Five Reasons why White People need to Learn how to Talk about Race
Conversations about race can become confusing when dealing with someone who doesn’t have a clear understanding of the society in which we live. White culture tells us to believe in the bootstrap mentality, which tells us to “man up, dream big and work hard” (Collins). If you don’t work hard and don’t become successful, then your failure comes from your personal choice. The bootstrap mentality fails to acknowledge the lack of equality and equity that minorities face.
It can be hard for white people to understand that systemic racism is an essential component of American society, which happens “when these structures or processes are carried out by groups with power, such as governments, businesses or schools,” (Wayne). Governments pass laws that indirectly affect minorities. For example, Sandy Springs, Georgia, a Northern suburb of Atlanta, recently passed a law that all multi-family homes had to be made with steel bars. This means that all apartment complexes built moving forward need to be high rises, which drive up the cost for rent, and out the ability for low-income families to move into the area.
This type of racism is written into our laws and reinforced through media and news. Having a conversation about race with another white person can no doubt be challenging. It is one thing to understand inequalities and another to be able to collectively relay your point without becoming too emotional. Below are the five reasons why it’s important for white people to learn how to talk about race.
image via crowdsourcingweek.com
Having conversations about race requires leadership. The range of your influence does not matter. If there is one person who listens to you when you speak, you are a leader. By having these difficult conversations and knowing how to navigate through those conversations helps others find their voice through their own journey in antiracism.
image via fourminutebooks.com
Being able to be emotionally agile is a process that is learned. You’re learning about yourself, your perspectives, how you emotionally respond to others, and your ability to reply from a place of compassion. All of these are essential components of navigating conversations at their most discomforting point. Being able to respond from the point of compassion is what these conversations are in desperate need of.
Dr. Susan David writes about emotional agility as the “process that allows you to be in the moment, changing or maintaining your behaviors to live in ways to align with your intentions and values.” These conversations can be intense and leave people reacting out of hurt, instead of responding from a place that is compassionate and invested in the learning process and growth of others.
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No conversation about race is too small; all of them are important. They also come with consequences. By taking responsibility and stepping out of our comfort zone and engaging in these conversations with wide eyes and free from pride or arrogance; we can enlighten not only ourselves but those we intend to reach.
Black, Indigenous, and People of Color are allowed to feel a spectrum of emotions that are necessary for them to process living in a white supremacist world. That does not give you the right to borrow or steal those emotions as a justification to become hostile or bully those who are not as you are.
Remember to be emotionally agile; by developing that skill, you can navigate through awkward conversations with those who are more resistant than the average person. By lashing out on behalf of marginalized communities, you are only causing them to be faced with more backlash due to your bad actions.
Via the Tacoma Ledger
Whether you are called an “ally,” “accomplice,” or “conspirator,” antiracism work has three expectations of you:
1. Do the task of identifying, unpacking and dismantling how your behaviors perpetuate white supremacy
2. Lead by example by inspiring others to do the same
3. Repay your Black, Indigenous, and People of Color educators for their intellectual labor
It is impossible to do the work of number two without carrying the conversations out past their point of discomfort. Growing pains come with advocacy work: not only with the conversations with others and the ones you have within yourself. It can be difficult for some to look in the mirror and acknowledge ways in which they subconsciously contribute to white supremacy. For those who are dedicated to the work, it becomes nothing but a challenge to change and an opportunity for growth.
Meaning, one has to normalize that these conversations have to happen in the first place. There doesn’t need to be a national crisis or racial trauma broadcast in the media for these conversations to take place. The more often they occur, the better because talking about race is normal. Our society doesn't condition us to normalize it, so it's uncomfortable.
It is essential to know that no matter how much backlash and tension that nonproductive conversations produce, there is something to learn from every conversation that is had. They are all critical. They all have significance. No matter how small they are. By learning how to talk about race, you are able to become more confident when those conversations have to occur. By exercising these five five things, one is able to naturally be more confident about conversations about race. After all, it isn't a new concept it's just one that comes with a few growing pains.
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