Have the conversation – and start with yourself
A few times a week, we watch the news or The Project, usually while our 5-year-old is bathing and not near the TV. This week he happened to be in the background playing. Having to explain the death of George Floyd, the protests occurring worldwide and #blacklivesmatter movement has brought me to tears. I acknowledge I am an incredibly white, privileged person.
I've experienced some racism vicariously through my Australian-born Vietnamese-heritage husband. One relatively harmless experience occurred while we were living in the USA and travelled to Vancouver to renew our visas. We walked into the US embassy, and our greeter immediately assumed I was Tony's interpreter. I awkwardly laughed and said no, I play many roles, and today I'm the wife. We then proceeded to the counter where the consular official interviewed us to give us the rubber stamp (or not) to enter back into the country. He looked at our paperwork, looked up at each of us in turn, and announced 'Well this is different!'. I had no idea what he meant, but apparently "the wife is usually the Asian one".
I was gobsmacked and didn't respond as he held all the power in that scenario. It was a lesson that silence doesn't always mean acceptance. We walked away with our visas and a humorous dinner party story about me being an "interpreter-wife".
Talking about racism can be incredibly uncomfortable – and even acknowledging its existence is hard for many.
Change starts with us
Start by acknowledging your own prejudices, bias and judgement. We all get an immediate 'first impression' from someone – what has influenced that first impression for you? Ask yourself - what preconceived judgements am I making?
Categorising and grouping information starts at a very young age - in fact, it's how we are taught to learn and make sense of our world. Sometimes those categorisations are made of limited or incomplete information, and they survive into adulthood. The TED talk below discusses the dangers of telling ourselves a single story.
Take a breath
"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
Snap judgements and biases are normal behaviour; it's a shortcut for our brains to process large amounts of information quickly. We do it as soon as we meet someone - based on their clothes, features, makeup, gender, race. I think to try and stop yourself making a judgement altogether is futile. What we need to be able to do is recognise that we are doing it in the first place, and pause.
That pause is an opportunity to consciously consider whether our biases and prejudices are influencing our behaviour and interactions that could result in discrimination or the marginalisation of someone else.
Be brave and have a conversation with somebody
If you're talking to someone of another race and you're concerned that you may offend, you could open with that concern to help alleviate the fear and start the conversation. This might sound like "Hey, I'd really like to chat and I'm worried that what I say may be offensive without me intending to be. Can you let me know if it is or not?"
Apologise and empathise
If you have caused offence, even (and especially) unintentionally, apologise. I can only imagine how hard it is for indigenous Australians and African Americans – as my white privilege will never allow me to experience it. Empathy is what I have.
In conclusion, in the words of my 5-year-old, “it's what's on the inside that counts." That, and we need to be gentle with each other.
Yours in conversation