I wish I’d had access to this information when I was a child. I am convinced it would have saved me some drama in college, and I would have offended way less people in my lifetime.
Rather than hoard what I’m learning, I’d like to share it with you, and I hope my readers who identify as “white” will keep an open mind. What I share is not intended as a judgment on anyone. We don’t know what we don’t know.
My hope is that everyone who reads this becomes a little less “fragile” when it comes to discussing systemic racism with family, friends, and colleagues.
We must be increasingly mindful of the harmful impact our words can have on people of color."We must be increasingly mindful of the harmful impact our words can have on people of color." Click To Tweet
I’m not sure I ever realized how my desire to sound and appear non-racist caused emotional pain to my friends of color while simultaneously perpetuating a sense of superiority to my friends who made up the ethnic majority in this country.
I was culturally oblivious (a.k.a. IGNORANT) of the hurt my words—articulated with what felt like the most noble of motives—was having on the people of color in my circle of friends and acquaintances.
At age 51, I’m still learning how my words can be triggering and/or offensive to my friends of color. Maybe you want to learn along with me?
5 Things NEVER to Say to a Person of Color
- “I’m not racist.”
- “I can’t be a racist! I have [insert color or ethnicity here] friends.”
- “I don’t see color. I’m color-blind.”
- “Nobody in my family ever owned slaves.”
- “ALL lives matter.”
When you feel compelled to say something like one of the five statements above, avoid the temptation. By NOT saying these things, you are NOT classifying yourself as a racist, you are demonstrating a humble attitude and a willingness to learn.
Instead of reacting defensively, become curious. Identify the emotion you are feeling, and then ask yourself the following five questions:
- What happened that’s prompting me to defend myself?
- Am I actively listening to what is being said?
- Do I believe the one speaking is an honest person?
- Am I trying to minimize or invalidate this person’s experience? Why?
- Am I excusing someone else’s behavior or comment as “not racist”?
We Still Have So Much to Unlearn
Stay curious. Be humble. Educate yourself on systemic racism. Be open to learning about what it means to be “white,” and listen hard to people of color. A white person’s experience in America will never be like that of people of color.
It’s time we join the lament and seek forgiveness for the part we’ve played in keeping systemic racism alive and well in the twenty-first century. If you’d like some suggestions of books to read, blogs to follow, and/or podcasts to listen to, comment below. I’ll share with you the resources I recommend.
“If you can’t say something nice…” photo by Ocean Biggshott on Unsplash
“Coney Island Friends” photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash
“Bolsa Chica Friends” photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash
“Three Friends” photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”