Q&A on racism and diversity: How to respond when someone says…

June 02, 2021 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council of Edward-Elmhurst Health: We are DRIVEN to create a culture in which all races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, physical abilities and socio-economic backgrounds can meet, share, learn and flourish in an accepting environment. By creating platforms and opportunities that allow us to come together, we can begin to know and understand each other. And through better understanding, we can effectively meet the needs of our diverse patients and deliver on our mission.

Racism and its origins in America can lead to some heavy conversations. Particularly among people who disagree.

If you get into a conversation, on purpose or by chance, on a topic like racism or other, similar subjects, it’s best to keep a few guidelines in mind if you want to be effective in making your point or keeping someone else’s attention.

  • Use “I” statements. People can only speak to their own experiences.
  • Avoid “right” and “wrong.” Even if you wholeheartedly believe that someone is wrong, it’s not productive to tell someone they’re wrong. Keep using “I” statements instead.
  • Choose your words carefully. Think about what you’re saying, not just in terms of message, but also in terms of impact on the other person. If someone says something you think is offensive, consider that they may not realize they said something hurtful. If someone calls you out for saying something offensive, remember that your intent can be different than your impact.
  • Pause before responding. Give yourself time to process your reaction to something before jumping in with a response. Taking a few deep breaths can help you focus.
  • You’re not necessarily the expert. You might make mistakes when speaking about racial justice. If you hear something that has offended you, say “ouch” to convey its impact. Explain why a comment has offended you. Then the person who said the comment has the opportunity to say “oops,” sharing that they made a mistake. It opens the door to acknowledging and learning from that mistake, then continuing the conversation.
  • Be kind when you share facts. Everyone’s personal experience matters. Share information to enhance the discussion, not to shut it down.

Anthony Alexander, a supervisor in the Public Safety Dept. at Edward-Elmhurst Health, also teaches a culture and diversity course as a professor at Lewis University in Romeoville.

Below, he provides responses to common questions about racism and diversity that could help others figure out how to engage in a productive conversation.

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is important to me. How should I respond when someone says, “All lives matter,” in response to Black Lives Matter?

I would respond to this statement with “I think you may not be seeing the point.” Because you believe that all lives matter, then you wouldn’t have a problem understanding that Black lives, as a group that has been historically oppressed and underrepresented, matters, too. Saying Black Lives Matter isn’t saying that they only matter exclusively, but it’s applying equity and awareness to how Black people have been systemically dehumanized, criminalized, and treated differently and unfavorably. “All lives matter” distracts from the point. Remember, for some people, Black lives do not matter at all, therefore Black lives deserve equal justice.

How should I respond when someone says they have no problem with people flying the Confederate flag because it’s a symbol of history, not racism?

While it does have a history of southern pride, it also has collective history attached to racism for many others because it was used as a badge of destruction and a symbol of support for slavery by a defeated nation. It’s a traditional symbol of oppression against Black people, preserving slavery and keeping one race superior over another race. This flag is used by the KKK. In Germany, they do not wave flags of the swastika. Many people there are embarrassed by the history of the swastika symbol and the injustices perpetuated by the swastika flag. Perhaps it is time that those who support the Confederate flag also embrace and understand its darker history and see the rationale for why it is seen as racist.

Are “antifa” and “BLM” intertwined? Are they terrorist organizations?

Antifa and BLM are not related. They are not terrorist organizations. Antifa is a left-wing, anti-fascist and anti-racist group of people whose political beliefs often fall to the far left but do not conform with the Democratic Party. While they both share similar “anti” beliefs, BLM is a movement to end mistreatment by police and killings of Black people. The groups aren’t connected; they share some of the same tactics, dressing in black and face coverings to hide identity. The spirit of what BLM represents is a movement towards justice and inclusiveness for Black communities, and is a central target for disinformation.

How should I respond to someone who says they aren’t racist, then repeats racial stereotypes?

I would tell that person that what they said was wrong. If you say you aren’t racist, then why continue to use these racial stereotypes? I’d ask what makes you think that it is alright to say such a thing? I would educate them that stereotypes are generally racist and would encourage them to stop using them.

What should I say when someone makes a racist joke, then says, “It’s just a joke.”?

I would tell that person that’s ignorant, insensitive and normalizes prejudiced beliefs. Lastly, while there is freedom of speech, some speech (or jokes) doesn’t mean freedom from consequences.

Should I point it out when someone describes a Black person using the color of their skin? For example, “Those Black kids were so noisy.”

Yes, one should point it out. What does color have to do with the situation? A person is a person, their color doesn't matter. Describe someone to me just with the word person and not by their skin color.

What do I say when someone makes a racist comment about another person—a co-worker, for example?

This is a great moment to teach someone about another culture and educate them about how the comment can be viewed as racist. Lastly, freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences and can lead to corrective discipline in an employment setting, including termination.

How should I respond when someone makes a racist comment about me or calls me a racial slur?

When a person says a racist comment, they are being ignorant and are not understanding other people's cultures nor understanding that every person is different. This person is normalizing discrimination against another race simply because they are different, and it’s wrong. The best thing to do in this situation is remove yourself from it. It’s not worth arguing with someone who’s being purposely offensive.

What should I say when someone says people should “go back where they came from,” indicating a person of color shouldn’t live in the U.S.?

In the spirit of educating, unless this person is a Native American, they have no place in saying this. All non-Native Americans are descendants of immigrants in this country.

Should I point it out when someone says something racist without realizing it? For example, an older person using the term “colored” to describe a Black person, or “redskin” or “red Indian?”

I think one should point out when someone says something racist without realizing it because it is important to help them consider another’s perspective and how words may harm another’s feelings or create hostility.

Should I comment on social media posts that share racist clichés or memes?

Yes, we should always speak out against racism, although it may depend on the circumstance. Sometimes it’s best not to call people out for it, but simply report it and then block them. At times arguing on social media is wasteful because it is an environment where exchange of knowledge isn’t promoted.

What should I say when a white person denies societal privilege, saying things such as, “I don’t see color,” or “I never owned slaves. I’m poor, so how has white privilege helped me?”

Concerning privilege, one’s color plays an important role in their experience, but it’s clear and understood that nobody in contemporary society has owned slaves and life struggles are a part of the human condition for all.

“Have you ever been stopped by the police for no reason? Followed around the store? Do you get nervous when you see a cop car behind you? People of color experience things like this every day. These are things your skin color affords you the pleasure of not having to endure due to being white.”

This is an explanation of how privilege works. The privilege exists, even if one doesn’t realize these privileges directly contribute to their benefit. It stems from white ancestors that helped create this shared ideology of unequal treatment between dominant and subordinate racial groups. Solving racial inequality needs contribution from every person instead of ignoring the issue.

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