“She is so loud and outspoken. No wonder; she’s Black.”
“White people are exclusive, you know. They don’t want to mix with people of color.”
“This neighborhood is good because White people live there.”
These racist comments often come from our own families and friends. Most people will agree that the world will be better without racism.
But how do we eliminate it?
It begins with knowing what the definition of racism is. The most popular definition of racism is that one race thinks it is better than another race, and often the one which thinks it is superior is of lighter skin than people of color. Before talking about racism, one must understand what causes it.
Jennifer Richeson, a Yale University social psychologist, explains one of many causes of racism:
“This is not the product of some deep-seated, evil heart that is cultivated. It comes from the environment, the air all around us” (1).
Thus, racism is not an intentional feeling that a person wants to have. People become racist because of influence from others. Racism is an ongoing problem; thus, it requires a constant engaging conversation to educate people about what racism is, why it is wrong, and how to talk about it. This article will focus on how to converse on racism.
1. Understand why you want to discuss racism
When you begin a conversation on this topic, start with genuine intention because you want to educate other people that racism is wrong, whether it is direct or indirect. Finding a real purpose to start a meaningful conversation on a sensitive topic is essential because it gives a foundation to the conversation.
2. Be prepared: it will feel uncomfortable
Racism is a sensitive issue, and most people, whether it is the minority race or the majority, will feel uncomfortable conversing about this. Some people try to ignore this topic. For instance, if your parent who was born and raised in a developing country commented as follows: “He is a Black man. Be careful,” you may disagree with this comment, but at the same time, you also cannot confront your parents directly because the parent will think you are rude. Younger people often are not brave enough to speak the truth, especially in front of respected elders and family members like a parent, grandparent, uncle, or aunt. Some people do not want to confront racist comments or attitudes in front of their friends because their friends may think or say this person who speaks against racism is too serious. However, if one is truly passionate about conversing on racism, one must be ready to bear this uncomfortable feeling and to seek a solution to it.
3. Understand your audience
Children need to be taught that the light-skinned race is not better than dark-skinned, or vice versa. What makes a person good or bad is the character of that person. If your sister says, “Why is my skin dark? I need to switch skincare,” then you must carefully and patiently reply that the most important thing is to have healthy skin. The dusky complexion is also beautiful. Your sister might respond, “Well, I want to have light and flawless skin, nothing wrong with that! It is my right.” This kind of answer is very common, and one must understand that for a long time, and even today, society defines women’s beauty as synonymous with white and flawless skin. So we should not give up educating our loved ones. One can respond to someone who wants to have white skin by saying if you associate beauty with white skin, that’s a problem because it is a product of colonialism and a really unworthy definition of beauty if beauty solely means white skin. One must use patience and different strategies when talking about racism to a 25-year-old or one’s grandparent. But the common strategies are patience and perseverance because when we point out racist comments, the racist person will feel and acknowledge that this attitude is wrong, even if they may not want to show it to you.
4. Identify an example of racism in daily life
Before saying racism is wrong, educate yourself about everyday examples of racism. This may consist of comments, attitudes, or even jokes. By educating ourselves about this subtle, daily-life racist attitude, we will have more knowledge when conversing on racism. Alvin Alvarez, a professor at San Francisco State University, conducted a study about everyday racism. He identified everyday racism as “subtle, commonplace forms of discrimination, such as being ignored, ridiculed or treated differently” (2). Everyday racism may seem insignificant, and people may not even be aware that these attitudes, comments, jokes, or words are all examples of racism because they are very different from the obvious direct examples of racism.
5. Listen attentively
Do not try too hard to change people’s minds. Converse respectfully, even if you have opposite points of view. The key is to have a healthy, two-way conversation. If you want to talk about racism, you have to listen to their point of view, even if it makes you uncomfortable and even if you disagree. Remember that talking about a sensitive issue like racism will take time.
6. Self-educate and self-reflect
Before talking about racism, ask yourself, am I racist? What do I think of people who look different from me? How do I feel about them? Am I making generalizations? Never associate crime, bad action to the race of that person. Family values, upbringing, and environ-ment are the important factors that shape the character of a person. Having this mindset may be difficult if one has encountered people of color committing a crime or having bad manners. It requires careful self-analysis to try to eliminate personal bias toward someone who looks different from us. It is normal to have a judgment about something, but when we start treating others as if we are better than them because of our skin color, that is wrong.
People might wonder why racism still exists in this age of globalization. The most effective solution to end racism is in our hearts. Conversing about racism, creating awareness that it is wrong, participating in voting, and social movements are all great efforts to bring attention to racism being wrong. Still, the real solution, and the most e°ective solution, is in our hearts. Conversing about racism will only work when we open our hearts and minds. When we accept that we all have implicit biases and prejudice, then we can engage in a meaningful conversation on racism. In a sermon titled “The Detroit Address,” the fourth worldwide leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rh), explained hatred and prejudice of a majority race toward a minority:
“Nevertheless, if you honestly search your hearts, it is possible that you may ÿnd that, unfortunately, you had locked your soul’s door to them. Or, if you had not locked it completely, you had at least half-closed it to them. You did not desire to keep it wide open so that they could gladly enter into it” (3).
A real and genuine conversation about racism should first begin with an open heart and an open mind. Only when we make our hearts and souls open wide to people who look different than us will the conversation on racism be productive.
This article appears in the Fall 2020 issue.
1. Kaplan, Sarah. “Why are people still racist? What science says about America’s race problem.” washingtonpost.com
2. Nittle, Karim Nadra. “Subtle Racism and the Problems It Poses.” thoughtco.com. January 19, 2019. Web
3. Ahmad, Mirza Tahir. “The Detroit Address: An English translation of the Friday Sermon delivered by Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rh) on October 16, 1987, at Detroit, Michigan.” MKA USA Publications Ltd. Republished 2018. Print.
Last modified: December 2021