People / Resolutions

Here’s how to talk to your family about racism


It's been just under three months since the Black Lives Matter movement swept the globe following the death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and so many others at the hands of white supremacy. Since then, a lot of us have been looking inward, reflecting, and hopefully, taking action against systemic racism.

A lot of the work for white people is in learning and unlearning the ways in which we contribute to systemic racism daily, even if we think of ourselves as "not racist". It is about uprooting the shoots of white privilege and covert white supremacy that many of us have a hard time coming to terms with, unpacking them, and taking accountability for them in order to reach a collective goal of unity and equity.

But what of those who aren't doing the work at all? And what if those people happen to be racist family members? Do we, as those who are striving to be allies have a responsibility to call them out? Absolutely. Particularly when it comes to the lives and safety of Black and Indigenous folks.

Beverly Tatum, author of 'Can We Talk About Race?' notes “white people educating other white people is necessary and important,” especially if it means we are lifting the burden off of BIPOC - which can be emotionally taxing and distressing at best. When it comes to family, for some it's a more nuanced conversation than simply cutting one off. Sure, cutting ties with a distant, racist aunt might be low stakes collateral when it comes to anti-racist work, but what happens when you're dealing with someone closer like a parent or sibling? Are you still prepared to do the work? The most important thing is your focus on the goal: the safety, equity and justice the Black and Indigenous community deserve, so how can we participate in educating our loved ones in order to realise this goal?


Manage expectations

To be clear: this is not another way of saying 'set the bar low', because wilful ignorance should never be awarded with a lower standard of decency. It does, however, mean that if your parents are inherently racist, it's going to take more than a single conversation to get them to understand, and in order to preserve your stamina and keep chipping that racist husk off them, you're going to need to preempt this. Aim for dialogue, not debate, and hopefully, you can reach the end of the road sooner.


Clarify their Viewpoint

So much of the time, racism is so ingrained in white people that they don't even realise what they are arguing is necessarily racist (read the room though, nanna). A classic tactic is to clarify their stance but repeating it back to them, and reframing it how you perceive their words, this will let them know that you're listening, and hopefully give them insight into how others perceive what they are saying, impact will always weigh out intent, and it's important that the person you're having dialogue with understands this.


Come Prepared

If you are someone who has been actively doing anti-racist work, make sure you're saving things along the way (on social media, in your notes, in your camera roll, or on your person) to reference when you're trying to get a point across. That way, if someone thinks something is "unbelievable" you have facts and references to back it up instead of vague statistics which could lose you some credibility. Even better if you just happen to have some anti-racist reading material to hand out at the end of your discussion.


Set Boundaries

While we embark on our anti-racist journeys, there will be a time when setting boundaries to indicate certain behaviour is not ok will be required. There are certain things that aren't necessarily up for discussion, especially when it comes to innocent lives. Limiting damaging language around this topic can be helpful for relatives to see how serious the matter is. If they can't respect your wishes to not say offensive things around you after attempting to educate them on why it's not ok, it's reasonable to put distance between you.


Do it together

Unless you can't stand them, include them. We are all on this journey, and the opportunity to learn and grow together should not be discounted. We have a reading list of anti-racist reading material and a list of educational watches.