Racial justice has become a popular topic in recent years. While it is important for folks from all social positions to continue to work on issues around racial justice in the political and cultural realms (e.g. grassroots mobilizing/organizing; culture preservation/production), it is equally, if not more important that we evaluate and challenge our own social relationships around race.
One of my favorite quotes of 2019 is one by Reverend Jennifer Bailey. Talking about how she has built relationships with communities over the years, Bailey said: “Relationships move at the speed of trust, but social change moves at the speed of relationships.”
If we genuinely want a more just society along racial and color lines, we have to look around our personal relationships along these lines and make changes accordingly. While asking whether we should trust people from different racial backgrounds might be a moral question which answer can mobilize social change, asking whether we have built trusting relationships with people from different racial backgrounds is an empirical question which answer is the change.
So how do we challenge and transform our personal relationships around race? Here I provide two sets of questions for everyone to honestly challenge ourselves at the intersection of race and social relationships.
For white folks:
- Look at your own social circle. Are most of your friends and acquittances also white? How many meaningful cross-racial friendships do you have? Be honest.
- If you don’t have many meaningful cross-racial friendships, why haven’t you had the opportunities to develop these relationships? How do you seek them out while safeguarding spaces for people of color to preserve their identities and culture?
- Think about the spaces/places you often occupy or go to—are they mostly white-dominated spaces? Have you ever challenged yourself to participate (not dominate) in communities where whiteness isn’t the dominant lens through which the world is viewed? If you dare not participate in non-white spaces, I warmly invite you to join us. People of color need you to show up for us and/or to help amplify our voices.
- What are your discomforts around developing relationships with people of color? Are you afraid of being seen as racist when you don’t say the “right” thing? Do you feel out of place in communities of color? If so, I invite you to embrace your discomfort, respectfully ask questions when you don’t know something, show your vulnerability, listen, and take a backseat when it comes to issues around race and racism.
For people of color folks:
- Look at your own social circle. Are most of your friends and acquittances white or of the same racial background as yours? How many meaningful cross-racial friendships do you have with other people of color? Be honest.
- Do you know of any race-based issues that are affecting communities of color from which you don’t belong? For example, if you’re Asian, do you know how overpolicing has affected the black community? If you’re black, have you heard about how the model minority stereotype is impacting the mental health of Asian Americans?
- Do you know or are you constantly learning the triggers/stressors of people from different racial backgrounds? For instance, asking someone “where do you come from?” can cause racial trauma for someone who has an immigration background. Assuming that your friends of color are straight erases the intersectional struggles that people are experiencing.
- Do you regularly show up for and support other people of color with whom you don’t share the same set of struggles? Do you listen to their struggles and find out their positions in various systems of oppression? Sometimes, it is easy to drown in our own struggle and forget about others. That’s why we need to build solidarity across communities so we can better help and support each other.
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