“I am not racist.”
If it is not stated overtly, then it can be insinuated in the actions of those who squirm uncomfortably when topic of race arises. The fear of being called racist or seen as upholding racist ideas often causes many to avoid or shut down conversations about race despite the many interpersonal and societal consequences.
The discomfort of talking about race pales in comparison to the devastating impact of racism on the mental health of people of color . For this reason, we must encourage the discussion and embrace the anxiety and discomfort that comes. Here’s how to talk about racism.
Understanding the stories and perspectives of those who have experienced racism comes from being able to acknowledge that racism does exist. If you do not believe or are not willing to accept that racism is real, you will not have much to offer to the conversation. Take time to educate yourself on the perspectives and complexity of racism. Ask questions. Read. Do research until you can at least answer these 2 basic questions with substance: What is Racism? and Why it is a problem?
Not sure where to start? Explore this list of thought provoking resources by Forbes.
Check Your Privilege.
The conversation about privilege often strikes a nerve with those who have it.
Privilege as defined by the Oxford Dictionary is a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group. There are many categories of privilege (those associated with class, socio-economic status etc), however, to contribute to conversations about racism, it is essential to think about the role of RACIAL PRIVILEGE. Here are a few questions to help you understand the privilege associated with race:
- Does it irritate you when someone suggests you have privilege based on your skin color?
Becoming immediately defensive is often one of the best indicators of unacknowledged racial privilege. It often comes from a misunderstanding that privilege means racist. It does not. Privilege means you have advantages others don’t have. Not being able to acknowledge privilege means you compromise how well you will listen to and understand those who do not have the same privileges you do.
- Does your skin color effect how you move you throughout your day?
Do you wonder how your skin affects the way your colleagues or employer see you? Have you ever wanted to express yourself but consider how your skin color would determine the outcome? Racialized communities are uniquely aware of how their skin color may factor into their day to day moments. This changes the choices they make, the things they say, and the way they feel but ultimately remains a part of their daily landscape.
- Do you regularly fear the color of your skin may compromise your safety or freedom when dealing with authority?
People of color, routinely fear the escalation of situations in which they express disagreement with those holding power or authority. The realities of unjust and in-congruent penalization creates an ever present threat of further oppression and prosecution.
Join the Discussion
Once you have a basic understanding of racism and have begun to explore and become familiar with your own privileges, join the discussion. Listen to others. Invite new perspectives. Ask questions. Seek to truly understand the complexities of racism, it roots, and the struggles that have made it difficult to eliminate. Explore the impact of power and privilege, including your own.
Don’t be Afraid to say I Don’t Know.
Resist a push to speak for speaking sake. While many might rush to make a socially acceptable statement, it is far better to speak from a place of true understanding. This allows you to offer an authentic voice to the conversation instead of a pre-packaged PR savvy one .
Saying I don’t know invites an opportunity to learn. However, saying I don’t know should not be a justification of not speaking out at all. Your role is to push forward with the discussion until you are able to clarify your understanding. Then, offer than understanding to the conversation.
Embrace Fear & Discomfort
Talking about racism is difficult because navigating all of the emotions involved is difficult. The emotional landscape of the conversation is a palpable one of extraordinary pain, grief, anger, fear, shame, confusion, disappointment, and threat. All of these can, at times, overshadow the threads of hope, connection, and optimism that hold things together. We must be willing to continue despite the fear; willing also to consider and accept that change often comes with risk and move forward – valuing the change over comfort.
Read “Black. Privileged. Silent.” For more insight on this
Commit to doing your part.
Societal progress is about providing others with the information needed to make positive change but helping others change will always be harder than changing ourselves. If we all worked on doing our part to eliminate racism and support the progress and equality of racialized communities, we would drastically reduce the resistance we encounter by trying to change others. As suggested by Mahatma Gandhi, we need to be the change we want to see in the world.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide to talking about racism but instead is offered as a starting point on which you can build. Your voice is needed, your efforts are valuable; Don’t let fear and discomfort get in the way.
Bonnie J. Skinner, RP.