8 Ways To Talk To Your White Parents About Racism

Photo: wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock
8 Ways To Talk To Your White Parents About Racism

Toxic ideologies often start at home. Something about being in the privacy of their own house often makes people think they can say some pretty offensive things about people of racial minorities, just because they’re not present to defend themselves.

We’ve all been guilty of standing by when we hear someone make a prejudiced comment or racist joke, choosing to avoid confrontation rather than standing up for what’s right.

As Black Lives Matter protests continue across the globe in response to the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (to name just a few) at the hands of police, ignoring racism is not an option anymore.

RELATED: 8 Helpful Ways To Support The Black Lives Matter Movement

Even though these discussions are painful and often wrought with anger and emotion, seizing the opportunity to educate people on racial inequality is always a worthwhile process.

The systems that perpetuate racism were handed down by generations before us. This makes unlearning racist attitudes a complicated process of dismantling ideologies that existed long before our time.

Often, we talk about educating the next generation, but what about the ones that came before us?

This is where knowing how to talk to your parents about racism might feel intimidating.

They have been your life-long teachers, so you may not be comfortable with this role reversal. But anti-racism starts with yourself and the people closest to you.

They may not have grown up with the same access to information as you and might be guilty of engaging in racist behaviors, or might just be utterly unaware that racism still exists. Education is the best way we can create change, so engaging in a positive, informative discussion with those closest to you is the first step in supporting the anti-racist movement.

Every relationship is different, and you know your family best, but it may help to follow some of these steps when communicating with your parents about racism.

1. Stay calm.

Becoming anti-racist is a deeply personal process, so it’s easy to let your emotions get the better of you when you encounter people who do not share your views on race.

As much as you want to shout and scream some sense into people, it’s important to convey your opinions calmly and rationally to be heard. A lot of people get defensive when they’re confronted with their own privileges, and even though white guilt can be helpful in becoming anti-racist, you don’t want to alienate your parents from the cause.

Confronting racism in your home should be a conversation, not an argument. Explain where they are going wrong and why they should feel a moral responsibility to better themselves.

RELATED: If You Don't Understand Why These Riots Are Happening, Please Read This

2. Explain white privilege.

White privilege can be a bitter pill to swallow for white people who would rather believe they worked just as hard as everyone else to get to where they are. Once you understand white privilege, it’s easier to see how the laws and systems that govern our lives actively oppress non-white people.

Yes, your parents might have been born into a poor family; yes, they might have faced their share of hardship; yes, they might have had to overcome many obstacles to get to where they are. But their race was not one of these challenges.

Their whiteness never set them back or caused them to be discriminated against.

Explain to them that white privilege isn’t a stab at their character. It’s an acknowledgment of the world we live in, and a reminder that this culture needs to be shifted. 

3. What if they say, “But I’m not racist”?

Your parents might say things like, “I don’t see color,” or, “But race doesn’t matter.” And to that, you can explain that denying the existence of race and racism delegitimizes the experiences of Black people.

Racial diversity is something that should be celebrated, not ignored. Explain to them that being “colorblind” is another example of white privilege because non-whites cannot ignore their own race when they are being actively oppressed because of it.

We all want to believe that we are not part of the problem, but not contributing to a problem doesn’t mean you’re actively trying to stop it, either. 

4. Discuss the statistics of systemic racism.


A post shared by francheska (@cheskatanglao) on Jun 3, 2020 at 6:04pm PDT

Unless you’ve actually experienced racial discrimination, systemic racism can seem like an abstract concept.

When discussing racism with your parents, things that seem obvious to you may not be so clear to them. It helps to have some concrete evidence and facts that explain the oppression of Black people.

No one can argue with the truth, and these facts will open a discussion around what systems are in place that repeatedly favor the success of white people. 

RELATED: 4 Ways To Talk To Your Kids About Racism, Protests & Police Brutality Against Black People

5. Shut down racist "jokes."

So many people define racism by direct acts of discrimination by bad people, like someone shouting racial slurs at a person of color or dressing up like the KKK. But these actions are just part of a larger system of discrimination that's woven into our society and ideology.

Racism also shows up much more often in subtle ways.

Your parents might think it’s acceptable to make a racist "joke" or comment, so long as they are not in the company of the group they are targetting. But normalizing this behavior is sanctioning racism.

So long as prejudices live in us as individuals, they will continue to live in our society. Explain to them that these jokes are not funny and make you feel disgusted. 

6. Make it personal. 


A post shared by Anna Edwards (@dwardslife) on Jun 1, 2020 at 1:48pm PDT

Recognizing the need for change isn’t straightforward when you don’t personally suffer at the hands of traditional systems.

Your parents probably spent their whole lives believing the police protect us and that the law restores order. You need to understand where your parents are coming from; they don’t want to lose faith in a system that has served them for their entire lives.

But taking ourselves out of the shoes of the oppressor and putting them in that of the oppressed will help them see why people are angry and hungry for change.

Ask your parents how they would feel if their own family was being brutalized by police or discriminated against by the law. Of course, you can never fully understand the experience of another race or ethnicity, but it helps to appeal to their emotions rather than trying to explain impersonal, clinical facts.   

7. Direct them to resources.


A post shared by SARAH MIAN (@sarahmian) on Jun 8, 2020 at 9:22pm PDT

Unlearning racism is a continuous process, so one conversation won’t solve all of your parents’ biases. There’s also a good chance that you won’t have all the answers to their questions.

Show them some of the books, articles, and videos that may have helped you understand racial inequality better. Send them links to petitions or donation pages so they can support relevant causes.

You can also seek to educate them in more subtle ways by recommending certain movies, shows, or documentaries, or even suggesting you watch them together. 

RELATED: 13 Best Books, Movies & Podcasts To Educate Yourself About Racism

8. Remember that there’s always more to do.

Your parents have lived through a lot more change than you have.

They were alive for the end of segregation in 1964 and they watched the 1992 LA riots after the death of Rodney King. So, they might be coming to this conversation with the belief that the fight is over.

You might even hear them telling you what protests they attended or what behaviors they changed in their time. Use “Yes, and...” language when responding to this.

For example, “Yes, that’s great you unlearned those prejudices, and you should continue to educate yourself even now.”

Encourage your parents to call out racist behaviors in their friends or workplace. Advise them to vote for politicians who support the anti-racist movement. It’s important for all of us to recognize that until racist systems are dismantled, anti-racist efforts cannot stop.

RELATED: It's Not Black People's Job To Solve Racism

Alice Kelly is a writer with a passion for lifestyle, entertainment, and trending topics.