Supporting a friend or colleague who has experienced racism can hold significant challenges. Being as prepared as possible will help. This guide will support you before, during and after sensitive conversations.
Before - points to consider when preparing for conversation. However, we cannot control how, when and how someone will talk about something that has happened.
- Acknowledge your level of understanding of the issue (you don’t need all the answers).
- Not everyone responds in the same way.
- The person may be confused or in shock and/or not ready to talk.
- Certain language may be triggering
- There may be personality and cultural differences, such as an indirect versus a direct style.
- Be aware that you may be responding to what you think is being said, rather than what is being said.
- Consider your relationship with the other person. Do you know each other well? What are the power dynamics?
- What is your setting? Is it noisy, cold? Can other people hear your conversation? You may want to say something like: “That’s a really important thing you’re saying, shall we talk about it somewhere where I can hear you more clearly?”
- Consider the appropriateness of initiating this conversation at this time.
- Your emotional and mental health. Are you in a place to take this on right now? Is there someone else who can do this? Student Services is there to support students and Human Resources is available to staff.
- Personal boundaries. Consider your time and capacity. If you are unable to have this conversation due to your mental health or capacity, be kind and honest in your setting of boundaries.
During - Listening can be a powerful and helpful way of assisting others. Here are some notes for good listening.
1. Accept what is being said to you, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable, and denial or dismissive thoughts arise. Withholding your judgement will help the other person to say what they need to speak about.
2. Reflect back what has been said by repeating a word or phrase or by summarising. This lets the person know they’ve been heard and can help to keep the conversation going.
3. Be patient – give the person space and time to work out when they want to talk and what they want to say.
4. Show you care - give the person your full attention, using eye contact, if possible, if they give eye contact. Other times, it may be more helpful to focus on something else, such as sitting looking at the sea, as the speaker may communicate that a face-to-face encounter is not what they want.
5. Acknowledge strong feelings; reflect back the feelings that are being expressed. E.g., “You seem frustrated about this.”
6. Encourage - use encouraging words as someone starts to speak. Sometimes, simply saying ‘mmhmm’, ‘go on’, or ‘take your time’ can make people feel safe to open up on their own terms.
7. Be Courageous - Silence can be useful in giving the speaker time to process what they are feeling and want to say. Have the courage to ask questions when needed.
8. Be Curious – Ask open ended questions. For example, instead of saying ‘have you known him for long?’, ask ‘how long have you known him?’ ‘Why’ questions can be perceived as interrogative and judgemental. Curiosity is useful to get a clearer understanding.
9. Be Understanding - Try and listen to understand, rather than to come up with solutions, as this may feel controlling to the person speaking. Really listen to what they are saying, rather than listening to simply respond. Check your own understanding of what you have heard.
10. Say as little as is necessary; you cannot listen when you are talking.
"Empathy has no script. There’s no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgement, emotionally connecting and communicating that incredibly healing message of 'You’re not alone'." Brené Brown
After - Reflecting on Implications
Some questions and thoughts to consider
- Take time to consider what was being said. What was your response? Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn?
- What are the implications for yourself? Is there an action to take in response to this, no matter how small?
- Consider your own unconscious bias, e.g., how might white privilege shape your response? Or sign up for the Unconscious Bias training provided by the University if you’re a post-grad or member of staff.
- Adopt a learning mindset, rather than being trapped in rigid thinking. It may be difficult to understand right now, but you can grow in insight and perspective.
- Seek out learning resources– non-fiction such as ‘Me and White Supremacy’ by Layla F. Saad, ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge and ‘White Fragility’ by Robin Diangelo. Novels, for example, ‘Lonely Londoners’ by Samuel Selvon and ‘Queenie’ by Candice Carty-Williams. 10 books about race to read instead of asking a POC to explain it to you.
- How are you feeling right now? Feel what you feel. Try to let go of thoughts that bring comparison, such as: ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this, other people have it so much worse.’ Your experience is valid. There is no need to compare. Acknowledge the feelings that come up and take some time to yourself.
- Does this conversation need to be disclosed? Duty of care tops confidentiality when it comes to disclosure of harmful behaviour. If someone tells you that they are going to hurt themselves or others, you have a responsibility to report this.
Seeking outside help
Be mindful however, that the person experiencing racism may or may not want to report the incident(s). Do not report something without their consent, unless there is a duty of care issue involved, where you anticipate that serious harm could be caused to themselves or another person.
If there is an immediate risk of serious harm to you or anyone else please call the emergency services on 999
(to call from a University extension dial 9999). Please also notify the University’s Security and Response Team on 01334 46 8999 (to call from a University extension dial 8999). In any other circumstances that require an immediate response, you should call the University’s Security and Response Team on 01334 46 8999. Key student support, resources and information on Race, Ethnicity, Culture, and Discrimination.