As activists around the country continue to organize protests against police brutality, many people are talking to their parents about racism for what may be the first time. While these conversations may be difficult or uncomfortable, they are a necessary part of educating ourselves and our loved ones about systemic racism, privilege, and police violence. If you're unsure how to approach a conversation like this with your family, here are a few ideas for how to talk to your parents about racism, according to experts.
While these conversations have always been important, they're coming to the forefront for many families and communities following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade at the hands of police officers, as well as the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in a confrontation with two white men. Riana Anderson, Ph.D, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health, tells Elite Daily that talking to your parents about racism does not have to be a big event. It may be tempting to wait until you can see your family in person, Anderson acknowledges, but given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it may be awhile before you can sit down with your parents and have this conversations. Instead, Anderson suggests that "the best way of bringing this up is just to bring it up."
"We really have to open up our mouths and just start talking about it," she says.
In order to talk to your parents about racism, Anderson adds, you first need to know your own position on the issues you want to discuss with them. If you want to talk to your parents about how Black people make up a disproportionate percentage of Americans killed by police, look up the data that makes that clear. If you want to share your thoughts about how to be actively anti-racist, make sure you're reading texts by activists, writers, and educators who have been doing work around anti-racism for years. This way, you will be prepared to answer questions as they come up, rather than struggling to find words to express yourself.
However, it is also important to avoid getting overly academic or technical when discussing systemic racism with people who are not accustomed to having these conversations. Che Johnson-Long, director of decarceration strategies at the Racial Action Justice Center in Georgia, tells Elite Daily that "we have a responsibility to talk to our folks in language that they understand." She recommends avoiding academic language, which can be confusing to people who aren't already steeped in the discourse.
"Often I'll use these buzzwords that just don't make sense to normal people," she says. "Having conversations with [my mom] and really struggling through some of our political differences isn't just making me closer to her, it's also letting me know how to do better outreach, how to talk to folks on [public transit], how to talk to folks on the streets."
According to Elizabeth McCorvey, MSW, LCSW, a therapist in North Carolina who developed a guide for white therapists to talk about race with their Black clients, there are also a few conversational techniques you can use to make these conversations more accessible and productive. For starters, McCorvey says, it is helpful to use "I" statements, which can make it easier to talk to your parents without them getting defensive or unwilling to talk. McCorvey also recommends asking your parents questions about their values and ideals, rather than accusing them of racism from the get-go. People's self-stated morals and values aren't always "in alignment with racist attitudes," McCorvey says, so asking questions can be helpful to understand where they're coming from.
Finally, McCorvey says, it can be helpful if you're honest about your intent in having these conversations. Let your parents know that you've been doing your own research about racism, and even if you know you won't agree on everything, you want to hear about their points of view. "Don't expect perfection from them and don't expect perfection from yourself," McCorvey adds. "You are all humans trying to have a difficult conversation that can feel painful and vulnerable."
It's also important to be realistic about what you're hoping to achieve when going into a conversation with your parents based on your relationship with them and what you know about their stances. According to McCorvey, "Success will look different for every family."
"For some, it'll look like marching together at the next Black Lives Matter rally," McCorvey says. "For others, success will just be getting through a conversation without yelling. No matter what you do, learning how to have these conversations will make you a better advocate and ally." Ultimately, McCorvey adds, you should "get comfortable with loose ends," because you won't necessarily be able to change your parents' minds. But as Anderson points out, "the goal" of these conversations "is not for you to be right, as much as it is for your parents to move," and you need to find a way to help facilitate that.
"It’s our job to get our parents to a place where they, as business owners or landowners or people in charge of systems that oppress people of color — if they can just have one shift in their thought process, then the world would a better place because of it," Anderson says.