A guide to talking about race with your elders.
By Austin Weatherman
Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner, and while we all need some of that holiday joy and a break from what it seemed like a never ending nightmare of an election mixed in with a pandemic, the conversations at the dinner table this year could be more uneasy than years past.
Thanks to the lockdowns COVID-19 so generously brought to the party, families have had the opportunity to spend more time with each other at home than ever before. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, difficult conversations are bound to occur.
From police shootings to protests coverage, the news and Trump have fired up racially-based and political conversations at home. Maybe you’ve witnessed a family member commit an act of racism and didn’t know how to go about talking to them about it.
Confrontation can be an intimidating road to travel, but if done in a civil way, all parties can leave the conversation satisfied.
Assistant professor in the human communications studies department at Cal State Fullerton, Tara Suwinyattichaiporn, explained that there is a six-step process to take when confronting your family about tough topics, such as racism, that will lead to a civil discussion.
- Be aware that having differences is normal
Before you are able to confront the issue at hand, you need to realize that everyone has different points of view on any particular subject.
Suwinyattichaiporn explains that this is necessary in order to avoid the temptation of being angry and upset with your family members. It’s normal to have differences within a family.
“Individual freedom means we all have the independence to believe in whatever we want to,” Suwinyattichaiporn, who also teaches relational communications and leads the CSUF Civil Dialogue public-forum events on campus, said. “And what comes with individual freedom is differences and this includes generational differences in our beliefs.”
Action: Try to be understanding of the opposing member’s backgrounds and remember not all of society has changed with the times.
- Identify the specific difference
“Identify exactly what it is that they do or how they behave that bothers you,” Suwinyattichaiporn said.
Without letting your family member know exactly what they do that upsets you, whether that’s racial slurs or behaving differently around diverse people, they will never know that their actions are affecting you and the people this is targeted to.
Action: Take account of when your family members do something racially charged to be able to bring up during the conversation.
- Validate their beliefs and perspective
Validating other’s different points of view is key to building bridges within your family unit, Suwinyattichaiporn said. Letting people know that their experiences are accepted will allow them to be more receptive to your experiences.
“Validation goes both ways, it should be reciprocal,” Suwinyattichaiporn said. “So you should validate your family, your family should validate you.”
Action: Validate other’s views by understanding through phrases like, “I can see why you think that way,” or “I can see why you feel that way.”
- Being the dialogue
Explain your experiences to show them the differences between your lives and uses, having diverse friends as an example, Suwintattichaiporn said.
“‘I know you didn’t have diverse friends back in your day, but now I do have diverse friends now,’” Suwinyattichaiporn said. “‘When they come over, this is what you do and this is how it makes me feel.’”
Action: Express your position on the issue and present your feelings, civilly.
- Ask questions
Understanding their history will allow you to hear what they experienced in their life and understand their actions.
Asking them why they feel the way they do or think the way they do will hopefully help you understand your family’s history, and the cultural context for how they express themselves.
Action: Ask questions like “Why do you feel like that? What happened to make you feel this way?” to gain a better understanding of your family member’s history on the topic.
When coming to a resolution, Suwinyattichaiporn says there are two options for you: agree to disagree with civility or come to a consensus.
“The key is that both people kind of start to understand each other and compromise and they come to understand that, ‘OK, this particular common ground is best to go with,’” Suwinyattichaiporn said.
Action: End the discussion by coming to a consensus or agree to disagree with on good terms.
On top of these tips, Cecil Chik, the Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Programs director of engagement and learning, said the department helps students build the skills to have those hard conversations, both on campus and at home.
“(Our department is) building folk’s skills and awareness of themselves so that they can be in a position to have that conversation,” Chik said.
The department is now offering the “Inclusion Champion” certificate program which teaches students to be more self aware and engage in practical opportunities to expand their cultural awareness and those around them amongst other learning objectives.
To find out more information to sign up and become a “inclusion champion,” visit the department’s website hr.fullerton.edu/diep/.