With everything that has been happening recently in regards to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, I've found myself having difficult conversations with my family about race, social justice, and our own white privilege. As someone who actively avoids confrontation, I find myself feeling frustrated at not having the right words to say all the time and worried my point won't come across accurately. My heart is aching for the Black community and I want to continually/actively work on being a better ally but my heart also hurts that my family often chooses to "not see color" as well. Can you give any advice about how to better start and have these discussions in the future?
Dear Difficult Conversations,
If there are blessings to be found during this time of quarantine, and I believe there are, one is that we have no other option but to pay attention. To be actively mindful in a way that many of us, myself included, don’t require of ourselves when we have to get to work, or keep an appointment, or (fill in the blank with whatever kept you busy before COVID).
And because we’re not at work, or entertaining, or having yet another meeting to get to, we have the opportunity to be paying attention, together.
I think, rather than trying to convince your family of your viewpoint, you can take this time to get educated, together.
Systemic racism is not an opinion, it is a fact. Rather than trying to craft and present your feelings in a way that is non confrontational, create opportunities for response and learning with your family.
Here are some suggestions that have come to me from various friends and resources, as well as my own exploration:
Watch 13th on Netflix or free on YouTube. Talk about it. What did you know, what was a complete shock, how much clarity does this give to our current state of affairs, and the prison system in particular.
Read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, Waking Up White by Debby Irving, everything written by James Baldwin. The reading list is endless, but read together and talk about it with each other.
Read with your family Fannie Lou Hamer’s speech “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” I had never heard of Fannie Lou Hamer before this was passed on to me, and now I’ll never forget her.
Have your family research Black-owned businesses in your neighborhood. Support them by shopping there. This includes restaurants!
Check out Black-owned and Black-managed Arts companies and make a donation or two. Then when we are able to experience Art together in the same room again, GO TO SEE THESE PRODUCTIONS.
Give to a Black-owned non-profit organization dedicated to serving local Black residents. I’m focusing on organizations centered on Black women, as well as young people.
VOTE! VOTE! VOTE!
As for your family members who say they don’t “see color,” author, poet, essayist, and playwright, Claudia Rankine, also a Professor at Yale, told of an incident during an “On Being” podcast that I was introduced to called, “How Can I Say This So We Can Stay in This Car Together.”
She was sharing a time of when she was on a plane seated next to a white man, who said during the course of their conversation,
“I don’t see color”
Claudia: “Ah, that’s not such a good thing to say.”
Claudia: “Because I’m a Black woman and you’re a white man. And I want you to see that. If you don’t see color, you’re not seeing me. And if you can’t see me, you can’t see racism. And I want you to be able to see those things.”
And you want you and your family to see those things too. Now is not the time for white people to be fearful, or timid in acknowledging our continual role as oppressors in Black history. Now is the time for us to open our hearts and minds, and LEARN. And through learning, do better. NOW.
Only by learning, and acknowledging, and opening our eyes, can we become true allies, with our Black communities, and not merely performative ones.
Yours with Determination and Belief Things Are Going to Change,
Here are some of the resources Julie listed in this letter:
- 13th, directed by Ava DuVernay, on Netflix and YouTube
- White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, available on their website
- Waking Up White by Debby Irving, available on their website
- I'm Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired by Fannie Lou Hamer, shared by Iowa State University: Archives of Woman's Political Communication
- How Can I Say This So We Can Stay in This Car Together? by Claudia Rankine, shared on On Being with Krista Tippett