Race (for White People): Week 3

It’s week 3 of Black History Month so here are another seven days of articles, videos and memes to help my fellow white folks get more comfortable talking about race. (Are you having the same sense of exhaustion and overwhelm as you did halfway through your last Whole 30 or gym challenge? Me too. But keep faith that the results will be just as gratifying, and maybe last longer…)

DAY 15: Labels

“Do I say black or African American? People of color? Maybe I should just say nothing…” Don’t let terminology stop you from stepping into important conversations. 

First (obvious) guideline: listen to what people call themselves and use that. If you don’t know how they identify, ask. 

Some other things I’ve learned (and appreciate others’ insights, corrections or amendments!): If you’re talking about groups, ‘African American’ usually refers to people whose ancestors were enslaved while people whose families immigrated from the Caribbean or Africa usually use ‘black’ (B vs b seems to be a style choice). ‘Black’ is more inclusive. ‘People of color’ is a catch-all for anyone who doesn’t identify as white and no one really likes the term except that it’s better than being identified as ‘non-white’; being defined by what you aren’t is demeaning.

It should be obvious that white people should never use the N word (even in song lyrics) but this Ta-Nehisi Coates clip tackles why. Realizing that I was raised to assume that all words (and ideas) were my property and I had inherent rights to them — and that many of my countrymates always had words and ideas they weren’t allowed — was embarrassing.

DAY 16: Microaggressions

I love this video that compares microaggressions to mosquito bites for many reasons but mostly because of the visceral image of how the reaction to one bite might seem a little extra, but is really a result of one too many bites for any human to handle.

DAY 17: Cultural appropriation

I’m guessing most of us understand why white people wearing sombreros and sarapes on Cinco de Mayo or a white Victoria’s Secret model wearing a fringed bikini and full feathered headdress <facepalm> is not okay. But I love the gorgeous orange silk ao dai I got in Vietnam; (how) can I wear it without looking like an asshole? Finding the line between honoring the beauty in someone else’s culture and taking it over for your own benefit is a tricky one with lots (LOTS) of passionate debate about boundaries. This article by Maisha J. Johnson lays out some things to consider.

DAY 18: Implicit bias test

The good folks at Harvard created a test for implicit bias (Day 3’s topic: the trash that society has filled your mind with that will guide your reactions to people and situations if you aren’t aware of and interrupt the process). There are bias tests for all sorts of topic: race, gender, religion, etc. Take one and then — after you let your defensiveness run its course for a few minutes — think about how those messages got into your brain, and more importantly, in what situations your brain might hijack you and make you act in a way counter to your real values.


DAY 19: White supremacy 

So I’m hoping we’ve been doing this long enough that you’re ready for the big one: white supremacy. Most of us associate the term with men with torches and alt-right threads on the edges of Reddit. But that’s just the visible tip of the iceberg; below the surface is a giant mass of rules and systems based on the idea that white people and the way they do things are inherently better than the way other people do things. White supremacy is so deep and so hard to face that this is where most white people step out of conversations about race. It is incredibly uncomfortable to explore how we’ve been programmed to think about white as “better” in a million ways, large and small. Every conversation about white supremacy triggers defensiveness in me. It helps me to remember that I didn’t build the system even though I benefited from it. And now it’s my job to dismantle the system so that all the kids I know who don’t happen to be white have the same opportunities as my kids.

DAY 20: Impact of white supremacy thinking

This depressing-yet-important article covers how deeply entrenched unacknowledged racist views are among white people on a wide variety of topics. 

Next week, I’ll focus on tools that have helped me continue to learn more about race, understand and interrupt my biases and work to be not just “not racist” but actively anti-racist.

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