black lives matter

How to confront someone who’s being racist

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Calling someone out on their racist behaviour, especially someone you love or care about, is never easy. The fear of awkwardness and burnt bridges is often enough for us white people to avoid doing it at all. I get it.

Image credit: @colorful.dreamers

But we have to think bigger than ourselves because every time you take a stand against racism, you could change a white person’s mind and save a Person of Colour’s (POC) life. The fact is: The longer white people stay silent, the more POC will die.

Besides, what’s the worst thing that could happen? You’ll feel a little anxious or uncomfortable for a few a minutes. You’ll lose a friend because they choose being racist over being a good person. You’ll get unfollowed by racists on social media.

When you react in a defensive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive way,  the person is going to close off to communication entirely.

You’ll cement the fact that you do not see eye-to-eye with your parent(s) and you’ll be okay with that, because standing up for what you believe in is more important than submitting to racists – even when they’re your parent(s).

Right, so you’ve chosen to save lives? Great news! Let’s move onto how we can do exactly that…

Control your emotions. Be proactive, not reactive.

When you hear someone being racist, it’s easy to allow your knee-jerk emotional response to take centre stage. When you react in a defensive, aggressive, or even passive-aggressive way, chances are the person is going to feel personally attacked and close off to communication entirely – even if you switch up your approach and calm down after your initial reaction.

Image credit: @ohhappydani

Remain calm, cool, collected and conversational as far as possible. Bear in mind that there is a time to walk away (when the person becomes overly aggressive), as well as a time to attempt catching the racism on camera (if it is possible and safe to do so).

Bottom line: If you want your point to land, you need to play to your advantage at all times. Racists are notoriously reactive and often enjoy pushing people’s buttons. Don’t give them any ammo. Let your unshakeable cool transmute their reactivity.

Clarify intentions through gentle, private confrontation.

As silly as it sounds, you may have misheard something. Steer clear of assumptions by double-checking with the person to make sure. Even if you didn’t mishear, it’s in your benefit to make the person feel like you’re approaching them with curiosity and not accusation.

If you have the “You Are A Racist” conversation, you are no doubt going to be met with defensiveness of the highest order.

Take them aside if you’re in a group (people tend to get even more defensive when there’s an audience) and ask something like, “Did I hear/see you say/do XYZ just now?”

Discuss what they DID, not WHO they are.

When the person confirms that they did say/do XYZ, tell them what you think about what they did without referring to who you think they are. In other words, you want to have the “What You Did Is Racist” conversation not the “You Are A Racist” conversation.

If you have the “You Are A Racist” conversation, you are no doubt going to be met with defensiveness of the highest order. You’ll then likely be forced to listen to all the reasons why they are not racist. “I have Black friends.” “I donate to charities that help Black people.” “I had sex with a Black person once.” You know, all the things that DO NOT make a person not racist.

When you have the “What You Did Is Racist” conversation instead, your focus on the specific incident will keep the person from thinking you’re calling them a racist. This should keep their white fragility intact long enough for you to get your point across.

Take a look at the following slides curated by @cookie_desai to understand what white fragility is:

Hear them out, even if their opinions make you want to punch them.

While there’s nothing worse than listening to racist drivel, the point of listening to it without interrupting is to make the person feel like you care about their point of view. When the person feels like you’ve heard them out, like you care about their opinions, they’ll be more open to hearing your side of the story.

Use empathy over facts when conveying your point.

Spouting off a bunch of facts and statistics is unlikely to hit home. Rather try to elicit empathy from the person by illustrating the commonalities between them and the people they’re being racist toward.

Tell them a heartwarming story that challenges the stereotypes they have about POC.

Racism is often born of an unconscious othering of POC, an othering that forms the basis of white supremacy and has been drilled into most of us white folx from an early age. Try to make them realise that the people they are being racist towards are no different to them in the way that they are humans that want to live a safe, fair, happy life free from suffering.

Try to make them understand that there are good people and bad people and the colour of someone’s skin has nothing to do with this. Explain that generalisations are harmful and don’t make sense: Humans are all unique, so there’s no possible way that any one race can ALL be “this way” or “that way”.

Ask questions like: “How would you feel if someone spoke about you, or someone you love, like that?”, “What makes you believe that these people are any less worthy of living a peaceful, fulfilling life than you are?”, “How would you feel if you went through life being judged, underpaid, and mistreated simply because of the colour of your skin?”

Image credit: @tobehonestnl

Get anecdotal on their asses: Tell them a heartwarming story that challenges the stereotypes they have about POC. Say something like, “I have a story I think will really surprise you. Can you listen to it with an open mind?”

A final note on racism and anti-racism work

Remember that racism is a one-way street: POC cannot be racist toward white people because white people created it and then institutionalised it to ensure it would continue serving white/white-passing people and oppressing POC.

Please understand that because racism was made by white people for the benefit of white/white-passing people, its oppressive structures do not, and cannot, apply to white people.

If you can buy a coffee, you can afford to give reparations for the resources that enable you to be a better person.

I’m not saying that it is okay for POC to say hateful things about all white people. I’m saying that if that happens, it’s called hate speech and not racism.

Remember that every time we let racism go unchecked, we facilitate its existence and directly contribute to the violence being inflicted on POC. White apathy causes just as much, if not more, harm than overt white supremacists do.

Remember that anti-racism work is the responsibility of white people, and it’s a lifelong commitment. POC don’t get to take breaks from racism, so neither do we.

More often than not, you won’t get your point across. You will walk away from many conversations feeling deflated and disappointed in your race. KEEP GOING. Even one mind changed after a million failed attempts is a monumental victory. It’s our responsibility to keep going.

Image credit: @katiedensondesigns

Keep learning from POC by making use of the resources they share and pay them for it – especially when it’s available for free. If you can buy a coffee, you can afford to give reparations for the resources that enable you to be a better person.

DO NOT ask POC to expend emotional energy on educating you. Make use of Google to find the plentitude of resources that have already been made available to you. Click here for a good place to start. Keep educating yourself and as many white people as you can.

Remember that you, like me, cannot be a perfect ally all of the time. We make mistakes and that’s okay – as long as we welcome due corrections and continue striving to be better.

Use your privilege for good at every opportunity you get, even when it means you lose opportunity. Pass the mic and amplify the voices of POC. Use your body as a human shield between police and POC at protests. Address racism in the workplace.

Do whatever it takes. And don’t do it for yourself, because you feel guilty. Don’t do it for recognition, for cookies. Do it simply because it’s the right fucking thing to do.

Adapted in part from “How to tell someone you love they’re being racist” by Kim Gillan for Amnesty International.

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