Talking to white friends about everyday racism

Q: What are useful guidelines for talking to white friends about everyday racism, when their first reaction is to shut me down for even suggesting that I and they might have said or done something racist?

A: I am sorry to say that there are no set “guidelines.” The key is to keep standing up. Everyday racism is often seen in microaggressions. Microaggressions are little pervasive things in our society that show that whiteness, christianity, able bodies, etc. are valued more than other identities.

The University of California describes microaggressions as, “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership (from Diversity in the Classroom, UCLA Diversity & Faculty Development, 2014). The first step in addressing microaggressions is to recognize when a microaggression has occurred and what message it may be sending.”

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White person on the board?

Q: I’ve been invited to serve on a board for an organization focused on POC. How can I best be helpful on the board without feeling like the white person trying to have greater influence or voice in an initiative that is not about me?

A: That is great that you are doing the work and have been invited to be in a position of leadership. As white people serving in organizations focused on work with and by people of color we need to really take care, especially if you are the only white person in the room, and even more if you benefit from multiple positions of privilege. Obviously, as people who benefit from white supremacy we always need to take care; but, if you are a cis, straight, white, upper-middle class, male for example, you will need to really examine the work you do. This is not to say that you shouldn’t speak up or participate, or challenge people or the organization, just that you will need to examine your motives, and how much your voice is being valued/heard.

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