by Brent Palmer
In this, my third and final installment on communication and race, I will be using Ijeoma Oluo’s book So You Want to Talk About Race once more, in order to discuss the chapter, “I Just Got Called a Racist, what do I do Now?”
Talking about race is a difficult task. Race is rarely talked about outside of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and February in primary school, meaning an everyday part of communication on race is lost on many Americans. When brought up in history books, some issues can be recontextualized to fit the broader narrative that keeps society the way it is. This narrative, when critically reviewed, is a part of a white power structure, that privileges white people over people of color. Many people call this white privilege, but this systemic construction of power against people of color is also a definition of white supremacy, also encompassing the idea of a racial (white) state.
I have started with this contextualization to discuss the difficult topic of being called a racist. In order to view this subject with compassion, I will be using Ijeoma Oluo’s book So You Want to Talk About Race once more, in order to discuss the chapter, “I Just Got Called a Racist, what do I do Now?” I will start by saying most white people have been, as Ijeoma states, “both healers and abusers”. This means white people hold both racist & anti-racist viewpoints, from existing in a white supremacist society. It is important to note that this does not make anyone a bad person; It is a fact of American life. This means if one were to be accused of racism, they would always carry the fact they did something wrong, but can improve and change their behavior. In order to start this process, Ijeoma has provided some tips:
Listen. If you’ve been accused of racism, remember to stop, listen, and take a few breaths. Ask the other person to repeat themselves if necessary, and don’t jump to conclusions. Hear them out.
Set your intentions aside. Do not resolve yourself of responsibility based on good intentions, because you have harmed another person.
Try to hear the impact of what you have done. You can’t just hear your action; you must recognize your impact on the other party.
Remember: You don’t have all the pieces. There are negative experiences and perspectives that a white person can not gain due to the systemic nature of racism in our country.
Nobody owes you a debate. A person of color puts so much on the line to call an act racist. While it may be beneficial to talk about it, the other party will be experiencing a lot of emotions and may need some time alone. Googling your questions would be a good alternative!
Nobody owes you a relationship. Even if you change, they have a right to distance themselves from you.
You are not the only one who is hurt. The one who called out the racism has been hurt by your actions and the racism they have experienced throughout their lives. Don’t make it about yourself.
If you see where you have been racist and/or see where you caused harm, apologize and mean it. You should make amends, and see how you can avoid similar actions in the future.
If you firmly believe you were not racist, do not invalidate the other party’s pain. Do not deny this person’s feelings, or call them silly. This is not about saving face, or winning an argument. This becomes an issue of learning whether you should change some part of your communication style.
Again, talking about this subject can be very difficult, but it is not impossible. If you would like to further discuss any of the topic discussed throughout this series, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!