Diversity & inclusion3 min read

How to have smoother conversations about Black Lives Matter

World news has focused on the murder of George Floyd, the riots, and the systemic oppression and racism that continues in the United States.

For days, white friends have been asking me what they can do to help. But I’m also hearing other responses, like denial about what is happening or objections to the BLM cause. With that being said, the below is intended to address common objections you may encounter, and help you have smoother conversations about Black Lives Matter.

I’d encourage you to take time to watch this video to remind yourself about the background to the systemic oppression of Black people in America and the common questions one may want to ask their Black friend.

Below are six common conversation roadblocks and some options I have formulated to help anyone have smoother conversations about the BLM movement.

🚧The impasse: “My participation will not help anything.”

The person probably feels confused about how they can contribute but that isn’t an excuse for their silence or inaction which we know can be damaging. Remind the person that starting small does help with these responses:

✅ “Have you seen read any resources that interest or teach you more? When you find something that increases your understanding, share the knowledge and save POC the emotional labour.”

✅ “Find small ways to take better actions. You’ll make a difference if you are persistent.”

✅ “Start in your sphere of influence and engage in conversations with family and friends or even coworkers. You might come up with ideas about how to help together.”

🚧 The impasse: “But I’m not racist.”

When in conversations about BLM, no one wants to come across as a racist nor are many people actually racist — but to put it lightly, quietly claiming to not be racist will never be enough.

✅ “Practicing anti-racism is often uncomfortable. Looking after the comfort of white people that don’t want to think about racism slows down or derails dismantling racism. Please find the courage to accept this discomfort so we can all make progress.”

✅ “I care about your feelings and understand you want to be a good person. But everyone has to resist the urge to shy away from discomfort or give anyone a free pass like I’m trying to do right now. When someone becomes more mindful of ways their thoughts or the world around them is racist, then they can step into their role as an ally.”

❓ Ask the question to pass the conversation back: “Why do you feel the need to clarify?”

🚧The impasse: “All lives matter.”

Saying ‘all lives matter’ misses the point that Black lives are treated like they don’t matter as much and need focus now.

✅ “Black Lives Matter does not mean that other lives lack importance. We know that other lives matter. The worth of white lives has never been in question but the worth of Black lives has in the way they are treated. So that’s why we want to draw specific attention to Black lives and their worth.”

✅ “Black Lives Matter asks people to acknowledge head-on the ways in which Black lives are devalued, such as:

  • Redlining neighborhoods where POC live
  • Limited employment/education opportunities
  • Racial bias in law enforcement
  • De Facto Racism, in other words, laws that are racist in practice.

I know that other lives have struggles, but there are patterns of injustice here that we need to pay special attention to.”

✅ “Hopefully, we can look forward to a day where we don’t need a reminder that any lives matter because society will value all lives equally. But we’re not there yet and we should be honest about the work that needs to be done.”

❓Ask the question to pass the conversation back: “Do you wish you were a Black person in America right now?”

🚧The impasse: “My children are too young to learn about racism.”

No one wants to be the result of their child’s loss of innocence or corrupt their idea of the world, and talking about racism might put it into their mind.

However, this ‘think of the children!’ response is frustrating when the BLM movement is asking for open eyes and commitment to change in every corner of our lives. Address this objection by explaining why speaking to children about racism is probably a better idea than they think:

✅ “I think we need to start education about racism early on. Children show racial biases as early as two years old and, by the age of five, white children are more likely to prefer whiteness. When we don’t teach children about racism, we are allowing them to be ignorant and it might be harder to unpick this later on in their lives.”

Want to learn more? Read this article from Erin N. Winkler, Ph.D. from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

✅ “We need to share the burden. Think about the children of colour that have to live with the reality of racism while white children are shielded from the discomfort of its existence.”

✅ “It’s your choice exactly how you engage your children with learning about racism and you can probably pick a smart way to do it. For example, do you think you could help your child think about racism through the idea of fairness since this is a concept that all children know about early on?”

🚧The impasse: “I’m tired of looking at social media right now. I wish things would go back to normal.”

This person may be fatigued from seeing protests and uncomfortable videos on their feed, and want their normal daily dose of life updates of family and friends.

✅ “It’s natural to wish for “what was” when there is change. But don’t be fooled — what’s happening right now has always been a reality. Just because it wasn’t trending or headline news doesn’t mean it wasn’t being experienced by Black people every single day. For you, ‘back to normal’ is comfortable but for Black people, it’s all of this but in silence.

✅ “I think we should make the most of all of the resources, ideas, and reactions that are easy to access right now. Take breaks from social media to recharge and then pick something to dig into.”

✅ “It’s a privilege to learn about racism instead of experiencing it for your whole life. You might, like others have, find it important and interesting once you meaningfully begin.”

Education is an essential starting point, and having a conversation about these issues with empathy, trust, compassion and curiosity is critical if we want to create lasting change.

If you’d like to do some further reading, we’ve published resources from our Inclusion Works programme that feel relevant for now on our website here.

💬Were these tips helpful?

I would love to hear your thoughts, experiences, or what you would add to help in your conversations. Please get in touch here.

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