Unhelpful Common Patterns of White People in Conversation with Other White People
Over many years, when we’ve gathered with white people to talk about racism, we’ve observed several patterns of engaging with one another that can reinforce white superiority and hinder our growth. Tracking these patterns in ourselves can prove useful as we work to better show up as allies for racial justice.
Here are some unhelpful patterns to be aware of:
Believing you're the exception.
We all want to feel like we're good people so it's easier to see other white people as the "real problem," especially when we're doing the work to address racism. Instead, try to recognize that we all have work to do and celebrate the people who show up.
Competing with other white people.
We end up judging other white people when we come from a place of righteousness. Instead of "one-upping" others, try sharing new insights about yourself, how you've colluded with institutional racism, and how you will do things differently.
It is much easier to stay silent rather than to speak because you're afraid of offending others. You may also be afraid of making mistakes and being called out as racist. Instead, recognize that you might be misunderstood and trust each other by sharing that you're still learning and speak up.
Hiding behind professionalism and “niceness.”
It's easy to use the guise of professionalism to avoid challenging coworkers. Instead, ask genuine questions about someone's perspective. Coming from a place of curiosity and understanding will facilitate more impactful conversations.
Prioritizing comfort over growth.
Trying to make yourself or others feel comfortable is something many of us learned to do but comfort doesn't facilitate growth. Insetad, address this by trying to identify and name why you are feeling uncomfortable. Learn to empathize rather than sympathize.
If you notice these patterns within yourself, recognize that we all have a lot of work to do and that everyone will make mistakes along the way. Accepting that discomfort is necessary for growth and is part of the process will help you approach both yourself and others with more empathy.
This article was adapted from What's Up with White Women: Unpacking Sexism and White Privilege in the Pursuit of Social Justice by Ilsa Govan and Tilman Smith.