White People’s Guide: How to Ask a POC Questions about Race 101
Today I posted a Facebook status about how the Klu Klux Klan still exists, and is very prominent in my home state. As a Black person with many White, and many conservative friends, I know that bringing up anything having to do with race is fodder for my Facebook friends to start arguments about how “not all White are that way”, or “reverse racism is real”, or “what about the race baiters” and a host of other nonsensical arguments that merely make me question their integrity and education. But when I posted about the KKK, I figured it would be a non-issue, even my most conservative friends agree the KKK is a blight on Christian and American history, and it is ridiculous they still exist. Little did I know. One of my classmates at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, a pastor at a Methodist church chimed in. Classmate: “The FBI does monitor these groups…” (The ellipses is a part of the quote not indicating that this classmate said anything else in the comment)
Me: “ Don’t start with me _____ , you know god an well the FBI “monitored” them throughout the 50’s and 60’s and did nothing to stop them from stringing people up on trees and burning crosses on their yards.”
Classmate: Not arguing that point Jarell, but maybe today’s FBI is different? A reflection of our culture which has changed (and not changed) in many ways? I for one have received death threats from fringe groups that I came to discover the FBI had a good handle on…___ to your point, how far should we go then? I’m not sure that active monitoring equals tolerating…but I certainly don’t defend “these” groups, but in the USA how do we tolerate the crazies without impinging on our own rights?”
Me: “It’s going to be a long semester in Moral Issues. I can tell. Get ready ___”
Classmate: “I have a lot to learn…. don’t judge! Bring on the knowledge.”
I’m going to stop here, because this snippet contains a few major points when seeking knowledge on race issues.
Do not start your seeking of knowledge by stating “facts” you know. Ask questions, don’t make statements.
I understand, you have read a book here or there, or taken a class, you know a lot about criminal justice or you have a Black friend that told you this or that. But when you are entering the classroom of a new professor, you remain silent and take notes, if you have a question raise your hand.
If you have a question, the best way to ask is in private.
Asking questions about a subject as sensitive as race in a country where: Black people are still being murdered in broad daylight and their murderers walk free; where Hispanic children that are unarmed are shot and killed, where people of color bury their 7 year old daughters who were shot in the head while they sleep by police – IT IS ALWAYS A WISE IDEA TO BE SENISITVE. Not sensitive, as in defensive about how “not racist” you are, sensitive as in empathetic.
You are a person of privilege, whether or not you choose to acknowledge it or not, you live in a country that worked very hard to make sure your lack of melanin affords you benefits that people of color cannot access. You have the ability to walk through malls without being followed, you know that when you call the police they will help you, not shoot you, you know the justice system works for you (your friends of color do not exist in this reality). For them there is no safe place in this country, take that knowledge and apply it to the way you speak with them. Using ellipses to condescend to them in a public forum is disrespectful. Asking them questions about race in a public forum puts them on the spot and asks them to be vulnerable in a way they may not feel comfortable with.
Listen more than you speak
Scroll back up and count the words used, the “student” seeking knowledge is talking more than the teacher. That’s a problem.
Always assume the racial minority you are asking to reveal their thoughts on race to you is right.
Reminder, you trust the system because the system works for you. Part of the system is the education you received, you were taught that everyone is equal in the US , but that is the furthest thing from the truth. In our representative democracy the largest minority group, women, make up 51% of the US population but only 20% of the Senate…even less in the House of Representatives. The United States of America has never been a nation where everyone is equal, where everyone gets a “fair chance” or even where everyone is treated as human. Black people have only been full human beings according to the Constitution for the last 150 years, before the 13th Amendment the US counted them as only 3/5s of a person. Blacks were only granted protected voted rights in 1964 (those have since been revoked in 2013).
People of Color have no need to lie about the racism they experience daily, both structural and interpersonal racism is so much a part of American culture it is like the air we breathe. Trust that whatever they have to say to you is honest.
Remember you are not owed anything.
Whomever you are speaking to owes you nothing. You are asking them to do you a favor.
This one should go without saying.
Be aware of the past and the present
The past is not as distant as you may think it is. Racial oppression did not go away it changed shape. Using phrase like, “our culture changed” or “not as bad as it once was” reveals you are woefully ignorant of current events. Race-based violence occurs daily in the US, for people who must remain on guard at all times, people who taught how to interact with police in a way that keeps them from killing you, for these people nothing has changed but the names and the dates. Educate yourself on the past and keep up with the present. It is not the job of your minority friends to be your encyclopedia. It is currently Black History month, look up some Black history, need help, ask for it (the same applies for the history of all people of color).
These are just a few pointers that came to mind from my interaction today, this list is by no means exhaustive, I bet many people of color would have much more to add, so you should ask the ones you know and put these seven tips to good use.
Thoughts questions comments or concerns? Leave a message at the bottom of the page and I’ll try to get to it.