SURJ’s Communications Director, Grace Aheron, spoke with CNN about how to engage with white people in conversations about race:
As a White person, how do I speak to my White friends about their racist beliefs?
Confronting your friends or family about their racism isn’t easy. We tend to cut our loved ones more slack. But activists say it’s important to let people know when their comments or behavior is racist.
To tackle these difficult conversations, we gathered tips from Grace Aheron, communications director for the nonprofit Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), who says it’s White people’s responsibility “to do that labor and not rely on people of color to have to be always the ones teaching White people about racism.”
Be discreet: Aheron says it’s best to have your discussions in a private forum or in person one-on-one. Avoid responding with a public Facebook comment. “We’ve found that the in-person, private situation will make people feel less defensive.”
Be curious, not judgmental: Make your discussion sound more like an invitation, instead of an accusation. Ask them to tell you why they feel the way they do and what kinds of experiences shaped their beliefs. It’s important for your friend or family member to understand you come from a place of care, Aheron says, instead of feeling like they’re under attack.
Research is good, but…: It never hurts to have data disproving common misconceptions up your sleeve, but statistics don’t typically change people’s minds, Aheron says. “It’s stories and experiences and feeling heard and feeling you’re connecting to people.” Share your own moments of realizing you did or said something racist and how you’ve been educating yourself since.
Stay calm: These conversations aren’t meant to be easy. But if you lose your temper, you lose the point. “If you start to feel yourself getting upset or overwhelmed, have a plan for that. Maybe have a pause in the conversation. Write down on your hand, if you’re talking on the phone, ‘Take three deep breaths,’ or something like that.”
Be patient: Don’t expect to change anyone’s mind overnight. Instead, view your first talk as a first step. “It’s not a one-and-done kind of thing,” Aheron says. “The goal is to start the conversation and keep the door open.”