How to Talk About Racism with White People

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Dear Soft Hearts,

So just a reminder I’m Iranian American and White. I grew up in a very White neighborhood and skin heads, police, neighbors, etc. were damaging to my Iranian father. I had a different experience than my father and Brown and Black people I know, because I walked around in this world with White privilege. I never had skin heads try to beat me with a bat because of their perceptions of my skin tone. I never had people pull a gun on me on the side of the road because of their perceptions. I had a different experience than someone in a Brown or Black body. I just did. I attempt to unlearn what I saw when I was a child and teenager in the city I grew up in. I attempt to be culturally humble in my therapeutic practices where people come for healing from traumas, including racial trauma. I work actively to abandon my racism. I don’t need want to take this space to burden you with what I do so I’ll get to my point of talking about racism with White people.

I think because I’ve had a behind the scenes glimpse of what some White neighbors would say or White supervisors, I know they’ve said some scary things. For example, a supervisor joked about a bomb threat being from a SWANA terrorist (was known as Middle Easterners a few years ago, but this is a colonialized term so we use SWANA now). All I could mutter to my superior, holding my graduation in her very finger tips was a timid and direct, “not today, not today.” People think because I look White they can say the most racist stuff around me and get away with it.

**Trigger warning.**

That supervisor would also tell me a Black birthing parent was causing their child’s difficulties. So how do we say, “excuse me, White lady, that’s racist!” We say it. I mean you can omit the “White lady” part, but we do interrupt the weird and perhaps scary dialogue and call it what it is. At another training placement I found myself leaving shortly after a supervisor asked me if a Muslim patient was a terrorist. How the heck would I know if someone is a terrorist? Plus they weren’t. It made no sense. That’s also the problem. Racism really harms people’s care. We miss folks getting what they need in health/mental health care every day and it can cause medical and racial trauma and ruin or end lives. I can go into this more if anyone would like, but for now, back to how to confront the elephant in the room with White people, racism.

So I found myself acknowledging my privilege in the therapy room, working on my anti-racist path, and confronting the daily racist remarks with peer therapists and supervisors. We can also go to “higher ups” and try that way. Not only do we confront racism so our clients won’t have to be harmed by their provider’s racism, but we do it because we don’t want to contribute to the problem by sitting around and listening to the damaging aggression of this kind of talk. I guess I’d feel like I lied if I let a supervisor say that about a client we served together and then went into session with said client acting like I hadn’t just heard supervisor aggress against them. If you’re White or White presenting too and reading this I guess you know we have an opportunity to call it out when people try to slide their racism in there.

So I’ve spent a little time explaining why we do it, but not that much time discussing how to actually make these confrontations. I’m no expert here. Again, I’m the White girl in the room. I do go ahead and say, “that’s racist.” When they try to excuse, we can say, “I hear you, and what you’re saying/doing is still racist.” I can also share more with them. But that’s really where it starts. Calling it out. I think sometimes we dodge and skirt this, but we really need to say it directly. I believe that’s where the conversation can begin.

Thanks for joining in and there will be more growth and healing topics next week.

Thank you,

Dr. Joharchi

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