Talking about ‘racism’ – The user guide.

There is an important conversation that is happening over the world over. This is more prominently happening with the perceived surge of Syrian refugees globally. As an active participant of the human race it is important to accept the fact that not everyone will share your world view. Not everyone shares my world view and that is okay.

Something I say on a regular basis is that there are more people connected now online than the entire history of humanity and it’s growing and as a result of this we have a flow on effect from our reality to our online reality of things. We might have historically felt unsafe or restricted in having an open conversation publically, now we’re almost being forced to endure having rapid conversations around difficult topics such as racism, sexism, gender identity, immigration, climate change, politics, bigotry, decriminalization of the sex industry (to name a few) much harder and faster.

A particular politician has rejoined the ranks of the Australian senate after a 20 year break from politics. She doesn’t need any introduction, anyone currently living in Australia would have to be living in an underground bunker with no internet connect to not know who I’m talking about. She dominates the news headlines in Australia by the media circus that is both fascinated by and practically addicted to ‘reporting’ on this particular human. Some people in my world have opted to disengage in any conversation around her, more because they feel that as an individual they are powerless to do or say anything and by doing so are inadvertently and unintentionally enabling this person to become a prominent part of the dialogue and represent the voice of our country.

Please understand I actually hold no grudge towards this person, I actually think she has a high level of intelligence that is perhaps being swept aside because her polarised views are challenging and controversial, the way I see this is that it provides a rare opportunity to have a discussion on a topic that is normally swept aside or lurks in shadows.

My life experience is different in that I am Australian born with two main ethnic background being Chinese and Swedish, wrapped in this experience is that I have had the rare opportunity to experience racism from all sorts of fun and different angles, something that typically a white heterosexual man will never experience to the scale that someone who is the poster child for unicorns and bacon consumers. When they do briefly experience this, they are shocked and are often ill equipped to engage in these conversations. I find that despite the horrible experiences that I am afforded by not ticking the perceived white australia privilege box has created a wealth of knowledge of how to manage these situations resourcefully. So here is my working list on how to engage in the conversation of racism.

1. Avoid calling people ignorant or stupid.

This only serves to stop a conversation or fuel for the wrong fire. When was the last time someone called you an idiot or stupid? Did you listen to anything they had to say after that? Likely not. If education is the key and knowledge sharing is a part of this, starting the conversation by telling your students they’re idiots or ignorant isn’t going to encourage them to learn or inspect their own bias.

2. Share your own lessons of unconscious bias.

I do this more and more now because sharing a story of your own experience takes the focus of the conversation away from the disagreement of ideas to sharing the experience of your own, people can’t really argue you your experience because it’s your experience. There is enormous power in doing this. One of my friends who I have regular conversations around gender bias would often take my stories in which I was expressing how I didn’t think I had experienced something and she would point out the bias, once it’s seen, it can’t be unseen.

3. Avoid diminishing others.

Mud slinging to make the other person feel smaller only to get the last word in. Nobody wins this. If you have to make someone feel less then, or smaller, or worthless to get your point across, you’re doing it wrong.

4. Try not to make it personal, which means don’t take things personally.

Probably the hardest thing to do is not be hurt by someone we consider a friend or someone who is a family member who doesn’t see a problem. I’ve seen “friends” have a go at their friends when a meme or something has been shared and the person hasn’t known or fact checked which is increasingly becoming an issue.

We are influenced by so much media, anything that incites hatred and arguments between friends isn’t designed to band us all together against a common enemy, for anyone who was Asian and lived in Australia we got the glorious ‘Asian Invasion’ where even the ones born in Australia were being treated like outsiders and told to go back to where we came from. I am constantly seperating myself from being emotionally engaged in the conversation and working towards instead helping others have a better understanding of the bigger picture. I don’t care for trolls. I consider every single one of my friends capable of intelligent conversation and always work towards having those conversations with them.

5. Question your intent and your bias constantly.

Everyone has an opinion, just like they have an arsehole. Inspect yours closely.

6. Avoid using the word “…but”

“I’m not racist… but” one of my friends, Sherry Davies-Selak a coach who works with leaders was one of the first people I met to point out the fact that the moment you used the word “but” it would automatically make the first statement completely irrelevant.

“I’m not racist… but” means you’re racist or your about to say a really racist thing, saying you’re not a racist and then saying a racist thing doesn’t not not make you racist.

“I’m not a feminist… but – insert something about equality” means you’re a femanist.

“I’m not a fan of cheese… but – insert comment of how you really really like brie” means you like cheese.

Sherry suggests replacing the word but with the word ‘and’ to see how the conversation goes after that (hint: it doesn’t go well in the context of racism and bigotry).

“…you have to get your ‘but’ out of the way… everything before the but is what I want you to hear …everything after the but is what I really think.” – Sherry Davies-Selak

This is by no means a perfect list, look we’re all going to fuck this up quite a bit until we figure out the kinks, half the fun is the journey and being able to say “I was a part of the positive change.” rather than be the person who said they did nothing.

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