Fighting racism: This is the biggest mistake people make

Voices of color are necessary for understanding racism, but it should be on their terms.

ROBIN DIANGELO: Sometimes in our enthusiasm, those of us who are white when we first learn about this, we want to rush over to people of color and have them teach us about racism. And we definitely do not want to go ahead and do that for a couple of reasons. First of all, there are plenty of people of color who have provided that information and are happy to give it and generally be paid to do so. They write books, they give talks, they have videos. But just to go up to anybody and ask that is a fairly invasive and threatening question. You're asking them to risk something very vulnerable when there's no mutuality and no trust built. You're asking them to kind of open their chest and share something that's very sensitive and their experience most likely has been that if you don't like what you hear you're going to invalidate it. It's not for people of color to carry that burden. It's for those of us who are white to be talking to each other and to also seek out the information that people of color have volunteered to give us.

I often use the analogy, imagine I'm in the workplace. I have a coworker, it's a man. He's friendly to me and everything, we've never gone to lunch or anything. We say good morning, and one day he just walks up to me and says: "Oh, I heard all about the Me Too movement. Have you ever been sexually harassed at work? Or have you ever been raped?" I'm hoping that you would know that that is an incredibly threatening and vulnerable question to be asked by a man that I don't know that well. That's going to feel really weird to me and I have no idea what the response is going to be.

My voice cannot be the only voice. There is no way we can understand what we need to understand without the voices of people of color and overwhelmingly those voices, but we have to be really thoughtful about how we get that information and how we engage.

  • Topics of race and racism are often uncomfortable, especially for the people of color being pressured to share sensitive and vulnerable information.
  • While some people of color have chosen to educate others on what racism looks like and how to fight it, not all people of color should be expected to. Writer and consultant Robin DiAngelo argues that the onus is on white people to seek the information being offered, not to try and extract it.
  • As a white person, DiAngelo acknowledges that her voice "cannot be the only voice" and that voices of color are necessary to reach understanding.

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