Interrupt discrimination without lifting a finger: listen more, talk less

‘I’m white in the mornings and brown in the evenings’. This is what a four year-old of dual heritage told me recently. I wanted both to laugh and cry. And what this exemplifies is that the topic of race is as confusing – and conflicting – as it gets. Moreover, such feelings are far from limited to littles.

I think dialogue helps alleviate confusion – and indeed discrimination. So, I’ve welcomed and appreciated hearing from some white people that in amongst a cocktail of guilt, confusion and compassion, they feel vilified.

I’ve had a bit of confusion of my own too – not as fundamental as my small friend’s identity crisis above – but I struggled to choose what exactly to write here in relation to ‘Black Lives Matter’. Personal and professional experience on the topic I’m not short of: over the past decade, many black, Asian and multiracial people have sought me for therapy instead of a white therapist, expressing that by doing so they hoped they would be more readily understood on issues of race. The organisational training that I’ve facilitated has also tended to be on this topic. And, I’ve 37 years of being an Indian woman also to draw on. I’ve plenty to say.

As a therapist I’m not necessarily interested in sharing my views and experiences: I want, primarily, to listen. I feel differently in personal conversations; and in these, I often find that I’m the one doing most of the listening. Moreover, usually this is with progressive white men who feel vehemently about equality. How is it that they seem to have more to say on a topic that I, undoubtedly, have more experience in? This kind of behaviour is problematic; and certainly contrary to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ cause. It got me thinking that there is something that can be done immediately to interrupt this: If you are white discussing racism with someone who is not: listen more, talk less. That’s it.

A white, male friend of mine sums this up as ‘giving way’. In some contexts, he is inclined to ‘give way’ more; and in fact, he does this whether talking about race or gender or not. He knows it’s always the subtext.

This advice, to ‘give way’ and to ‘listen more, talk less’, is contrary to most of my work – and values – as a psychotherapist. I usually help people to strengthen, not diminish, their voices. This has been a tad conflicting for me, but I square it thus: systemic discrimination – as evidenced by many, many global statistics – is a specific context. One that requires humility. And, white people, men, do please talk about how you feel – just be conscious with whom.

I’m not suggesting that educating oneself about racism and discrimination through books, films, etc. is not necessary – I just thought that ‘listen more, talk less’ was a neat starting point; and one that helps navigation through seas of complexity and confusion.

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