By Hannah Herrera Greenspan
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Ashley De la Torre, a community activist and cultural curator and Goali Saedi Bocci, psychologist and author of “The Millennial Mental Health Toolbox” share their best advice on how to have difficult conversations about race.
Q: How should you deal with friends on social media who are showing their racist side?
A: We’ve all been there: You log on to social media only to see friends or relatives using the timeline as their soapbox to share a not-so-informed opinion about a marginalized group. Your immediate reaction might be to share a few choice words of your own, but it could benefit your case to start with a clarifying question.
Encouraging articulation sets the tone for a productive dialogue and may uncover the root of where these beliefs are coming from. Listening and building this rapport is essential to understanding and educating versus giving a condescending lecture.
Although it may be difficult in the moment, empathy and kindness go a long way. Remembering that there is another person on the other side of the screen, with thoughts, feelings and ideas just like you prevents the comments section from getting too ugly.
Ask yourself, “How would I respond if this were happening in real life?”
Keeping this in mind will help ground you in your argument and hopefully maintain your relationship with this person. Remind yourself that breaking down these types of beliefs is a marathon, not a sprint, and our job as allies is to commit to the long-term work of having these conversations, even when it’s friends and family. That initial conversation has the potential to plant the seed of a different perspective for this person that grows after each conversation.
Holding space for difficult conversations takes practice, time and work. It can be uncomfortable to approach these topics, especially virtually, but staying cool and confident is key. Always maintain your boundaries and remember that you don’t need to continue a dead-end interaction with someone who has turned the conversation blatantly disrespectful. That’s what the block button is for.
-Ashley De la Torre, community activist and cultural curator
A: When approaching conversations with friends, family members, colleagues or others where there is disagreement, I often try to think about digging deep and finding empathy, even when the topic is highly triggering or controversial. I try to put myself in their shoes and live life through their lens.
For example, when I went from a very liberal, large public university to a very religious conservative graduate school, there was definitely culture shock. But I also had to remind myself these were highly intelligent people I was interacting with. Surely, these smart people had to know some things I didn’t know or see things from a different perspective. By befriending those who thought differently, we could learn from one another from a place of compassion and respect.
When it comes to racism, we can have a tendency to just shut down and fight back. This is not how we create change of thought. Inquire to learn why they think the way they do. Share your stories and encourage them to share theirs.
Whenever I teach human diversity courses (I’ve taught multicultural counseling at Pepperdine University and human diversity at Pacific University), we do this activity where all students find their points of diversity. Maybe they are white but grew up in a lower socioeconomic status. Or they lack privilege when it comes to sexual orientation or religion. I encourage students to examine the incredibly multilayered and multifaceted aspects of their own identity to see if they can’t better empathize with those from different backgrounds.
Once we start sharing our own backgrounds and stories, whether from grandparents in concentration camps or gay uncles who lived a lifetime in the closet, we can start to see points of commonality and discrimination.
Regarding these sentiments over social media, I strongly recommend face-to-face conversations because things can get way too heated too quickly, and it can be easy to say things online we’d never say to someone’s face.
-Goali Saedi Bocci, psychologist and author of “The Millennial Mental Health Toolbox”
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