Coping With Racism

iStock_000033293566MediumIn another blog, I wrote about different kinds of racism. Here, I will describe some of the ways you might deal with a racist situation at your school or in your neighborhood. I strongly encourage you to talk with a trusted adult about these types of situations and about how you plan to respond.

There are many different ways to manage the situation when you encounter racism. These may vary depending on whether you are the target of the racist action or a bystander observing the incident. If you are the target of racism, it is important to think about whether or not your physical safety is in immediate danger. If you think it is, get away from the situation as quickly as possible. If you are not worried about your physical safety, consider whether this situation holds you back from reaching a goal or if it is something that may be harmful to your self-esteem. If so this may help you decide whether you want to respond, and how. Some possible ways to respond include:

  1. Do nothing. As the target of a racist action, you should not feel as though you have to respond if you don’t feel comfortable doing so or if you simply don’t want to. It is not your responsibility to educate the racist person about how their actions affect you or about why their actions are wrong. Therefore, it is your choice whether or not you wish to respond.
  2. Change the subject. If you do choose to respond, you may wish to let the person know that you are uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation and suggest talking about something else. You may also wish to end the interaction altogether and move away from the person exhibiting the racist behavior.
  3. Explain your position. You may opt to explain to the person responsible for the unfair treatment how their behavior has impacted you.
  4. Counter their negativity with positivity. You may choose to share information with the person that counteracts their original statement.
  5. Question the person. You may choose to ask the person how they came to feel this way or what their intentions were in making the statement.

Be prepared that you may not get the response you want if you do choose to engage with the person who exhibited the racist behavior. On the other hand, you may have a conversation with the person that truly impacts how they behave in the future toward other people of color.

If you are a bystander observing a racist incident, you too have a number of ways you might choose to respond, including all of the options described above. However, be aware that if you choose to do nothing this may be perceived as agreeing with the racist sentiment, particularly if you’re a member of the same racial group as the person exhibiting the behavior.

After you have experienced a racist incident, whether as a target or a bystander, it’s important to give yourself an opportunity to process what happened. You may wish to avoid returning to the environment where the incident took place, but you should not feel as though you have to change your routines as a result of someone else’s inappropriate behavior. If the incident has caused you distress it may be helpful to use coping skills such as listening to music, thinking about fun memories or positive relationships, or reading a book. Other ways to cope following a racist event include:

  1. Talk about what happened with others: Share the details of the incident with friends and family members. They might have experienced something similar and can offer support and suggestions.
  2. Encourage your school and community leaders to acknowledge racism: Inform your principal, police chief, mayor, or other leader about what happened and how it made you feel. Write a letter. Request a meeting and take your parent(s) /guardian(s) with you.
  3. Experience diversity: Start or join a multicultural club. Learn about racism from books. Make friends outside of your comfort zone.

No matter what, do not suffer in silence. Remember that everyone is special and has a purpose in this world. Denying that racism exists may be a larger drain on your energy than finding ways to manage difficult situations. Taking steps like those listed above can empower you to feel that you do not have to cope with racism on your own!

– Kip Thompson, PhD