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Talking points – Effective Strategies for Confronting Racism in Conversation

These strategies were generated from What’s UP?! Pgh Conversation Salons over the years. Thank you to all the participants, planners, facilitators and space providers! 


Keep in mind the elements of the situation: 

  • Timing – now or later? Can you come back to it if you are flustered or not informed?
  • The environment/setting – workplace, family gathering, street corner, living room, bar?
  • The relationship – stranger, friend, uncle, co-worker, etc? Loving or disliking or non-existent? 
  • Identities – Their identity and how that plays into the dynamic? Yours?
  • Who else is around – other white people? People of color? Children?
  • Your motivation to respond? Your intentions? Your goals?
  • How you respond can vary each time, based on the above and how you are feeling. 


Friendly reminder: having the choice about whether or not to address racist or oppressive comments is a privilege. And please take care of yourself and your emotions around this. Check in with a friend, vent, ask for help, etc, if you have a confrontational moment. 


Also, remember safety. While given the luxury to respond or not as white people, there can still be dangers in confronting others – especially strangers. Please be safe and brave.


Now some tips:

  • Know yourself.
  • Educate yourself so you can present history and facts.
  • Share those resources with the people you are talking with, too
  • Recognize intentions, ask about intentions. Recognize and explore your own, too.
  • Humanize the other person. Try to understand intentions, their experiences.
  • Create a brave space, if possible, for you both to share. Have understandings and agreements
  • Build relationships if applicable. Show interest.
  • It’s ok to not be polished or perfect in your delivery. We MUST make mistakes
  • Have internal process, collect thoughts, take space and come back to conversation if possible/desired.
  • Get in touch with your body so you can know what emotions you are feeling to try to have more control over your response.
  • Meridian tapping – to bring your emotions down. Other emotional strategies 
  • Out yourself as someone with similar thought struggles –“wow I used to think like that and someone told me or I realized I was…”
  • Be vulnerable when asking for vulnerability from others
  • Strength in numbers – get others involved.
  • Ask questions, dig deeper! ‘what?’, ‘What did you mean by…?’, ‘Have you heard how that statement can be interpreted as racist?’
  • Show another side, shine light on how things could be/go that are not just the worst way/a person with the worst intentions
  • Use humor. Can be sarcastic. Can be honest.
  • Be direct. Be clear. Clarify if you don’t feel clear/they don’t understand.
  • Charm people.
  • Be rude! “what the h-e-double hockey sticks are you talking about?!” Sometimes you just gotta tell somebody something!
  • Be firm! ‘You can’t say that here/around me’
  • Use transparency around confusion, annoyance and/or anger you may have. Say what your emotions are without judgment of them and yourself.
  • Use I-statements: ‘When I hear a comment like that, I feel really disappointed…’
  • Make normal the ‘other’ : ‘My friend is from Thailand and I have never seen them act the way you’re generalizing before…’
  • Interrupt the ‘white as normal’ idea – like “oh are you talking about white people?” when people are leaving out that detail and making generalization about all people when they mean white people.
  • Know that you don’t have to understand to accept another’s point of view/experience and let others know that they don’t have to either — and it’s actually not your job to understand and a lot of times you might not ever be able too. “as a white person i can’t understand really what it feels like to be black – i can accept their point of view”
  • If possible/safe – Don’t write people off cuz they said something racist. Doing that means you don’t think people can change. And that is a criminal justice mindset. That is not acknowledging your own journey of transformation and change.
  • Be patient – with self and others
  • Try and be in it for the long haul, follow a conversation as far as it goes. Come back to it if more is needed.
  • Know when to walk away.
  • Go offline if it’s happening there and bring it to IRL


Skills and tactics specifically from the family convo salon:

  • Use a strength-based approach and do it with love (forgiveness, being present, breathing, mindfulness, embracing complexity, encouraging the good and growth, be choosy about when and how and use respect)
  • Choose your battles. Timing is important
  • Use relationship knowledge and care for said relationship
  • Speak from your own experience
  • Meet people where they are at
  • Keep in mind prior layers and dynamics, and acknowledge and address them if you can
  • Find out what’s really going on (like frustration with another relationship or a boss situation) and get to that while then addressing the race issue that maybe brought you there.
  • Empathy
  • Offer help (in educational resources, in solutions to their problems, etc)
  • Use reason
  • Use emotion
  • Recognize dead ends in the conversation and steer clear or return when more  potential exists
  • Focus on the individual and what they can control rather than others involved

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