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What If Being Called "Racist" Were the Start of the Conversation?
And not the end of it
There’s a thing that happens in mixed company (that is with Black/Global Majority and white folx share space) whenever someone describes a white person’s behaviour as racist.
Invariably, the person whose behaviour has been described that way shuts down and they stop hearing anything else. Some even behave as if having their behaviour called racist is worse than, you know, actually experiencing racism. (It isn’t; not by a long shot.)
But something that happened last year made me believe there’s hope, and that calling behaviour racist does not have to end a conversation. Indeed, it can be the start of a new avenue of learning for the white person in question.
Some time ago, a Global Majority person posted on LinkedIn about racism and white people, and made a point about the unearned advantages many white-presenting people enjoy, and the system we all are raised in. What happened next was interesting.
As so often happens in these cases, a slew of white men descended on the post to excoriate the original poster, with the usual mansplaining, whitesplaining, denials and table turning. It could have turned into another flame war.
But it didn’t.
Before I get to why, I noticed that many of the white women who commented on the post had started to do their own work, and were able to look beyond what seemed like inflammatory words to see the truth that applies to those experiencing racism. That’s not always the case, so it stood out.
In contrast, many of the white men showed an entrenched resistance to having their whole world view upended, with attendant fear and vulnerability. It’s something to be aware of in doing anti-racism work.
One of the white women in question took it on herself to help to educate a white man who, despite his initial aggression, clearly wanted to learn more and do better. She shared her journey to accepting her internalised racism, and the feelings that arose from that. Then, as he remained open to the conversation, she shared some other written resources. He had a lightbulb moment and committed to doing his own work.
For me, the interaction also validated how the work we do in the Anti-Racist Leaders Association builds confidence in having these conversations, because the woman in question had been part of the group.
Beyond that, it was a good example of how calling in can work. (Though I’m not denying that calling out is sometimes necessary, believe me.) This is especially true with people who are willing to learn and grow.
As a would-be anti-racism advocate, you’re going to mess up at some point. Wherever you are in your journey, consider that if someone takes the time to tell you that a particular behaviour is racist, they’re letting you know so you don’t do it again. That’s priceless, because they could just roll their eyes and walk away. So consider it as an invitation to do better and the start of a deeper conversation, rather than the end.
What do you think?
Thanks for reading,
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© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2023. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.