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Common Mistakes People Make When Talking About Race/ism

Common Mistakes People Make When Talking About Race/ism

Lucretia Berry  •   March 14, 2023

So, you want to actively engage in dismantling race/ism, but fear making mistakes? Here are seven of the most common mistakes people make when broaching the subjects of race and racism.

1. Believing that race/ism only affects certain races:

Racism affects all racial groups, including white people (e.g. historically, real estate speculators profited from blockbusting – the practice of introducing African American homeowners into previously all White neighborhoods in order to spark rapid White-flight and housing price decline). It’s important to understand that racism is not just a problem for people of color to solve, but a societal issue that affects everyone.

2. Believing that race and racism are solely about individual identity and behavior:

Race and racism are also shaped by historical and systemic factors, including policies and practices (such as systemic discrimination in housing, education, and employment) that have led to the marginalization and disenfranchisement of certain groups. Racism is not just a problem of individual prejudice, but also a systemic issue that is perpetuated by societal structures (public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work to perpetuate, racial group inequity) and social institutions (e.g. government, courts of law, banks, schools). Understanding these factors is crucial to addressing and dismantling racism. It is important to recognize that the effects of racism are far-reaching, intergenerational, and cannot be solved by individual actions alone.

3. Believing that race “colorblindness” is a solution to racism:

Ignoring race or pretending not to see it can actually perpetuate racial inequality by erasing the experiences of people of color and dismissing their struggles. A term used to sound not racist, “I don’t see color” can be used to avoid acknowledging the reality of systemic racism and to avoid taking meaningful action to address it. Race colorblind ideology suppresses public discourse on race/ism and masks discrepancies in decision-making.

Believing that race "colorblindness" is a solution to racism
Image source: https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/20/08/leaders-guide-talking-about-bias

4. Expecting people of color to be skilled teachers on race/ism:

It’s not the responsibility of people of color to educate White people about race/ism. Everyone – people of color and White people – deserves a scholarly-informed, fact-based education on race/ism that is professionally designed and implemented by skillful educators. People of color should not be expected to teach about racism simply because they have experienced it. For example, most teachers have degrees and/or certificates from education programs. They are not simply considered a teacher or educator simply because they have experienced education.

5. Dismissing or denying someone’s experiences of racism:

When someone shares their experience of racism, it’s important to listen and validate their experience. Dismissing or denying their experiences can make them feel unheard and unsupported.

6. Refusing to acknowledge or confront one’s own racial biases:

Everyone has biases. It’s important to understand, acknowledge, and work to address them. Refusing to confront one’s own racial biases can perpetuate racism.

7. Thinking that intent is all that matters:

Even if someone’s intentions are good, their words or actions can still be harmful and perpetuate racism. It’s important to understand the impact of one’s words and actions, not just their intent.

Here are a few helpful resources for understanding these mistakes and how to avoid them.

  1. 21 Racial Microaggressions You Hear on a Daily Basis
  2. Unconscious Bias Training That Works
  3. Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Race

DON’T LET FEAR of making a mistake keep you from actively participating in dismantling race/ism – interpersonal, internalized, and systemic. Brownicity’s onboarding courses, What LIES Between Us (for Christian organizations)  and Foundations (for public schools and companies), are skillfully designed by a professional educator (me!) to help build your understanding, equip you with language and a framework, and grow your capacity to engage in transformative change.

"What LIES Between Us" and "Foundations" Courses
Foundations and What LIES Between Us are available online and on-demand. Email connect@brownicity.com to schedule either course live and in-person for your organization.

Lucretia is a former college professor, who founded Brownicity with the purpose of making scholarly-informed, antiracism education accessible in order to inspire a culture of true belonging and justice for all. Her TED Talk, ‘Children will light up the world if we don’t keep them in the dark’ (2017) is well received, as well as her books and courses: