Organize a Hot Take Dinner

Perfect for when everyone feels like they have to have an opinion about something, and you're also hungry.

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One of my friends came up with the idea of a “Hot Take Dinner” a few years ago. Since then, I’ve told lots of other people about it, and they’ve organized their own.

The basic idea is that you get a few people together to discuss a hot button topic that is currently popping up in lots of social justice conversations.

It could be a rage du jour issue, or something that has been around awhile. What’s important is that it’s a subject that everyone feels like they’re supposed to have a hard stance about – their “take.”

These conversations are not going to be easy, and that’s part of the point. They’re settings for people to try explaining difficult positions, to cultivate radical empathy others’ positions, and to get to the bottom of something that is being virally discussed in an otherwise superficial, one-dimensional, one.

They are a place where social justice pushback is invited.

My network of social justice friends is a diaspora, so “Hot Take Diners” aren’t something I’ve been able to host in-person. Instead, I do lots of hot take phonecalls. But the success of this idea with many of my friends, and the reflections they share with me after hosting, have moved me to spread the word.

Here are some pointers my friends have shared with me, that have helped them host successful “Hot Take Dinners”, to share with you:

  • Smaller groups work better than big groups. Aim for 3 - 5 people, other than yourself.
  • Pick people you feel comfortable disagreeing with, knowing that won’t compromise your relationship.
  • It’s helpful to have people from different positions, identities, and/or walks of life, but who are still all able to feel like they’re on the “same side.” (e.g., the “side” of being in favor of social justice)
  • Food is great. Booze might not be. Go big on the first and easy on the second.
  • Be clear when inviting people about the etiquette you’re trying to establish.
  • Have a conversation, don’t facilitate a meeting. Informal is better (e.g., don’t prepare a list of questions beforehand).
  • Don’t organize a dinner than try to find a topic. Let a topic that’s in the zeitgeist be the reason you organize a dinner.

On that last point, here are some of spicy topics people have reported back to me over the years:

  • Transgender vs. Transracial (i.e., “Why do we affirm Caitlyn Jenner but reject Rachel Dolezal?”)
  • Aziz Ansari’s Sexual Misconduct / #MeToo moment
  • Chik-fil-A and modern-day boycotts in general
  • Cultural Appropriation (inspired by a viral “You can’t have a spirit animal” meme)
  • Most recently, Kamala Harris dropping presidential bid reflecting US racism and sexism (and her former candidacy reflecting the opposite)

I’m not sharing that list to give you ideas for topics you could organize a dinner to discuss. Most of those topics would only motivate stale, cold takes – room temperature takes at best.

Instead, I just wanted to give you a sense of topics that others have had success with. Again, don’t “choose” a topic; let the topic choose you.

Speaking of “success,” what does that look like for a “Hot Take Dinner”? Here are a few of the bars my friends set:

  • Everyone gets to see an angle of the issue they hadn’t noticed before
  • Dinner guests leave with new language, or maybe just honed language, to explain their take
  • Some minds are changed, or viewpoints expanded.
  • Others’ viewpoints haven’t been changed, but they better understand why they believe what they believe.
  • Everyone gets a chance to talk.
  • Everyone gets a chance to listen.
  • Nobody yells.
  • People leave with relationships intact, or strengthened.

That’s a hodge-podge of goals a bunch of different dinner organizers had, not the list of the goals of one dinner. I’d suggest you pick a few, or even just one, and endeavor for that to start. Or come up with your own.

I think that’s enough to get you started, but let me say one more thing first: “Hot Take Dinners” aren’t for everyone, and depending on your situation, social group, predispositions, and more, it might not work for you. And that’s okay! Don’t feel ashamed or like you’re not a good social justice person if this isn’t your bag.

My friend who initially came up with the idea texted me this yesterday:

“I gave up cuz I found it easier to continue discussing hot takes with them one on one”

That’s just peachy!

With all that said, I do envy the dinner guests who got to discuss the issues above. And believe that anything we can do to create community, in-person, making eye contact and all that good stuff, is something we all benefit from, and is ultimately good for social justice. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

I think I’ve shared more than enough to get you started. Reply back if you need any more input from me. Now, go organize a “Hot Take Dinner” and let me know how it goes!

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I opened up replies on this post because I'd love to hear your thoughts. I'm @Killermann on Twitter if you'd rather talk there.