QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Teen

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Question

My family is racist toward Blacks, but I am not. My parents forbid me to associate with Black kids, but I have a lot of Black friends. Any ideas for dealing with this? 15 year old female

Answer

Yes, I am afraid racism is alive and well. The key to combating racism seems to be education and understanding. With family members, it is often difficult to confront controversial topics like racism without causing more strife, so your approach is crucial to being heard. Sometimes people can' t hear what we say because of how we are saying it!

First of all it helps to understand some of the history behind their racism. If you can understand where your family members are coming from and why they feel the way they do, it will help you know how to approach the problem. In the most non-threatening way you can think of (meaning try really hard not to start an argument, but a conversation) bring up the subject of blacks/minorities and ask them about their experiences. Many adults grew up during times when racial tension was at a peak in the 60s and 70s, so their memories of Blacks are of acts of violence and riots. If this is the case, they may associate all Blacks today with those negative images. Others grew up in families who owned slaves and passed on the "slavery mentality" toward Blacks and minorities. Those people have inherited beliefs and attitudes based on the thought that Whites are superior to Blacks because these beliefs were popular in the past, and sadly continue today within some academic circles.

While these and other reasons for your family members' beliefs and attitudes about Blacks and minorities do not make racism acceptable, they will help you understand them better. Tolerance goes both ways...if you want others to accept and tolerate your beliefs, you must do the same.

After you get an idea of where the negative attitudes and beliefs about Blacks and minorities stem from, introduce new information about Blacks and minorities when the opportunity presents itself. You can do this without creating more problems for yourself if you are diplomatic, meaning you don't ram your opinions down their throats (you don t like it when they do that to you, do you?). Educate yourself with current facts so that your attempts to educate them are based on rational information, not emotions. Help them understand ways in which things have changed, and that a whole group of people is not responsible for the choices and actions of a few. Chances are if you set the tone for tolerance of their views (although you don' t agree with them) they will be more willing to listen what you have to say.

Challenge negative stereotypes by exposing them to positive images of Blacks and minorities. Look for underlying misconceptions or feelings that are camouflaged by anger and resentment. Empathize with their fears and insecurities, and realize that hatred and prejudice can only be battled by overcoming those fears and insecurities. In this battle, compassion and understanding will further your cause more than an aggressive approach...aggression on the part of Blacks and Whites helped create the problem.

Most of all, be patient. These stereotypes take a long time to overcome. You may not see a lot of improvement, but the seeds of understanding are being sown each time you get your point across without alienating your family. Your actions speak louder than words, so show them how to be understanding, accepting of differences and tolerant of diversity. Good luck!

3/12/98

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