If you are White:
When a Person of Color shares a personal story with you about how they or someone they care about were hurt by racism or another form of oppression, this is what you say”
“I hear you. I am sorry this happened. We’ll do better.”
And then you just stop. DO NOT tell them how they might have misunderstood the situation. DO NOT tell them how they can use it as an opportunity to educate the offender. DO NOT tell them all the ways YOU would NEVER say or do that. And most definitely, DO NOT start listing all the ways YOU are working to end oppression.
No. No. No. When POC share their experience and you say they might have misunderstood, you invalidate their experience as real. When you tell them it is an opportunity to educate the offender, you are telling them it is THEIR job to end the oppression. And its NOT. Only the oppressing group can do that work. And when you start the “not me” story or listing all the ways you are different, you are re-centering yourself as the important person in the story. All of this is hurtful.
Your desire to say any of these things may come from being uncomfortable with the feelings the person of color is sharing with you. But, in this moment, YOUR DISCOMFORT does not matter. Maybe its that you really, really don’t want to be lumped into the same group with the oppressor. Again, that is your discomfort and something for you to deal with later. It is not the POC’s job to make you feel better by acknowledging that “you are different”.
The place to talk about how you are doing things differently from the offender is with your white friends. Not for a pat on the back. But so that we can learn from each other on how to do better. Because we have GOT to do better.
And, in case you are wondering, these principles extend to listening to stories from other oppressed groups such as LGBTQ+ and disabled individuals. If you are part of the Oppressing Group, your response is the same: “I hear you. I’m sorry you experienced this. We’ll do better.”
May we all do better so that we can all become free.