Unlearning Racism Newsletter Week 2 – Calling Others In

Week 2 – Week of June 8, 2020

Hi friends!

Wow, we had a WAY bigger turnout of subscribers than we could have ever anticipated! The amount of people seeking to unlearn racism with us is inspiring and highlights the reality that this is necessary and this is important. If you are a new subscriber (Welcome!) and/or didn’t make it to our first dialogue yesterday (6/7), please see our prior email with discussion questions for Peggy McIntosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. If you did attend last night and you have a few free minutes, please fill out this feedback form so that we can improve for next week!

We are so thankful that you are here to learn and journey with us. Before we say anything else though, we feel like it’s important to emphasize that we are still learning. We do not have all of the answers and we are imperfectly speaking up every day. We started this project with the intention of creating a space where white folks could ask hard questions without worrying about harming or burdening their Black friends, family, or coworkers. This is an attempt to take some of the work off the plates of our Black, Indigenous, and POC counterparts. 

So, we want to clarify that in our attempts to create that space, we hope to serve as a megaphone, not as autotune. This space for white folks to unlearn racism could not be possible without the resources, guidance, and incredible grace of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. While our intention is to always, always amplify melanated voices, our impact may not always be such. If in our attempts to amplify Black voices we are ever distorting the message, this is your formal invitation to tell us! Make sure we know. Make sure we can do better next time. This means now, this means next month, this means next year (yep, racism will still be around next year which means we will still be working toward anti-racism, so there is a good chance we will STILL be sending these newsletters).

By now, you might be experiencing some frustration and fatigue on social media and beyond because you are suddenly being flooded with resources, horrific images of brutality, and harrowing stories about what it is really like to be Black in America. You might be wondering or even hoping for things to return to normal. We’ve felt these feelings, too. But we urge you to push through this fatigue and keep learning, empathizing, and growing. Our “normal” is riddled with systemic racism and white privilege, so if things do not feel normal anymore, we are on the right track. This is a movement; we should feel exhausted AND energized. This fight for an anti-racist world involves constant unlearning. Here are some things we’ve been grappling with this week (and some resources that made us feel less alone, in case you’re struggling with these questions too):How do we make sure that once the social media posts die down and the dust “settles” we still feel committed to anti-racism in our own lives?How do we balance our own grief and confusion as our worldviews get uprooted without falling into a total guilt-trap?How do we avoid burnout?How do we wrap our heads around the layers of devastation without oversimplifying it or succumbing to immobilizing sadnessWhere do we even begin to understand what is happening?This week we are talking about how to talk to our family and friends about racism in a way that calls people in, instead of calling them out. Here are some basic guidelines that have worked for us in the past:


Honestly if you master this, please let us know because this is a skill that we struggle with in a LOT of conversations with other adults right now.

Here are some tips that have been helpful for us in the past as we have navigated both well-intentioned and not-so well-intentioned conversations.
* Take a deep breath and assume that the other person is coming from a good place. Even if they aren’t, it *always* makes us feel better about something that is going to be uncomfortable if we decide to approach it like the other parties and us are teammates. 
* Talk about intent and impact. For example, “even if you didn’t intend for that statement to be racist, the impact is that you just perpetuated a racist belief, stereotype, or ____. I know you probably didn’t intend to do any harm, but statements like that are harmful.”
(For example: Ellie once was in an argument with her two Black roommates and she told them she felt they were being “aggressive” to her, a term she used all the time when arguing with white friends. While her intent was not to be racist, her impact was. Luckily, her roommates thoughtfully explained why this is not an okay term to use when addressing Black people because it perpetuates a stereotype that Black people are angry and violent by nature.)
* Watch your tone. Your goal is to be effective, not to showcase your bleeding heart. It is okay for emotions to come up, but use your energy strategically. This is not about being “right,” this is about planting seeds for another person to understand the power of their words and actions in regard to Black, indigenous, persons of color.
* Admit a time you’ve done something racist without meaning to. From the very beginning, disarm your conversation partner with the knowledge that you’re not perfect either!
* Talk about a time you realized you had privilege. Dig deep. Be vulnerable. Make it okay to ask questions. And make it okay to have this conversation carry over to future conversations.
* When hot-button issues arise and you’re not sure what to say, get comfortable saying, “I don’t know much about that yet butI will look that up and we can talk about that next time. I don’t want to talk in hypotheticals without more information. It is too important to me that we don’t perpetuate racism by continuing to talk about this topic if neither of us know much about XYZ.” And then go home and look it up! It’s okay to not know everything. It’s not okay to step further into a conversation that you know is going to perpetuate racism.
* Keep asking “why do you think that is?” Find a statistic that supports something that you both agree on such as “one in every three Black men in the United States will be incarcerated at some point in their lives.” Once you agree on the stat, dig at the why.
* Don’t be afraid to mention other facts you agree on to support your point (re: criminal legal system example, Emily often talks about white people we both know who have committed crimes and gotten away with it). When we are talking about racial disparities, the answer will always eventually lead to racism. DON’T spout facts or agree to facts that you don’t know are true. If you don’t know any stats, that’s okay! Admit that you’re learning and growing and keep asking “why” regardless.  Again, at the core of all racial disparities is racism. The disparities (in health! In education! In legal services! In employment! In public safety!) are the fruits of the tree. The systems we live in and allow to exist are the trunk of the tree.  Racism is the root of the tree. 
* Become comfortable with planting one single seed of doubt. You CAN change people’s minds, but you probably won’t do it in one conversation. Our goal is long term safety for Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color. Get your family member to start questioning ONE bias – whether it be about Black women’s hair or about police brutality and you have made progress. 

