How To Respond To Your White Friends When Say They Want To Help Combat Racism
With the great amount of outrage against the blatant expressions of white supremacy across the country right now, it’s good to see white people among the protesters. This is nothing new as a number of them have stood alongside Black people in the fight for civil rights in the past. Whether they’ve witnessed the mistreatment of Black people like Juliette Hampton Morgan and wanted to help change things or felt compelled to join an already budding movement like Viola Gregg Liuzzo (the only white female killed during the Civil Rights Movement), their support has always been appreciated.
I recently observed an online conversation, between a few white women, regarding the current racial climate. The dialogue consisted of possible actions that could be taken against hate groups, as they felt that simply doing nothing would be contributing to the problem. While some of the suggestions would steer them in the right direction, I thought that it would have been nice to have a minority voice in the fray to affirm their ideas or help guide them. I didn’t contribute to the ongoing conversation as I didn’t know any of the women personally and was concerned that my words could be misconstrued, especially in an online forum.
I know many of us feel that we shouldn’t have to take the time to explain our experiences and emotions to white people who want to help the cause, as they should be able to research and pay attention to what’s going on to know what they can and should do. However, it doesn’t hurt to obtain a better understanding from those directly impacted by the injustices they’re seeking to fight against.
And since it’s estimated that the average white person has only one Black friend according to The Washington Post, you never know if you’re that friend who could change their perspective. So what do you say if they ask, as singer Lady Gaga attempted to do on Twitter, what they can do to help? There are several ways to educate without hand-holding every step of the way.
Have an honest conversation
Unfortunately, most conversations about race, due to current events, occur on social media, which is probably not the best place to initiate the conversation. In this method of communication, emotions can get lost or misunderstood and something as small as a typo can change the meaning of a sentence. When possible, having an in-person discussion allows those seeking advice on what they can contribute to see your passion (or pain depending on your dialogue), and it allows you to figure out if they are grasping what you’re explaining.
If the first comment or question that your friend or colleague approaches you with is has to do with them helping, ask them why they want to. If you understand their motives then you can be more open to an honest conversation. It also allows you to see how sincere they are in their mission.
Don’t be afraid to paint a detailed picture by sharing personal experiences. I am a firm believer that in order for people outside of the Black community to understand why our people are fighting and outspoken about such inequities, they have to understand the struggle, or at least empathize through your lens as best as possible.
Encourage them to be bold
It’s one thing to make a difference in the community, but it’s another to take a stand against someone you know. Chances are, your white friend or colleague has a family member or a friend who has used racial epithets or sometimes speaks ignorantly about minorities. Tell them to talk to their misguided friends who post ill-informed comments on social media and correct their relatives when they makes racist comments at the Thanksgiving dinner table.
In her article, 3 tips for talking to other white people about racism, Samantha Allen, a white woman, explains why it’s important to confront hate within the community. “We all have a lot of deprogramming to do, and it helps to do some of that deprogramming together,” Allen wrote. “We have to talk about racism because we are the ones who are racist ‘through the simple act of living as white people.'”
Of course, your friend can’t change their peers’ or relatives’ opinions in one heavy conversation, but at least a seed has been planted.
Explain the need for “the talk”
Clearly “the talk” is different for both Black and white people. While some consider such a conversation to be one that centers around sex, for parents of Black children, it’s about dealing with racial intolerance and hatred by everyday people and even in encounters with law enforcement. A person’s outlook on race definitely starts at home so encourage your friend to be direct in talking to their children about race and how they treat others.
A study conducted by University of Texas at Austin Ph.D. student Birgitte Vittrup Simpson researched 99 white families and the discussions they were having with their children about race. According to Slate, Simpson found that children who had an in-depth conversation with their parents had better “racial attitudes” than the kids whose parents barely scratched the surface of the topic or didn’t discuss it at all.
Ask your friends who are raising white children to go a step further and talk to their kids about the differences in skin color as well as the similarities despite one’s features when they begin to question various skin tones of their classmates or even strangers.
In addition to all of this, if your friend wants to be a part of the solution, you can invite him or her to rallies, have them sign a petition for a specific cause or send articles their way that can further enhance their knowledge on race relations.
Although the thought of talking about race with white people can be daunting, having a friend or colleague who wants to be an ally to the Black community and one that is taking the first steps in doing so is most definitely a friend worth keeping and enlightening.