“If you are a white ally, you listen to the messaging and you go back to your people, your company, your institution, your father and you share what you learned and heard. I don’t need you to feel my pain I need you to have influence with those who are responsible for my pain to help address the issues.”
-Dr. Mark Anthony Neal, Professor of African and African American Studies at Duke University
I need you to have influence with those who are responsible for my pain. People, processes, and technology are the foundation of successful organizations. However, for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), encounters with pain originate from people, processes, and technology. BIPOC are often subject to microaggressions and overt racism that occur while visiting doctors, attending school, walking, driving, scrolling on social media, and more.
The burden of education and action cannot solely fall on the shoulders of the traumatized, who already carry a great weight. As allies, we can learn, we can unlearn, we can teach, and we can challenge in solidarity with other communities of color.
After building confidence with self-education and conversation skills, the next step is to determine who to engage with and in what way. A successful conversation depends on a number of factors, including those detailed below using the acronym VERDICT. The framework below can help you determine your approach to engaging an individual in a conversation about racism.
Is this the right location for a productive conversation? Are you in a private space, or surrounded by others? Are the surroundings more conducive to a shorter or longer conversation? Location can help set the tone for the conversation. A conversation in a public local coffee shop may be better suited for a shorter conversation compared to a conversation in a private living room.
Do both parties have the mental/emotional capacity to engage? If either conversation partner has reached their mental or emotional limit, it is more difficult to evoke empathy and active listening from one another.
Furthermore, it is vital to evaluate your emotions with intersectionality. As an Asian-American woman with a post-secondary education, I recognize I have privileges that others do not. However, I also have been harmed by misogyny and racism. Intersectional emotional awareness can help me determine how I sustainably execute on these conversations without burning out.
How open is the person to discussion? Will they immediately push back, or are they open to new ideas? Will they respond better to a discussion filled with data or personal anecdotes? Set realistic expectations and have a contingency plan if they’re more closed off than anticipated.
Where is the person in their journey of understanding? Consider meeting people where they are at. Speaking the same language, literally and figuratively, will enable success in the conversation. Letters for Black Lives is a collective resource with translations of a letter directed towards non-English speakers. Defining terminology such as Model Minority, systemic racism, institutional racism, liberation, and more may need to be incorporated into your approach.
What is your goal? Is the purpose to win or to educate? Identifying the intent can help determine whether it’s best to call in vs. call out the individual for a particular conversation. Unless you are reacting to a racist remark by shutting it down, your intent should not be to win, but to understand, empathize, and educate. Furthermore, knowing your specific goal can help you determine length and tone for the conversation.
What is your relationship to the person? What values does this person have, and how does it differ from yours? If you have a closer relationship with a person, you may have the opportunity to delve into an in-depth, serious conversation. In contrast, a conversation with a family member could be more prickly than a conversation with a friend. Use what you know about the person to your advantage to find common ground and breakthrough moments.
Is the need immediate? Are there opportunities in the future? Urgency is the consideration here. If you have a relative who makes racist comments regularly, is it better to initiate the conversation immediately after their comment or schedule time to correct them in the future? How long will the conversation be? Finally, are you approaching these conversations with a sense of urgency? Holding off on a conversation to maximize effectiveness is one thing; holding off on a conversation because of discomfort or fear is another.
No matter how, when, or where you decided to engage; the most important thing is TO engage.
We believe in spotlighting community experts. Below are resources to better prepare in having this conversation with family and friends.
CORE: Community Organizing for Radical Empathy created the VERDICT framework to help you analyze and strategize in preparation for having conversations about race with family and friends. One of our flagship organization trainings is Courageous Conversations, which will help you feel confident in preparing, strategizing, and executing these conversations. Contact us if you’re interested in hosting a workshop for your organization.
Share your success with us on Instagram @core.dei or Facebook.