How to talk about race with other white people.


I assume I look exactly like this at any sign of confrontation or difficult conversation

I’m awful at having these important and very necessary conversations. Honestly, if I were an animal, I’d probably be some weird and very creepy combination of a deer and a possum because I frequently freeze like a deer in headlights and then promptly pretend I’m dead to avoid any further social interaction. It’s not a particularly great response and in the event of any sort of real life purge, I’ll probably be the first one dead. But until that day, this response also means that I am awful at having tough conversations.

But having conversations about race as white people with other white people is incredibly necessary, especially now that we’re living in Trump’s America. Racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and every aspect of hate and ignorance that Trump built his empire and his campaign on was already a part of these United States and has been since the founding but now his supporters feel validated and are acting on that. Not only will we now be facing about the uncertainty of how Trump will act in office but he has the support of a Republican congress and some of his supporters seem more vindictive than usual.

As many holidays are fast approaching here in the US (with Thanksgiving this week), I’ve collected tips and ways to engage with other white people about race. There are a few obvious things about this that I’ll state nonetheless: this is specifically for myself and other white people as a way to learn and better engage and this list is in no way an exact or perfect guide to conversations.

  1. Question their statements and beliefs in a way that would allow for them to personally dig deep into what they say without being confrontational. This can be asking why they said what they did, asking where they’re coming from, and more.
    1. Over on tumblr, user brunetteclaire shared her experience of having a conversation with a co-worker about race and how through one conversation that involved listening and questioning, she was able to get the co-worker to at least critically think about his stance. She also offered some tips about having these same conversations and all that can be found here.
  2. Be nonconfrontational and calm throughout the conversation– it’s easy to get angry and confrontational when faced with ignorant and racist beliefs and statements but anger will only result in the other person getting defensive and possibly shutting down.
    1. On a related note: one study showed that calling people racist is an ineffective way to engage and interact around race and another found that having a frank, brief conversation with someone is a really effective way to reduce another person’s bigotry.
  3. Realize that everyone comes to the table with a variety of experience and knowledge – not everyone can afford to go to college, no one is born an activist and knowing all about systemic and interpersonal oppression, and on average, most white people tend to live in a bubble with other white people around them.
    1. Using a lot of plethora of academic jargon isn’t going to always work outside the classroom and being able to break down these complicated issues is important.
  4. Try to understand the other side a bit and listen to what the other person is saying.
    1. This is a hard one for me sometimes because I tend to get emotional and jump to conclusions. But being able to fully listen to where people are coming from is important and vital to these conversations.
    2. Rebecca John wrote about a few different ways to talk about social justice while at home, including how being aware of context is a large part of communication.
  5. Having these conversations can also mean suggesting books, articles, videos, and films about issues that can better articulate and explain. May people, at least in my life, try to mean well but are just ignorant about how the world is different for others. White supremacy thrives on this ignorance and actively works to keep white people in blinders to how people of color are treated in the United States.

Other resources include:

  • The Cinemax Theory of Racism by John Scalzi
  • One of the most valuable articles, for me, about white privilege was one by Gina Crosley-Corcoran about explaining white privilege to a broke white person.
  • info has a wide variety of information
  • Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) – not only is this a great resource year round but during Thanksgiving, they’ve set up a holiday hotline to help get you through these tough conversations.
  • Hey, White People! If You Really Want to Help End Racism, You Need to Invest in Other White People (Yeah, We Know It Sounds Counterintuitive) – Jamie Utt
  • How to talk to your loved ones about a Donald Trump presidency 

This was specific to race and related issues but it’s also important to have conversations about other -isms that exist here. People with various disabilities and/or medical issues will be impacted by the next administration and face acts of ableism on a near constant basis. LGBTQ folks will see legal and social setbacks, especially with a vice president elect who supports conversion therapy and the party in power who are actively against LGBT folks of all kinds surviving and thriving. Millions of people will be separated from their families because of conservative immigration policies and building a wall between the US and Mexico will endanger the lives of many. Reproductive justice will probably be set back decades with Planned Parenthood’s funding on the line among other things.

Having these conversations are going to be hard and uncomfortable and there’ll probably be times in which nothing comes it. But as white people, we should still be working towards challenging ourselves and the white people around us about race.

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