How White People Should Talk About Racism

Advice from the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Posted Jun 12, 2020

Source: Pixabay

It can be hard for white people to publicly speak out about racism.

We don't know what to say.

We think we should be listening instead of speaking.

We feel like we're in no position and that anything we do say will come across as tone-deaf.

We're afraid that we might slip up and offend someone. (Look no further than the first sentence of this post: "Hard for white people"? Ohhhh, poor babies...)

We feel like we have nothing to say of value, or that what we want to say has already been said, or that it might only come across as, "Look at me, I'm so not racist."

We're afraid that our desire to help might only end up hurting.

And you know what? We might be right. We might sound awkward. We might mess it up. 

Let's do it anyway.

Because the only way we can guarantee that we're messing up is by saying nothing.

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."—Martin Luther King Jr.

I wrote an entire book called Magic Words. I've made a career out of helping people to find the "right" words to say. This time, the only wrong words are no words. Perfection is not what we need. We need imperfect conversation.

"People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other." —Martin Luther King Jr.

Racism cannot survive a conversation between two people who are relentlessly focused on human connection. My hope is that our entire culture is having that conversation right now. 

"For many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny." —Martin Luther King Jr.

Wait ... as evidenced by what? By our eloquence? By our complete and accurate understanding? By our magical words?

Definitely not.

"... by their presence here today."

Our presence. Here. Today.

Show up. Speak up. Now. Because our destiny is indeed tied to their destiny. Our freedom is indeed inextricably bound to their freedom. When George Floyd was murdered, your heart broke because it was an injustice done to an individual. Your heart broke because it was an injustice done to an entire community. Your heart broke because it was an injustice done to the ideals that this country was built on. Your heart broke because it was an injustice to justice.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." —Martin Luther King Jr.

Yeah, many white people are far too late to the party. Yeah, we have a lot to learn. Yes, we don't understand because we've never experienced it firsthand. But we're here. We want to understand.

So, how exactly should white people talk about racism?