How to Talk to Racists –
So you probably saw our satirical “How to Defeat Black Lives Matter”. We normally make articles along the same lines of the video by explaining the intention of the video. Our research. Sharing some behind the scenes shots etc. That’s not what I’m going to do with this article.
I’m not a scholar or someone with a degree in race politics. I’m just someone who, like most black people, has experienced racism all their life and have years of experience navigating a racist world. So what I want to do, is to talk through some key points I’ve learned in how to speak to people about racism.
1) – Protect your Mental Health
Possibly the best way to speak to racists is by not speaking to them at all. It’s going to feature a lot in this article but what I really want to emphasise is the importance of protecting your energy and your mental health. Having someone invalidate your existence, even in the smallest way can take a huge toll.
If you say “Black lives matter” and are met with even the slightest push back, the weight can be tremendous. People don’t realise how invalidating, dehumanising and insulting something as little as “all lives matter” can be. So please, the golden rule is, if you’re not in the place to talk, don’t! You don’t owe anyone forgiveness, an explanation, or a lesson.
That said, I do think conversations have to be had in order to progress and move forward. So the way I navigate who to speak to and when, is by gauging just how racist they are…
2) – Level 5 Racists
I have a confession. I have a terribly bad habit of arguing with people on Facebook. If I see someone say something problematic, I just can’t help myself. I tell myself I have the tools and patience to explain it in a way that might get through to them. That if I don’t try, then nothing is going to change, right? Wrong!
Never argue with a ‘Level 5 Racist’!
It’s something I constantly (and slightly jokingly) remind myself. Never argue with a ‘Level 5 Racist’!
What is a level 5 racist? I’m glad you asked! So for me, a level 5 racist is someone with the audacity (caucacity?) to openly and confidently espouse racist ideas on the internet.
So they can’t change?
I want to clarify, I think anyone is capable of change. But I feel like a level 5 racist would need a significant change in environment or social circle and it’s not something that I, a random person on the internet is going to be able to facilitate. But the reason I do sometimes argue with level 5 racists is because of the optics.
Out there, scrolling on social media are so many people that are on the fence or undecided (the type of people that Cambridge Analytica targeted in The Great Hack documentary). When I see these posts and ideas being put out there, I feel like they’re hands, moulding the minds of anyone that reads. I see this as my opportunity to be a more succinct, better researched and well experienced voice of reason. I know that sounds egoic, but I’m still yet to find a reasonable, articulate, empathetic or compassionate argument in favour of institutional racism.
All that said, it’s up to you to decide what you are capable of, and what ‘level’ of racism you consider a deal breaker. No-one knows your mental capacity, patience, community and Facebook connections better than you do. Maybe you draw the line at a level 4 racist, or level 2. Maybe you only speak to anti-racists, it’s your call. When in doubt, protect your mental health at all costs.
3) – No Shame, No Blame
One thing I really want to minimise is the idea of shaming and blaming racists. I feel no hatred, no animosity and no condemnation towards them whatsoever.
Because racism is in the air we breathe. In the UK (I don’t want to speak for the world, but this is applicable for many other places too), racism is the null state. The same could be said for sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism etc. and I’ve been breathing the air in just as much as everyone else.
Let’s talk solutions!
What I believe we as a society then have to do is become aware of these in ourselves, and do the necessary work to start to unpick and deconstruct everything we’ve been taught. It’s not easy, it’s hard freaking work believe me. I’m into my 4th decade and I’m still finding unrecognised biases based on lessons I learned back in my 1st.
If I tell a woman she’s being too emotional, if I associate terrorism with being Muslim, if I judge someone for their addictions. I’m acting out learned biases. I have to be aware of these things, recognise them in myself and start to do the necessary work to break out of these thought patterns. This work becomes a lot easier when I don’t judge myself for having learned these lessons. When I don’t shame myself or think of myself as a ‘bad person’ for having these biases. When I don’t blame myself for being in a society or environment that would perpetuate these thought patterns.
What we should do instead is to CALL OUT racism. Let people know that a particular thought or action is racist. If they perceive that in a shameful way, that’s their work to be done. I don’t think it’s our role to coddle, educate or act as an encyclopedia. If people want to do the work, they will, but feel free to be a part of this process as long as it doesn’t contravene with point 1.
4) – Non-Racism Doesn’t Exist
This is a difficult, uncomfortable pill I’ve had to swallow. Being not-racist doesn’t exist. As far as I’m concerned, there is racism, and anti-racism. Going back to point 3, if racism is a null state, the air we breathe, a virus. Then we all start with the sickness of racism. We perpetuate racist ideas, communicate with people based on our own racist implicit biases, vote for policies and politicians that continue to uphold the racist structure. Racism is the fire that’s burning everything around us.
While you might not be throwing Molotov cocktails like the level 5 racists, you might still be adding wood to keep the fire burning by voting for racist politicians. You might be blocking the water that could stop the fire by not supporting the work of anti-racists. Hell, you might just be silently, complicitly sitting down and doing absolutely nothing, allowing the city to burn in front of you. That is racism. Allowing a racist system to keep operating, unhindered. Because our existence within it, is support in itself.
I believe the opposite of racist isn’t not-racist, but ANTI-racist. Directly fighting the fires, in any way you can. It’s conversations with racist friends. Researching, learning and doing the work on yourself. Supporting mutual aid funds. Funding activists. Voting for actively anti-racist politicians. Spoiling your vote by NOT voting for racist politicians when that’s all there is. It’s protesting. Campaigning. Educating etc.
5) – A Common Ground
With all that said I think what’s important is to try and work towards a mutual goal. If they’re not a level 5 racist, then you should be able to come to some sort of common ground. What I like to establish, is that we are both on the same page of what racism is, and that we are both against it.
Racism is not just racial prejudice. But prejudice PLUS power.
If they don’t see racism as a problem, and can’t accept the plethora of studies that show it is affecting black people at so many stages of life, then going back to point 1, it’s not something that I’m willing to work with them on.
If they’re not aware of what racism is, then I’m happy to provide them with an explanation. For yourself, I’d recommend Akala’s book Natives – Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire and Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race. Also, a lot of today’s discussion is based around how the judicial system affects Black people, and the subsequent proposed solution of defunding the police. For these conversations, unless you’re speaking purely on personal experience it’s always helpful to be able to provide context, studies and statistics. It’s always acceptable to point people in the right direction, or simply implore them to do their own research if they have a genuine interest.
There are tonnes of books, series, films and podcasts that cover racism. I’m sure we all have friends that can recommend their own favourites if we just ask on social media. Adding to this, I listed a few of my own favourites at the end of the video at the top.
I always try to be open to discussion, criticism and networking so don’t hesitate to get in touch on Instagram, or follow our company Instagram where we post our videos, animations and behind the scenes photography.
Stay well my friends and I’ll catch you next time.
Kallum of the CTK Team