Talking to your racist relatives

This week I got a question from a podcast listener: “Can you talk about how to manage interactions with racist family members over the holidays? What I really need are some go-to phrases and scripts. Both responding to racist comments, and how to get myself out of the situation if it gets bad. Soooooo all of my in-laws are some degree of racist. My father in law and brother in law say the most racist things most often. I have literally learned new racist terms from them – like I heard a word said in a derogatory fashion and looked it up later and was like OMG. I married into the family recently, and clearly no one has ever been called out on a racist comment ever. There is an in-law tradition of Christmas in another country and this is my first ever time attending! As a new family member I definitely have shaken up the dynamic a little bit just by, like, existing. For past trips with these folks when I have heard racist comments I kept my mouth shut – especially because my father in law pays for the trips. I am worried that my kids someday will literally have the worst ever racist uncle. So I want to start setting boundaries. But how? What do I say?”

In this week’s podcast I answer this question in some detail. I talk about:

  • Building relationship
  • Checking your motives
  • One practice to build your confidence to respond in the moment
  • Planning for the long game
  • Looking inward
  • Taking care of yourself
  • What about the children?

Try this exercise (described in more detail in the podcast)

  1. When you think of a white person you want to say something to (something about their racism) -anchor yourself in why -where is your why coming from? Check your motives and I mean really check them. Do you care about this person and want them to not be causing harm? Are you trying to separate yourself from their racism as a way of avoiding your own?
  2.  Then pick one thing about your own racism that you are working or should be working on and work on it that day.
  3. Confidence comes from being grounded and comfortable knowing as much as possible about your own racism.  Try this and let me know how it goes, how it feels and whether you feel your ability to talk to your racist relatives improve.

Try this experiement: assume that you are causing racist harm, start in the morning with one thing you are going to focus on to change a racist thought in your head. Notice what you are thinking, what you say and do and in the evening review your day and find one thing you can try to do differently tomorrow. Don’t focus on your relatives focus on your own learning and getting comfortable facing your own racism. Notice when you don’t want to do this, notice when you are irritated with having to do this when you wish you could just be unconscious and vacation or holiday.  Notice how you feel about all of this and remember that we don’t learn or unlearn rooted in shame guilt etc. Choose one thing to work on yourself and take 5 or 10 minutes to quietly journal or meditate on that one thing until you can come from a place of curiosity, humor, looking forward to learning something that day.


My path towards unlearning racism

My journey into unlearning racism started when I escaped bullying and isolation at my neighborhood elementary school by applying to a magnet school that bussed white kids to the Black middle school.  The program included a lot of education on racism in history.  I vividly remember sitting in the auditorium watching film from the Holocaust and waking up to the horrors of systemic and institutional oppression.

After years of  learning about historic and systemic racism, at age 23 I attended a workshop that woke me up to my own racism, to the ways I was causing harm to people of color unintentionally and thoughtlessly every day.  As you know, this is a very uncomfortable place to be and I began studying, reading, attending workshops and digging for ways to learn about the roots of my racism so that I could start pulling them up. I wasn’t finding it easy. I left these seminars and workshops unclear about how to change my thinking or behavior.

I realized if I was serious about uprooting racism in myself I would have to create my own method.  I started experimenting with various techniques I learned as a behavioral therapist and the focus, spiritual grounding and sense of purpose that I learned working as a hospice caregiver.  I incorporated what I learned as a project manager and director of program and policy in a government office of diversity and equity along with the everyday stories of racism experienced by the people of color in my life. I started to see real thinking and behavior changes.

Now I use what has been working for me (not saying that I am free from racism! The journey continues for our whole lives) to coach other white people. If you are a white person wanting to work on your racism and ready for some new perspective and some new strategies I would love for you to  join our private Facebook community and register for the next 6 week unlearning everyday racism course.  I can’t wait to meet you!

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