Learning about racism and how to be an ally can be done alone, but the root of being an ally is going beyond taking responsibility for yourself and actively working to dismantle racism when you see it. This often means having conversations with your friends, family, and even your co-workers that may be downright uncomfortable.

Many times we think about conversations with our parents – a relationship where discourse may be more commonplace or where we may hear more ignorant or prejudiced comments.

Then there are times with friends where casual racism tends to be more prevalent. Casual racism isn’t intended to cause offense or harm, but it undoubtedly reinforces negative prejudice or stereotypes concerning race. The awkward jokes, mimicking of cultures, and offhand remarks often go unchecked.

There isn’t a one size fits all approach to having these conversations, but here are some strategies you can use to prepare for conversations or moments when you need to speak up. These conversations will likely get uncomfortable (no one wants to be called a racist), but understanding racism in America and how it’s up to us to make the change will help shift the tides over time.

Two adult males talking at a table

First things first, don’t attack or shame a person. Think of these conversations as building a bridge to help others reach an understanding of the realities of racism and white privilege in America.

Be sure to do your research. Have a firm grasp of the topics you want to talk about. Bullet points from your instagram feed won’t cut it – truly educate yourself so you can have constructive conversations that help educate the person you’re speaking to.

Express your shared values. Chances are most people you surround yourself with have shared values. These are great bridge builders and help you to structure the conversation so that you’re both approaching this with values that matter to you.

You may hear some classic tropes, but don’t interrupt. Even if it feels like you’re about to boil over in a conversation, take some deep breaths, remember your goal, and stay on track. Don’t center the conversation on how you or the other person feel, but instead, focus on the facts. This may be a good time to flip the script by trying to get the person to understand a different perspective.

If you do lose your cool, apologize. The reality is, this will be one of many conversations with a person, particularly if they are rooted in their beliefs. Don’t allow a door to close if you think there is future opportunity to help a person understand the reality of racism and white privilege in America.

Two women on couch talking

Common Rebuttals

All Lives Matter: First and foremost, “Black lives matter” isn’t about putting more value on Black lives, but instead that their lives are historically undervalued. Another way to phrase this: Black lives matter too. Still not sinking in? Try this popular approach: Saying all lives matter is akin to going into a cancer hospital and screaming out, ‘You know there are other diseases too!’

I don’t see color: A) We all see color. Just take a simple implicit bias test. B) Claiming to not see color is whitewashing the lives, culture, and experiences of BIPOC. It’s saying that you see everyone like yourself, which we know simply cannot be true.

I don’t have white privilege, I was poor: White privilege doesn’t discount that people have had to deal with struggles and difficulties in their own lives. It does acknowledge that race did not make white peoples struggles harder, whereas race definitely makes the struggles of Black people harder.

Not all cops are bad or those cops were just a few bad apples: If there are mostly good cops, then why aren’t those cops stepping in when they see a bad cop profiling, terrorizing, or killing a Black person? If they don’t step in, aren’t they bad too?