The reason it is not the oppressed’s job to educate the oppressor is that educating and holding space for people to deconstruct their privilege is exhausting.
When it comes to racism, BIPOC should not have to take on the burden of educating White People because they are already dealing with the pressures of racism. That is why White People are being asked to step up and educate our friends and family.
But these important conversations are uncomfortable and don’t always reap the results we hope for.
Having facilitated conversations on race with adults and kids, here are some thoughts to help prepare you to make these conversations more successful.
There have been a lot of infuriating things in the news this week. Videos of police violence, racist comments from leaders, and disturbing posts and comments from loved ones. It is a logical instinct to immediately start filling everyone’s ears with your thoughts on the matter.
However many people are just starting to realize how much their whiteness has protected them from seeing racism, and if this is you please know there is likely a TON to learn before you step into the role of educator.
We live in a racist culture, which means (white people, especially) even if you are not a card-carrying KKK member, you hold racist bias. So when we approach these conversations know first you are a person who has only lived in a racist culture, talking to another person who also has only lived in a racist culture. Not the best sources.
Your job, as well as your loved one’s job, is to educate yourselves. Learn from the voices of those who have been fighting this fight for years. Their thoughts are valuable and available to guide you.
Here are some resources I have come to love:
Film (both available on Netflix)
When They See Us
Be Prepared To Hold Space With Love
Holding space for someone means creating a context where they can reveal weaknesses without fear of harm (physical or emotional). All too often well-intentioned white people try to create space to discuss racism that is not open to questions or curiosity.
I have 100% made this mistake. I came in guns blazing and fell flat on my face!!
There has been a developed sense of dogmatism around justice movements that looks for the right answers instead of the right questions. And when people make mistakes it is easy to get upset with them.
But when initiating these conversations It is important to hold space for people’s confusion, their ignorances, and yes all the ways they will stumble by making comments that may infuriate you. BUT this isn’t about you, it’s about them learning and growing.
Someone, at one point (very often a Black Woman), did this for you when you first began understanding what racism is. They heard your confusion and answered your questions with patient love. And now it’s time to pass it on.
In many ways, this simply means approaching the conversation with an awareness of, what the author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire calls “dialectical understanding of reality.” This means what we hear people saying isn’t always what they intend to communicate. And the words you may be using could mean something different to other people.
Our country has become so divided that people from different educational and regional backgrounds, often don’t use the same words to explain the same ideas. But when we approach people with the intent to understand, real justice and liberation work can take place.
Remember this is not about your Racist Uncle
Some of us, unfortunately, do have family members who are without a doubt racists. You can talk to them as much as you want but nothing you say will shift their perspective.
Ijeoma Olou, author of So You Want to Talk About Race recently tweeted “you, who could vote on prosecutors, who could be talking about equitable hiring practices in work meetings, who could be funding and supporting organizers working for structural change – you are still arguing with your racist ass uncle?”
I get it, you love your family and it hurts to see some of them choose to hate, especially now. Yet the truth is she’s right, at this point there is very little we can say to change their minds.
As Olou says, denying racism at this point is like being a flat-earther. Your energy is better spent elsewhere than trying to change their minds.
Instead, take the above advice for the well-intended uncles. The family members who are shocked at these protests and want to understand why they are happening. The ones who seem to be searching for answers but can’t seem to find the right info.
These are the people who need these conversations, and we need them as anti-racists fighting for justice.