If you have a friend or coworker from whose cultural/ethnic identity is different from yours, ask her/him to talk with you about their experiences. Be direct: say, “I don’t feel I have as much experience and knowledge, and I want us to have a safe place to talk about this stuff.” Brace yourself: these topics are tough for everyone, so your friend may be hesitant. However, if she/he gives you an opening, talk about your own personal feelings and questions, and give her/him the option to dive in — or not.
Ask: “Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your skin color?” “What did you think about the ‘English-only’ legislation that was defeated?” “What does it feel like when I say, ‘white privilege’?” “What was it like to grow up on a reservation?” “What is the dumbest stereotype that someone ever said to you?” And listen without judgment; you’re learning new things from a friend you respect. Do not contradict and don’t correct. Do share your own experiences, including admissions about things you were unaware. Institutional racism and tribal-cultural bias, by design, keeps people in privileged positions blissfully unaware of their privilege.
Share your own story as well. Do not be afraid of describing people’s ethnicity, culture or tribe. It is generally not offensive; people know who they are. Say these words with confidence: “white,” “black,” “Hispanic,” “African,” “Native American” “Aeta,” “Hutu” or “Roma.”
However, try to avoid saying –
- “I don’t mean to be racist, but…” If your friendship is solid, you should trust one another with your stories. And if you feel strongly that what you’re about to say is inappropriate, just don’t say it. Find another way.
- “Why can’t I say the word (cultural/racial slur) if some of your people say it?” There are things that people say to family and friends that are not appropriate beyond the group.
- “My other Asian friends say…” No one person can and should be asked to represent her/his entire cultural group. While members of particular groups may share common experiences and cultural traditions, they also have individual, family, regional and experiential differences. Respect the right of people from the same “group” to disagree.