Why Racism Skeptics Should Be Empathetically Listened to,
and This Should Be the Work of White Allies
There is increasing scientific evidence that shows that empathy-based dialogues are the way to go if you want to have a chance to change adults’ minds. According to this research, the best way to foster “debiasing” is to first listen empathetically to skeptics so they feel heard, and after that, raise experiences and facts that invite them to a broader and more nuanced perspective.
As one journalist titled his review of this research: “Research says there are ways to reduce racial bias. Calling people racist is not one of them.”
But you don’t have to simply take this on faith. Ask yourself these questions:
- Have you ever observed situations where someone’s views were hardened after they experienced a private lecture from someone who thought they knew “the truth”?
- Have you ever observed situations where someone’s views were authentically changed for the better after they experienced a private lecture from someone who thought they knew “the truth”?
- Have ever been times when you someone listened to you empathetically (not necessarily about race) and this experience helped expand your view of a situation?
- Have been times when you listened to someone closely and empathetically (not necessarily about race) and this experience helped someone else expand their view of a situation?
If anti-racism allies are going to change any minds, empathetic listening will likely be important.
But, the anti-racism movement should not expect POCs to empathetically listen to white racism skeptics.
White people are in a much better position to execute listening-based strategy with people who are skeptical about whether racism is real.
On a daily basis, POCs must endure the indirect expression of white skepticism that racism really matters, and they must do so as they are they are experiencing overt and subtle racism in many parts of their lives. Some people of color might want to choose to have conversations where white people’s racial skepticism is consciously expressed. But it would not be fair to expect people of color to endure this.
Engaging white folks who are skeptical of racism so they can examine and potentially revisit their views should be the a primary task of white allies and not a key task for people of color. But the allies must be smart about how to do this.