The Living Library sounds like an exercise in objectification– volunteers are classified as ‘Gay Person’, ‘Immigrant’, ‘Police Officer’, etc, and customers come in to borrow them for 30 minute chats. In fact, it’s meant to be– and apparently turns out to be– a fascinating, innovative experiment in achieving understanding between people from different sorts of lives. Here’s a bit of Gay Person’s story:
Earlier in the day, Alternative Medicine Therapist… had said to me that she was learning a lot about her own prejudices from readers and her words came flooding back when I found two young black men waiting for me at the desk. As I sat down with them I braced myself for a stream of invective when one them gently asked, “Do you experience homophobia often?” It surprised me to find myself saying yes and we began one of the most fascinating conversations I have had for a long time. They said that they both had often had strongly anti-gay opinions. I said that if I saw them on the top deck of the night bus I’d probably go back downstairs. And once that had broken the ice, the conversation became an exhilarating opening of hearts. It was a shame we didn’t have more time to talk – 30 minutes can pass very quickly – but I left with real hope. If all young people were like this, I felt, the world would soon be a better place.
Of course, there are lots of problems, perhaps foremost amongst them the way it may shore up idea that a single individual can serve as representative of a whole group, or the apparent presupposition that there will be no overlap between groups (e.g. no Gay Immigrant). But it still sounds like a valuable start toward provoking dialogue, and these problematic assumptions can of course be explicitly discussed in the conversations.
Thanks for the link, lydia!