When It Is and Isn't Okay to Ask People of Color Questions about Racism
People of Color (PoC) oftentimes see themselves as playing a role in teaching White people about racism and its impact on their everyday lives and in society. Today, we commonly hear the phrase "It's not PoC's job to educate White people" when we talk about racial equity work. While this can be true in some cases, the statement does not distinguish between when it is a necessary response to White people's insincere or entitled inquisitiveness verus when PoC could be educating White people. Here is a helpful guideline for when it is and when it isn't okay to ask PoC about racism sourced from our co-Founder Dr. Caprice Hollins' book, "Inside Out: An Equity Leader's Guide to Undoing Institutional Racism.
When It is Not Okay
Asking technically oriented or historical questions. For example, "What is the Black Lives Matter Movement, who started it and why?"
The answers to these types of questions can easily be found through a simple internet search. Instead of asking a PoC to spend their time and energy teaching you, it's best to invest in your own time to learn.
There are countless resources online including articles, books, documentaries, podcasts etc. to educate yourself about systems of racism. Even if you have limited time, there is a plethora of short videos online.
When It Is Okay
When a White person takes the time to do their own work to learn about an issue and asks POC their opinions, experience or preferences.
These learning opportunities can help you deepen your understanding, especially when someone shares their personal stories which can help you develop empathy and connection.
When you do decide to ask questions, recognize that PoC have to assess whether they want to risk being vulnerable with you. It is common for PoC to experience invalidation when telling their stories and they oftentimes have to assess whether or not you are a safe person for them to share. Also, sharing a story might bring up challenging emotions for POC. Remember that PoC have to decide if it's the right time and place for them, and if they have enough bandwidth to share. Recognizing that you are not entitled to an answer and asking PoC if they have the capacity or willingness to answer is a good beginning strategy that respects and recognizes this.