the common American idiomatic form, a person “slips up.” But there’s a grounding that occurs soon after; what goes up must come down.  When one is able to “escape or get loose from” the fatiguing act of questioning every instinct, confronting every personal thought and question, there’s a feeling of freedom, I suppose. But there is also the crash down, a realization that not every sentence is a paradigm of political correctness.  It re-alerts the slipping person to the reality they live in, that not every person or group in their life is the same as them, and that the discrimination that exists is still personal and hurtful.

There is no opportunity for slippage in communities where there is no exposure to an “other” and no alternative mode of thinking. Interpreting Pratt’s concept of the contact zone, “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power,” (page 34) through the lens of slipping adds a heightened layer of autonomy and consciousness to the concept of contact zones. Contact zones could exist unintentionally, but contact zones in which there is slippage suggests both a recognition of the other culture and an attempt towards the pleasant interaction that I mentioned earlier.  Slipping opens up the opportunity for education, which is why slipping is powerful in the context of a contact zone. It is valuable in that it exposes the realities of the impact our environments have on us and our beliefs, even in the people who are most conscious and active in their attempts to be progressive or open-minded. If those little thoughts, little assumptions, little slips aren’t exposed, no conversations are able to begin. Without recognizing and addressing the reality of the polarities we are socialized into, we cannot speak of them because we are still denying their existence. In addressing that the world we live in was and continues to be disparate and painful for marginalized societies, we can begin to speak of the ways in which we can change it, or at least exist fruitfully and peacefully within it.

I believe, through the lenses of Dalke and Pratt, that slipping is a good thing in this moment. It shows a consciousness and the beginnings of questioning who we are and how our environments and experiences shape the way we instinctually interact with the world around us, the world different to us. Slipping cannot be the final step, but the more we do it, the more we are able to shift from denial and shame at ignorance to legitimate growth in light of it.


Works Cited:


Dalke, Anne. "Slipping into Something More (Un)Comfortable: Untangling Identity, Unsettling Community." DRAFT chapter for Steal This Classroom: Teaching and Learning Unbound, book manuscript by Anne Dalke and Jody Cohen, forthcoming with punctum press, Summer 2016.

Mary Louise Pratt, Arts of the Contact Zone. Profession (1991): 33-40.