(You may also have seen either of these very useful threads online lately – thank you @jenerous and @victoriaalxndr)


Full transparency: neither of us have kids. Ellie is a teacher and Emily is a person who generally likes kids, but we aren’t parents and thus don’t know how to have these conversations like we would with our peers.  We recommend you start with the CNN-Sesame Street Town Hall that aired this weekend

If Sesame Street isn’t on your agenda this week, here are some tips from the experts (thanks Children’s Alliance and BIG thanks Dr. Nzinga Harrison and the team at Lemonada Media for this 9 step plan on an episode of “Good Kids” that aired last week.)
* Start the dialogue early. Experts say children exhibit racial biases as early as 2 years old. Start talking about race in age-appropriate ways. Read them books about children of different races. Bring your baby to places with lots of different people – public libraries, public parks, etc. It’s about exposure and honesty. Do not encourage your children to not “see color,” be clear that we are different and our differences are wonderful. 
* Ask your child’s opinion on what is happening. If your child is school-aged, chances are they have interacted with racism in one way or another. For younger kids, ask questions like “have you ever seen or heard someone being treated differently because of how they looked?” If you know your child has a Black friend, personalize the issue and ask about how your child thinks that friend specifically is doing. If your child does not have a friend of a different race, ask about a book or movie character who is a different race. Ask the questions but let your kid do most of the talking. Be age appropriate (this resource from Teaching Tolerance is great for breaking down these conversations by age!)
* Do not discourage conversations or questions about race, even if they make you uncomfortable. Talk about the history of slavery, racism, and oppression in the US. Dr. Nia Heard-Garris explained this well on the CNN-Sesame Street Town Hall this weekend – “Many years ago, people were taken from their homes and forced to do work without being paid for it. They were hurt and treated very badly during that time. That was called slavery. Even though slavery doesn’t happen anymore, there are still ways that the treatment of those people affects us now.”Be clear that while slavery is over, racism and oppression are not.
* Use empathy strategies – when you talk about racism, ask them to think about a friend who has been bullied for being different. 
* Make it personal. Be clear that even if they haven’t seen someone bullied because of race, they might one daySample script (thanks again, Dr. Harrison!): “as white people, we have had a privilege to not have to have these experiences. With that privilege comes the responsibility to reduce the chance that people who are different than us have to have these experiences. You love your friend. You don’t want your friend to have to experience this. You don’t want your friend’s family or people your friend knows to experience this. It is our responsibility because we are in the position of power purely by appearing white. And so we’re going to use our power for good.”
* Don’t be afraid to get emotional. It is emotional work to talk to your kids about race. It is emotional work to live in a world where people are treated differently because of their skin. It is okay for your child to see that this is hard, emotional work.Talk to your kids about what you are doing to learn more. Talk to your kids about how we are lifelong learners and we will make mistakes and then learn to do betterGive them resources. If your kid wants to do something to make the world a little less awful, go to the internet together and type in “what can a white 8-year-old living in Colorado do about racism, about homelessness, about poverty”. It is 2020 and the world is bursting at the seams with resources. You will find something(For more tips, you can also check out @theconsciouskid and instagram’s new Anti-Racism resources if you’re on instagram!)

