More and more I’ve been getting this question from readers: How do I engage with my racist family member/friend/coworker?
There’s an implication in this question that engaging with a racist can eventually lead to a racist seeing the error of their ways. If I could get white liberals to understand one thing about their fellow whites, it’s that there actually are white people who are actual racists. Truly. Like, real racists.
There are those who move through the world believing that Black and brown people are fundamentally less than white people. They believe Black people are capable of less, worth less and deserve less. This belief is part of their identity and they didn’t arrive there by accident. They were never on a deep intellectual and spiritual quest seeking to traverse the most ideal moral path. And they didn’t just stumble upon the wrong literature. There are actual terrible, hateful and malicious people in the world who are deliberate in their thoughts and actions and have no want to be anything other than what they are. And they have a better chance of talking you into their racism than you have of talking them out of it.
These devout racists that I’m speaking about don’t self-identify. They’re not all tattooed with swastikas or wearing white hoods on the weekends. On the contrary, they hide in plain sight.
There are white people in this world who would run into a burning building to save a white baby and gladly stay outside if the baby were Black. They’re not going to be jumping up and down cheering on the fire or yelling the n-word. They’d be standing there next to you, talking about what a shame it is that the baby had such neglectful parents.
To be clear, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t engage with these people. I’ve probably spent whole years of my life dragging racists all over the internet. It can be useful to engage, especially in public spaces. People watch these conversations and they learn from them. But if you are trying to convince someone of your point of view, it is important to look at the patterns.
If a person posts about is about how Colin Kaepernick wasn’t a good quarterback and so it’s OK that he’s out of work, maybe that’s just their specific opinion on a specific topic. But if the next post is about how the confederate flag is heritage and not hate and then the following post involves the valuing of property over human lives and the next is about how blue lives matter, then a pattern has emerged telling you that your specific engagement will not solve this problem.
The question is not whether or not to engage. The question is Do you want to do the right thing or do you just want to be right? Being right feels good. Proving a hateful person wrong feels good. Identifying yourself as having the moral high ground feels good, but doing the right thing can be incredibly painful. It may involve abandoning your relationships or walking away from your career. It’s rarely as easy as arguing with a racist.
Before you wonder how to engage, ask yourself why you want to.
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