It’s hard, calling people out, especially on issues of race. But imagine how hard it is for black people and people of colour when you stay silent? If you want to be an ally, and truly stand up for racial equality, justice and fairness, then it’s important that you make your position clear. If/when people around you – friends, family, colleagues or connections – make racist statements, either overtly or casually (see casual racism explained), it’s important to let them know that what they have said is not ok, and why.
Depending on where people are on their Anti-Racism Journey, will determine the level of interaction and engagement with them after that, but it’s important to name issues as they arise, and not let people continue to spew hateful, racist assumptions that make spaces unsafe and unwelcoming for other people to exist. There are enough barriers already, without allowing ignorance to create new ones.
Here are some ways you can challenge racism around you:
- Disarm by agreeing (at first) – often people who use provocative statements are actively seeking debate, and hope that someone disagrees with them, not realising that even the idea of debating a humanitarian issue can be painful for people affected by it. So if they say something like “All Lives Matter”, you could reply with “I completely agree with you, of course all lives matter…BUT… that is why we need to support black people, to show them how their lives matter just like everyone else’s”. Other options include: “I know what you mean….so long as….” or “Yes, you are 100% right… it’s just that…”. Diffuse the debate, and bring it back to basic principles of decency and respect.
- Get curious – some people genuinely don’t understand the issues being raised, whether it’s fear over terms like “defund the police“, or resistance to accepting the concept of privilege, it can help to understand where people are coming from before making our own generalised judgements of their behaviour, so try asking “what do you mean by that?” or “what is it that you don’t agree with?” or “what exactly do you like/not like about [insert issue of racial inequality or injustice]?”. This can help flip the conversation from confrontational to educational. It can also help people to realise that their opinions are not just accepted as fact, and can give them cause to pause and reflect on what they are actually trying to say, and to realise that perhaps they don’t know enough about the subject to make such sweeping statements.
- Be prepared – it seems crazy to me that people still do not believe that racial inequality or injustice exists in this world, but I’ve realised recently just how far people will go to avoid dealing with uncomfortable truths, especially on the issue of race, particularly when the people are white, and simply not used to having conversations like this. So it’s important to not only be prepared for the potential defensive stonewalling or creative distraction techniques that may come your way, but also good to have cold, hard facts. It’s harder for people to defend against numbers. Here are 12 Facts That Prove Black Lives Don’t Matter in Britain as a starting point, but there are many other sources of reliable statistics out there, from the Runnymede Trust to the government’s Ethnicity Facts & Figures website.
- Call it out – if someone is being deliberately aggressive, provocative or antagonistic, particularly in a public setting, it’s ok to simply let them know “That’s not ok” with you. Especially if it is in front of people who would feel personally affected by these issues, but also even if not. The more that people are able to share racist views without being challenged, the more confident they will become at continuing to hold and express these views. So, not only is it ok for you to say this is not acceptable, it’s necessary if you want to stop the spread of hateful bile, and if you ever desire a more fair, just or equitable world. Our public actions (and inactions) speak louder than our private thoughts.