How to Deal with Racism Peacefully

Hate crimes, police brutality and other forms of racial injustice have been making headlines everywhere across the world, especially during such chaotic times. Although marching on the streets to the Capitol may be a helpful way to catalyze change at the legislative level, it might also be necessary to stop your Uncle Bill from going on an ignorant tirade about Mexican immigrants at the dinner table. Here are a few tips when fighting for justice in one’s day-to-day life, especially around people you care about:

Tell them that you are with them, not against them. Racist people will not listen to a word you say if they think that you are part of a mob that is out to get them. Often, they are listening to politicians or radicalized media sources who continually feed into their deeply-ingrained sense of fear by telling them that their lives are in danger at the hands of all minorities (or other target groups). This distorted sense of reality does not excuse the behavior, but it helps to know that they will respond better if you can prove that you are not a threat to them. This method is easier if you both already have a pre-established relationship.

Try to keep the reaction proportionate to the infraction. If someone commits an act of violence, he or she needs to be prosecuted. However, if he or she was subtle and kept the situation at the level of “verbal altercation,” try to communicate a lack of tolerance for their intolerance without escalating. Making the situation worse is not the answer. Defend when needed, but do not instigate.

Get a mediator. An empathetic friend, a skilled counselor or therapist, a trained specialist or another impartial third party may keep the conversation at a controllable level. If things are not working and neither individual can understand the other, proper usage of triangulation can defuse some of the tension.

Assume ignorance, unless malevolence is proven. Some people may disagree on this, but not every racist person knows about the widespread harm he or she is causing. I have personal experience with a couple family members who think they mean well but are unaware of their ignorance and it is very frustrating. It is every person’s responsibility to know better and hold himself or herself accountable. However, there is a difference between a blinded ideologue and someone who actively wants to watch the world burn. Police brutality is a clear indication of malice…But Grandpa Bob talking about the “golden years” when schools were segregated may just be watching way too much Fox News, and he needs to take a long look at the modern world.

            Although you could certainly get into a fistfight over identity politics this Thanksgiving, an eye for an eye will leave both of you blind. Pacifism is not always the answer per se, but seeking to help your friends and family become better people is worth a try.