(Sidebar – “Good Kids” is a production of Lemonada Media all about raising kids that don’t grow up to be… jerks. While Emily is childless and really has no reason to listen to this other than sheer curiosity, she’s kind of obsessed. She can’t fully endorse because she has zero experience as a parent but would imagine that if you have kids you might love it, too? Please note: there will be cursing on some episodes if that offends you.)


Term we are unlearning: 
All Lives Matter

Why are we unlearning this:
All lives CANNOT matter if we don’t acknowledge that Black Lives Matter. Saying “all lives matter” as a response to saying “Black Lives Matter” diminishes and discounts the 400+ years of oppression and violence to which the Black community has been subjected. Black Americans are systematically subjected to violence, both explicitly from policing and less explicitly, via myriad policies and social systems that fail to prioritize Black lives. You wouldn’t want someone to say “ALL diseases matter” if you told someone that your daughter was recently diagnosed with Leukemia. Of course every life is valuable, but not everyone’s life is endangered by the way the world sees the color of their skin. 

Alternatives for saying this:
Take a deep breath and examine why you feel the need to assert this. Do you feel like you’re being blamed for being white? Do you feel scared that you will lose something if Black people have the same power in society that white people do? Do you feel ashamed that someone is acknowledging a 400-year racial divide? Do you feel nervous that you are going to be accused of racism? Do you feel annoyed that people keep talking about something that makes you uncomfortable? At that moment, stop, breathe, and remember that when we say Black Lives Matter, we are simply reminding a world that quickly forgets about Black people that their lives are important. It’s not about you. 

Term we are learning: 

What does it mean?
Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic where a person sows seeds of doubt in a person or group, in order to make them believe that their own experiences, perception, judgment, or memory was incorrectWhat does this mean in terms of racism?When it comes to navigating racism, Black, indigenous, and people of color have had their experiences, intelligence, and perceptions questioned since Columbus landed. Having your lived experiences constantly questioned is exhausting. Having the trauma of racism constantly debated, interrogated, and undermined can be scarring. 

What are some examples of racial gaslighting?
* “What I said/did is not racist.”
* “Racism doesn’t exist anymore.”
* “It was just a joke, calm down.”
* “Why is it always about race?”
* “Are you sure that’s what happened?”
* “Just to play devil’s advocate here…”
* “If you said/protested/did it differently”
* “We are one race, the human race.

(this list is courtesy of @ogorchukwuu)

Okay but like… what if I don’t think that comment was racist and I want to stick up for my friend who said it?
Think about a time someone insulted you by saying that something you saw with your own eyes didn’t happen. Now multiply that feeling by one million. Black people (and Indigenous People and other People of Color) are constantly living through multiple layers of systemic trauma. Don’t try to make what you “think” wasn’t racism a bigger deal than what someone else processed as racism. Again, this brings us back to intent vs. impact – realizing that our intent may not align with our impact, and that our impact should always take precedence over our impact, is a necessary (and personally, a really difficult) hurdle for white people to overcome. It is worth the awkward “if she processed it as racism, then your impact was racist, even if your intent wasn’t” conversation with the friend that said the racist thing in order to best support your friend who was victim to the racism. Tough conversations are the ones that stick with us. We can do this work. 


Primary Resource this week:
* Focusing Frames for Conversations About Bias (this is a really short (and seemingly old) resource this week but it is great for reframing conversations!)

Supplemental Resources this week:
* How Silence Can Breed Prejudice: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Race – Brigitte Vittrup
* SURJ – Naming and Framing Racism (This resource is awesome for organizations but it is in Comic Sans. Emily feels the need for you to know that she also has an aversion to that font. It’s okay, we can reach across the aisle for this one.)
* Growing as an Ally – Rosetta Eun Ryong Lee 

We’ll see you again on Zoom this week at 7PM EST this Sunday, June 14. We will send the link in the reminder email this Friday.

And finally, we leave you with a few lines from a song that felt more like a prayer when it came on Emily’s shuffle on the way to the grocery store the other night.

13th Century Metal by Brittany Howard
I promise to think before I speak
To be wary of who I give my energy to
Because it is needed for a greater cause
Greater than my own pride
And that cause is to spread the enlightenment
Of love, compassion, and humanity
To those who are not touched by its light
I stand to protect and focus myself
In the betterment of my fellow being.

In solidarity,
Ellie and Emily

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