How to Prepare for awkward and uncomfortable conversations
You’re excited about getting together with family for the holidays. Your mom’s Dutch apple pie has been haunting your dreams for months. The one drawback? You must interact with Uncle Jack and Cousin Adam. Jack is a Jim Crow era throwback, who casually tosses around racial slurs like Steph Curry knocks down threes. Adam on the other hand is 45 and everything he knows about the world has been taken from Facebook message boards, seedy websites, and the water cooler.You have wanted to respond for a long time. Fear has always stopped you. Normally, you would hold your tongue and drink your dad’s homemade hard apple cider until you couldn’t understand what anyone else was saying. You have been noticing the inequities – unnecessary murders, marginalization, and stricter meted justice for BIPOC, massacres, – you really want to help change things.
Adam and Jack are two of the more vocal members of the family. As the smell of that Dutch apple pie starts to waft through the air, Jack starts in…
Jack: “Did you see that? That ‘N word’ deserved what he got! I think they were too easy on him.”
You swallow hard, trying not to choke in hopes that it will be over soon, he will be gone, and you can enjoy the rest of your holiday in peace. In your heart you know better. You brace for what’s coming next. You are not the only one at the table feeling it. Others heard it too. Maybe one of them will speak up this time.
Jack: “Those people….”
Mark chimes in about taking our country back and the conversation sinks deeper into the dark void. Your sister, Jenny, bless her heart, attempts to shift the conversation by discussing your nephew making the Dean’s list. Someone else congratulates her. Adam, as if Jenny had not spoken at all, says “It won’t be long before we’re no longer the majority in the country and the N’words and illegal aliens are the majority. But we can still have the power. There are dozens of plans underway. Pretty soon, we whites will have all the money and all the power to keep them from destroying our country.”
You survey the room and wonder how many people at the table agree with him. You just want this conversation to stop. What can you do? You don’t want to be shut down or outright ignored as Jenny was. Addressing bigoted situations is difficult.
How to be a more intentional ally
Remember it is a process
Your Reaction: In this moment it is important to interrupt the prejudice and leave them with their dignity intact. You don’t want to attack anyone. That is a quick way to alienate them and send them further into a racist, sexist, or homophobic corner in self-righteousness.
Step 1: Find your courage, your voice, and lean into your values. Choose courage over comfort. In Brene’ Brown’s Book, Dare to Lead, she speaks about leaning into her values, “My value of courage calls on me to stand up and speak out for my beliefs. If you say something to me or around me that I find racist, or sexist, or homophobic, even if other people are laughing, I’m not going to laugh. I’m going to ask you not to say that stuff around me. I don’t do it out of self-righteousness or ‘being better than’ …courage insists that I honor it by choosing my voice over my comfort.” She goes on to say, “Don’t choose silence over what is right. It is not my job to make others more comfortable or to be liked by everyone.” Being an intentional ally does require courage. To draw on your courage, think back in your life to your achievements or accomplishments. You can do this.
Step 2: Make an appeal to their humanity and a heartfelt connection. Let them know how you feel about what they have just said and what you need. For example, “Uncle Jack and Cousin Adam, what you are saying is hurtful and insulting to me. And I would appreciate it if you would stop saying things like that in my presence.” Your relationships with Jack and Adam are important to you. If they care about you, they may consider your request. That does not mean they will discontinue the comments in other places. However, you have let them know that it is not acceptable in your space.
Step 3: EDUCATE yourself about the actual history of America. African American History IS American history – including contributions of Blacks and other People of Color, including numerous lynchings and massacres, Jim Crow laws; and all the other systems that have disenfranchised people for 400 years. Attend webinars or in-person informational sessions, visit local organizations (ones that support marginalized groups, or utilize diverse media (podcasts, documentaries, books, etc…). Your knowledge will go a long way in helping you navigate uncomfortable conversations – especially with family members you care about. Your newfound knowledge will contribute to tipping the scales toward equity, justice, and human dignity for all in the future. My short list of free resources will get you started. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word “resources” in the subject line.
The Future: REMEMBER that this is a process. Your relatives are sure to push back at different points. Realize and accept where their journeys are starting from. Understand that more awkward or uncomfortable conversations will be had. Be willing to get out of your comfort zone and be brave enough to have these conversations. Advocating for BIPOC and other marginalized groups and promoting anti-racism is challenging, and rewarding. Each time you act courageously accesses more of your own humanity. Pretending not to know, hear, or see diminishes you – sacrificing who you really are and breaks your connection to humankind. The ultimate goal being a more equitable, just, and inclusive world. Let that knowledge fuel you during the especially challenging times.
What this means for you: DO NOT forget to prioritize your mental health. These topics can really take a toll on someone who is intentional about being an ally. So, it is crucial that, when necessary, you take time for self-care, so that you can continue to contribute. Align yourself with like-minded people who are on a similar path. Additionally, never stop your own growth and development. Continue to learn more and discover more ways to be an ally. These issues are systemic and are the result of a history of ignorance, dehumanization, and discrimination. It is a part of the nation’s past. A past that includes massacres alongside victories, lynchings alongside celebrations. And major contributions by marginalized people. Being an ally means acknowledging this nation’s past.
more resources are avaialble
There are a multitude of resources available to assist in your allyship journey AND the journeys of those around you.
To learn more about how to become a more Intentional Ally. Find out about The Intentional Ally Self-Study Course: https://bit.ly/3rI605c
Note that being an (ally in part) means standing up for marginalized groups even when members of such groups are not in the room.