Interrupting Racism

By not interrupting racism, we allow it to flourish.

* Demeaning remarks, jokes and language have become accepted in our society. They have been accepted because no one speaks out against them. Some remain silent because they agree. Others remain silent because they are uncomfortable speaking up. They feel alone in dissension and uncomfortable with attention. They become anxious and the anxiety overcomes good intentions. Later they may say, with regret, "Why didn't I say something?"

* Anxiety about expressing oneself is learned and must be unlearned. You recognize the signs of anxiety when your body experiences an adrenaline rush,' heart rate increases, breathing becomes quicker and muscles tense. Instead of moving away from the anxiety-producing situation, or denying that it exists, recognize that it is a valid feeling and that you don't need to suppress it. Use this energy to express yourself and interrupt the racism.

* Interrupting racism can be done with good manners. The fear of being thought rude should not be used as an excuse for silence. To express your feelings about a racist remark or joke is not rude. Attacks upon the dignity of other human beings is rude.

*Here are some guidelines which may be helpful to keep in mind when telling a person that his or her remarks are unacceptable:

  1. Believe in your right to express your feelings. Take a deep breath and try to relax your muscles. Expect to succeed.
  2. Look directly at the person. If you look down or away, you appear to lack confidence.
  3. An erect posture facing the person lends strength to your message.
  4. Let your facial expression match the message. A serious comment should be delivered seriously.
  5. A level, firm conversational tone is convincing and conveys the idea that you mean business.
  6. Hesitation or postponement of speaking up may diminish the effectiveness of the message. However, if the right moment slips by, it is appropriate and important that it be brought up later.
  7. Practice, practice, practice! Although spontaneity is recommended, practice is necessary until spontaneity can be achieved. Give yourself some phrases in your own words such as "I find that offensive" "We do not talk that way here" "This is a racism-free zone and your remark is unacceptable." "In our family (club, office, school, etc.) we are working to eliminate racism. We don't appreciate jokes like that."

* To disown or deny a racist comment is a natural human response. The speaker may try to cover up, put you down, or trivialize what you are doing. Even though they don't accept it graciously, you did the right thing.

* Don't buy into the trivialization. Nothing about racism is trivial. You have the right to your own feelings and the right to express them. When faced with racist comments, silence is approval.

* Silence in the face of bigotry and racism means acceptance. By not speaking out against it, you are speaking for it. Go public with your commitment to establish the climate where all citizens can live in harmony.

Excerpted from "Establish the Climate," by the Southeast Uplift Neighborhood Program in Portland, OR, as published in AFSC On The Move, Winter 1996.

Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom - PO Box 5114 - Fresno, CA 93755

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