By Sharon Park
This article originally posted at DoSomething.org.
A guide to starting anti-racist conversations with friends and family.
To all non-Black people of color — it’s time we speak up against the anti-Blackness in our communities.
This guide is written to serve as a starting point for how non-Black people of color can engage in conversation regarding the anti-Blackness within our respective communities. A disclaimer: the term “people of color” (POC) encompasses people of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. We acknowledge and think actively about how each of these individual communities distinctly experience racism: Asian, Black, Hispanic/Latinx, Indigenous, Middle Easter, Pacific Islander, and multiracial.
I identify as Asian and have consulted the other folks in DoSomething’s POCI affinity group, which is comprised mostly of people who identify as Asian and Latinx. This is a guide for non-Black POC to stand in one form of solidarity with our Black community by tackling our anti-Blackness — but a one-size-fits-all approach does not work and we don’t presume to speak for all Asian people, all Latinx people, or all non-Black people of color. We also acknowledge that anti-racist conversations do not center Black people, and real action is needed to uplift the Black community. As advocates for racial justice and as imperfect allies, we’re sharing this guide in the hopes that it helps some of you broach needed conversations with your loved ones.
Living as non-white people in America, we are faced with varying instances of discrimination across our different identities every day. There is a thread of shared experiences of oppression which runs through all people of color. But as non-Black people of color, it’s vital to recognize that being Black in America is not the same as being any other race in America.
The internalized racism and anti-Blackness within each of our individual communities have long perpetuated white supremacy and the continued violence against the Black community. As non-Black people of color we too often settle into a harmful neutral territory when it comes to Black lives. To stand in solidarity with our Black community means we must be actively anti-racist and not simply “not racist” — to stop brushing aside the anti-Blackness many of us have learned and been complicit to within our respective communities.
We’ve heard and excused it too often in our circles, with our friends & family: it’s just how they are, they’re old anyway, they’re just joking, they had this one experience, they didn’t mean it like that, they don’t know better, it’s not worth it. We need to do better and having direct and honest conversation is a start.
PREPARE FOR THE CONVERSATION
1) Educate yourself. Learn about the systemic racism and oppression against Black people that have afforded you the comforts you have, even as a person of color. Learn about the history of your race in America and how the movements that have led to the privileges you have would not exist without the Black community. (Non-Black Latinx Resources on Anti-Blackness, South Asians and Black Lives, Addressing Anti-blackness Within the Vietnamese & Asian Community)
2) Recognize your anti-Blackness and consider where it stems from. One place to start is with an implicit bias test. Reflect on the anti-Blackness perpetuated in your home, amongst family members, in your friend group. Examine the colorism, the color hierarchy of complexions with fairer skin as “better than’ and darker skin as “less than,” in your community. Think about how you might be appropriating Black culture. Ask yourself of the ways in which you’ve been conditioned to believe in the superiority of whiteness, to “other” and place harmful stereotypes on Black people. To read: “30+ Ways Asians Perpetuate Anti-Black Racism Everyday”
3) Choose who you want to talk to & how. Start with someone who you know well and trust. You’ll feel better equipped to engage in more conversations as you have them and continue to educate yourself, you don’t need to address your entire family at once. Considering how to have these conversations is also important. As opposed to engaging in potentially unproductive dialogue on social media, try engaging in one-on-one or small group conversation in-person or via video chat.
4) Establish goals for the conversation. Think about what you want to leave the conversation with. It’s worth having a clear understanding of what specific points you’d like to convey. Remember, one conversation won’t resolve the decades of unaddressed anti-Blackness. You might have a tangible goal, like asking your conversation partner to make a donation, call elected officials, attend a protest, or sign a petition. Another goal could be getting a better understanding of how your conversation partner is responding to this moment and what they’re feeling. Either way, it’s helpful to know what you want to achieve from the conversation.
5) Set expectations for yourself and your conversation partner. Talking about racism isn’t easy but it’s necessary. The first time you try it will likely be bumpy, but starting the conversation to dismantle anti-Blackness is more important than staying comfortable in silence. Expect discomfort and explore why. Set the expectation that this is a first conversation, and that you will try again if it doesn’t go the way you’ve planned. Be gentle with yourself.
Remember: the path to addressing anti-Blackness is learning, unlearning, and relearning. It is not the role of your Black friends to offer themselves up to grant you the unsettling of your discomfort. Do not burden them in this way.
HAVE THE CONVERSATION
DO… Be specific and get personal. With whomever you’ve chosen to talk to, make sure you tailor the conversation to them. Know the experiences of the people you’re talking to and bring in what you know they’ll understand to connect with dismantling their anti-Blackness.
DO… Focus on the Black experience. Don’t let the conversation drift to your own valid experience of oppression, but rather stay focused on how Black people experience oppression and how we contribute to that.
DO… Ask open ended questions. Try something like “How have you been feeling about what is going on in the news right now?” or “What are some reactions you’ve had to the protests happening across the country?” or “How is the current news cycle making you think differently about your identity?”
DO… Recognize your limitations. Whether it’s a language barrier or a conversation escalating towards harm, understand that it’s okay to try another tactic at another time, or press pause altogether.
DON’T… End the conversation at the first sign of discomfort. Expect for the conversation to be uncomfortable, and prepare for disagreement. Think about the difference between going outside of your comfort zone to the point where it is towards learning and growth and going into a place of fear where you are no longer growing.
DON’T… Think you have to do this alone. Here are some ways to correct problematic language. Bring resources & research, and feel free to start by reading an article together or watching a video to reflect on.
And remember — be patient, with yourself and with your community. Being an imperfect ally means we maintain a mindset of constantly learning and giving ourselves, and our loved ones, the opportunity to grow. Stay persistent.