This is how to constructively speak to a parent about their racist remarks

This is how to constructively speak to a parent about their racist remarks

The recent conversation around the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement has encouraged people across the globe to think about how they can be a better ally to black people.

Beyond posting on social media, the powerful international outpouring of solidarity and grief has proved that it’s no longer enough to be non-racist – we must all be actively anti-racist to create lasting change.

Activists say that one of the most effective things we can do on an individual level is to speak out on racism when we see it; but when a loved one makes an unexpected racist remark, it can be difficult to know how to act.

Do you call them out on it and risk upset or argument? Or do you try to brush it under carpet, knowing it doesn’t feel right to you?

We asked Angela Wright, project educator at racism charity Stop Hate UK, to share some tips on how to speak to a parent about inappropriate racist comments.

1. Choose your moment

Angrily confronting a parent could shut down the conversation altogether (iStock/PA)
Angrily confronting a parent could shut down the conversation altogether (iStock/PA)

If a parent casually slips something offensive into a conversation at the dinner table, it’s natural to feel upset, angry and defensive. As tempting as it might be to fly off the handle, your words can have greater effect if they’re delivered calmly.

“Try not to react angrily if you hear a parent saying something you disagree with,” says Wright. “Instead, find a quieter time and place, where you can speak calmly and rationally.”

She also adds that if you can’t do that, or have to counteract their words straight away, it’s important to try and approach the subject without anger.

2. Ask them to clarify what they said

It can be easy to misunderstand someone’s comments, especially around sensitive topics such as race.

“To avoid putting words into their mouth, you might want to ‘reflect’ their words back to them by quoting them directly,” says Wright.

“This gives them a chance to think about how their words are received by others, and to open up a discussion where opinions can be aired and challenged on both sides.”

2. Talk about how you feel

“Telling your parent how you feel when they say things you consider to be racist is really important,” Wright says.

While you might have a solid understanding of what counts as racism, your parent might not realise that their joke or political opinion isn’t appropriate.

Explain to them why their comments have made you feel uncomfortable and educate them on the impact their words can have. Then allow them time to respond – as much as you might disagree with their views, embarrassing someone by loudly lecturing them will likely turn into a defensive argument that will quickly shut down any constructive conversation.

Tell your parent how their words and actions make you feel (iStock/PA)
Tell your parent how their words and actions make you feel (iStock/PA)

“If you need to challenge someone’s words, this should be done with the aim of helping them to understand the impact of their attitudes.”

3. Ask how they would react if they found themselves in the same situation

Helping your parents to understand what experiencing racism is like is the best way to increase their understanding on the issue.

“Try to find out what their feelings would be if they were the person that was being talked about negatively – for instance, if they were treated unfairly because of an aspect of their identity,” suggests Wright.

“While we can never put ourselves in the shoes of someone who is targeted by racist or discriminatory actions, we can begin to empathise and understand by thinking about how these actions affect them.”

4. Remember that this is a huge issue that will not be solved overnight

“Many racist attitudes and biases are the product of upbringing and a sense of ‘that’s how it’s always been’,” says Wright, and children should be prepared to continually do the work to educate their parents if we are to see real change.

It can be hard for people to let go of this and start thinking differently, but passing on a few helpful resources, such as books, podcasts and articles, could help you to better articulate your point.

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The final book from my order came in! Excited to dig into this one. #laylafsaad #meandwhitesupremacy #antiracistlearning #antiracistreadinglist

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She adds: “Everyone taking a stand and considering their own unconscious or conscious bias is so important right now.

“By looking into our own relationships and fighting for what we believe is right, we can help to improve the social climate and create a fairer world for everyone.”

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