How to Frame Your Talk About Race and Racism With Loved Ones[and others]

When we see what is happening across the country, it has brought to our consciousness the construct of race, racism and all that surrounds it. It has called us to consider exactly what race means to us and how we see race and the notion of diversity in our everyday lives. Making the decision to have an honest conversation about race and racism is going to be challenging. It is one of those tough topics that we must face honestly and openly.

Talking about race and racism should optimally begin with your loved ones at home. After all, it is at home where worldviews are initially developed, greatly influenced by our parents’ views. The conversations are sure to evoke feelings and that can be uncomfortable. If you consider yourself ‘woke’ or ‘liberal’, it may be difficult to accept when your dad says that he doesn’t see ‘race’ or ‘color’.

That was once an adopted catchphrase, a buzzword, about white people being ‘colorblind’ and therefore not racist. But, in reality, that is disrespectful and dismissive of the unique identities of others, especially those whose past and/or present experiences are heavily influenced and impacted by their race. Sometimes, a family member just doesn’t seem to get it. That is basically their denial of the privilege they may possess and acceptance of all they are/were afforded because of that privilege. In fact, that is called ‘entitlement’.

Be vulnerable. If you feel that your eyes are now more open to the impact of race and racism in society, begin your talk from the point of the ignorance you once had. Share your own journey of what it was that sparked your growth. A book? The protests? George Floyd video? A friendship? Let your loved ones know just how you came to view the world as you now do. Be open.

Set a goal. Decide what you want from the conversation. Do you want a parent to support your activism? Do you want to feel safe speaking openly with a parent or child? Is your goal that you want a loved one to stop saying harsh things about others? Use your goal to guide your conversation.

Get buy-in. Tell the person the reason why you want to have the conversation. Invite them to work through this with you. For example: ” I feel, when you say certain things about race, that it makes me distant. I feel unsafe, and I want and need to feel safe with you.” When people start getting defensive, remind them of your feelings. Then you can say, ” This is why I want to have this conversation with you.”

Know when to walk away. When emotions are high, it can be easy to get off track. It’s OK to step away when the conversation gets too far off course. Say something like, ” Right now, our emotions are a bit high. I can see that we’re not going to be able to get to the goal. Can we come back to this in a day or two?” and then come back to it.

These are important things to remember when beginning the conversation about race and racism. Use more ‘I’ statements than ‘you’ or ‘you always’ or ‘should’ when talking with your loved one. These words make it too easy for the other person to become defensive and close themselves off to making forward movement. Keep your statements as a reflection of your own feelings. Ask questions of the other person to allow them to inform you of their own. Perhaps, hearing themselves speak about their feelings will be the catalyst of change. Don’t give up, but don’t push either. These are important conversations. You would like to reach a mutual agreement with the other person, but it may be that you will have to agree to disagree. Just stay ‘woke’. That’s your only true responsibility. Stay ‘woke’!

Feel free to share your thoughts or tips for talking about race and racism.


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