How to Talk to your Family about Racism 

How to Talk to your Family about Racism 

Often the simplest of actions can be the most effective.

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Since the murder of George Floyd, there has been a surge in protests and people taking action in necessary ways, be it signing petitions and sending donations. Yet, often the best way to take action is to start at home and talk to your family. It is often easier and more comfortable to remain silent, as it’s ‘polite’ and you can avoid exposing yourself to conflict. Unfortunately, to stay silent mean to promote systematic racism as one’s racist and ignorant beliefs remain unchecked. Hence, whilst these conversations are uncomfortable for some, it only emphasises how important it is to have these conversations by having others be aware of the impact of their views and reflecting upon them.

Perhaps you have also tried to hold these conversations, but the results remain fruitless. Through following the tips of these professionals, perhaps these conversations can become less painful and more meaningful.

  1. Prepare

As Miguel De Cervantes said, ‘to be prepared is half the victory’. The NSPCC have suggested that when you want to discuss a difficult topic with your child, it is best to think about where and when you will have your discussion. For instance, it may not be best to hold such an intense discussion in the evening when the child is tired and thus, not in the mood to concentrate. Similarly, your friend or relative may also be too tired as they may have had a busy day from work hence, being less willing to concentrate. Furthermore, you may also want to consider being in a quiet and relaxing space, such as going on a walk, as both you and your friend/relative may be more relaxed.

In the case of talking to children, JAN Trust CEO, Sajda Mughal OBE, has also suggested that an age-appropriate conversation is necessary for a child to develop ‘a useful frame to understand the complex and difficult realities’. To ignore this and remain silent would instead, allow the child to develop an ‘unhelpful frame’ where they may draw their own incorrect conclusions. This would thus, inhibit any change for future generations.

  1. Have realistic expectations

In the NY Times, Dr Tania Israel,  professor in the department of counselling, clinical and school psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says it is unlikely to change one’s views and opinions after just one conversation. Instead, Dr Israel suggests that it is best to remain rational and realistic with our expectations so we steer clear of disappointment and frustration by the lack of change.

Dan Mager also similarly states, in Psychology Today,  that it is best to drop your assumptions. Even if you have known your friend for a while, it does not mean you can drastically change your friend’s views. Remain patient and understand that to expect changes, time is needed.

  1. Be an active listener

To be an active listener means to make a conscious effort to listen and take in not only the ‘words’ that are being said, but the ‘complete message’. Whilst this sounds pretty straightforward, research suggests that we only remember between 25-50% of what we hear.

According to mindtools there are 5 listening techniques to become an active listener:

  • Pay attention – try not to wander off into your own thoughts or think up a rebuttal towards the other person’s statements.
  • Show that your listening through your body language. For instance, nod your head, look directly at them and use other expressions to show your engaged
  • Give feedback – understand what is being said and reflect on it by asking questions
  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Respond with respect and understanding.

These techniques will allow you to not only keep calm, but also allow you both to have meaningful and understanding conversations.

  1. Keep a cool head

It is best to remain calm and keep your emotions at bay. Mager suggests that a neutral tone is adopted so that your friend/relative focuses on the content of your conversation, rather than the emotions. Another method of keeping calm is to avoid throwing insults and screaming at each other. When this happens, the other person may be less likely to compromise or negotiate on their views. If you feel that you’re ready to let some insults loose, Elizabeth McCorvey, a licenced clinical social worker suggests resorting to coping mechanisms like taking deep breaths or excusing yourself to the bathroom and try to calm down. If the conversation becomes too much, take a break and return to the conversation at a later time when you feel less emotional.

After all, as Mager says, respect is essential when communicating with others.

These conversations will almost certainly be uncomfortable for both you and the other person, and it may also be difficult. However, there is always a chance the other person may refuse to alter their views, but there is also a chance they may understand and try to change their views. However, it is always worth trying to talk. After all, to stay silent is to stay complacent.

Here at JAN Trust, our values are to encourage, educate and empower marginalised women and provide the resources to be able to better their life options and reintegrate into society. Our programmes have allowed women of various backgrounds to become aware of the racism and oppression they have been all too familiar with, and instead, fight for the justice they deserve.