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How to talk about race wherever you are

Get the tools you need to speak up instead of staying silent.

No matter where you live, you're likely hearing about the current fight for racial equality. And maybe you're an active participant in the fight: hitting the streets for protests, promoting the campaigns on social media or raising funds for racial justice organizations. 

Or perhaps you feel at a loss as to what to do or say about it all. You worry about making mistakes or finding the exact "right" words. Or maybe you live in a community where it is challenging to find like-minded people who share your viewpoint. 

If that sounds familiar, know that you are *not* alone. A lot of people feel this way. But it doesn't mean you can't be part of the solution.

It all starts with speaking up. Every day, we're presented with opportunities where we can move hearts and minds—and play a key role in helping others learn more about the values and issues we care about. 

And despite the myth that simply talking about race is racist, you *can* confront biases and stereotypes by sharing openly, honestly and directly about racism. You can address inequalities in your world. No doubt the weight of society's injustices can make us feel like it's hard to determine the way forward, but it is time to step into your power. Here are some thought-starters to keep in mind the next time racism shows up in your life. 

The Situation: My teacher tends to call more on students who share her background.

Take Action: For a variety of reasons, all classrooms are *not* created equal. And it can be challenging to figure out how—and when—to speak up when the person behaving offensively is in charge, like a teacher.

But if you are in a position of privilege and power in that space and community, raise your hand and say, "I noticed that my classmate here was raising their hand and didn't get called on yet. Now that we've gotten everyone's attention, let's listen to what they have to say."

The Situation: Black students never seem to be chosen to lead our class projects.

Take Action: If your teacher appears to be exhibiting bias against some students, request a private discussion with them after class. 

During the conversation, mention that you've noticed that Black students often are overlooked or underestimated. Hear your teacher out, and then respectfully request that they are mindful to include everyone in the opportunities. 

The Situation: My teacher remarked on a student's protest tee and called him a "troublemaker" for wearing it.

Take Action: Even if it seems like your teacher is joking, labeling any article of clothing (or the person wearing it) in such a negative way is not only insensitive—it's unjust. Report the comment to another trusted adult and take action by filing a complaint.

The Situation:  My uncle is firmly in the "All Lives Matter" camp, and it makes me sad.

Take Action: No matter how much you love your uncle (or anyone in your family), it's OK to speak up when you're angered by their words. The phrase "Black Lives Matter" doesn't simply imply that other lives don't matter or that they matter less. It simply states that Black lives matter just as much as those of all other races. 

Start with common ground. Look your family member in the eye and nicely state, "Our family has always valued fairness and what you are saying doesn't line up with those important lessons."

Continue by asking an open-ended question to encourage a conversation that may work to potentially shift their perspective. 

Try, "What do you think a comment like that teaches the next generation about fairness?" and listen to his reply. In the end, you may have to agree to disagree, but sharing your true thoughts and feelings may encourage your uncle to be more open-minded.

The Situation; My teammates said someone Black on our team has "natural speed" because of their skin color. 

Take Action:  A comment like this may seem like a compliment, but it's actually a microaggression (aka subtle racism) or prejudice of any targeted group that's often passed off as a casual observation. Like any prejudice chatter, it needs to be shut down. So if you hear a comment like this from a teammate, ask for accountability, 

Try something like, "As a team, it's important that everyone feels like this is dangerous because similar stereotypes have been used to justify harm." Then, make a plan to talk to the coach about how to address and prevent racism on your team.

The Situation: All of the plays we do in theater club were written by European male playwrights over 100 years ago. Ugh.

Take Action: Recommend that the club review and direct plays penned by people of color, women, and LGBTQI writers to help expand performance options and diversify the actor pool to include more students. Bravo!

Jamia Wilson is executive director and publisher of the Feminist Press. She cares deeply about helping people learn how to stand up for what they believe in and use their voices and talents to make a difference. Her books include Young, Gifted and Black and Step Into Your Power.

Hey, girl! Just wanted to let you know that this story originally ran in our August/September 2020 issue. Want more? Read the print mag for free *today* when you click HERE.

Slider Image: Doug McLean/


by Jamia Wilson; edited for digital by Emma Eggleston | 8/29/2020