July 3, 2020 by Stacey Joseph for ImpactEDI™
In a conversation with a dear friend last night, an activist and mom of two lovely little ones, who happens to be a white woman, we processed feelings around the difficultly of not speaking up or speaking out when racist speech shows up in a conversation. We talked about how hard it feels to be confrontational; silence, born out of a desire to not cause trouble or loose our sense of belonging. We both admitted to experiencing moments of self-silencing, when we knew we should’ve spoken out against something, and the lingering pain that is carried when we convince ourselves that our silence is our safety. The fact of the matter is, when we are in spaces where there are expressions or acts of racism or any of the other ‘isms,’ bias, group phobia, and prejudice, our witness to it and silence therein, holds us complicit. And this becomes the source of our pain.
Well into the evening, I was reflective and contemplative about the “irony of power and privilege.” Often times, it is those of us with the most access to power and privilege who relinquish our voices to bias and injustice, for the sake of a sense of prolonged belonging. The irony is that once we do so, the very spaces that we occupy, be it familial spaces, workspaces, institutional spaces, social spaces etc., those spaces are no longer safe spaces of belonging. It’s just a matter of time before those of us who sit silently on inside of circles where we share a sense of privilege, and where we allow biased language, stereotypes, hate speech, micro/macro-aggressions, and other forms of ‘othering’ and oppression to exist unchallenged, will we eventually find ourselves, marginalized. What’s more, is that if small children and young people bear witness to our silence, we have essentially began the indoctrination of them as bystanders.
When you find yourself in a space where someone has said something that supports or promotes racism (or any other ism), bias, group phobia, prejudice, or othering, and it makes you uncomfortable, or even angry, and you want to say something but you’re not sure what to say, at the very least, interrupt its progression. Being an Interrupter moves you further along on the Allyship/Oppression Action Continuum. The interrupting phase of the continuum includes not only recognizing the expression of oppressive ideology and oppressive actions, but also taking action (however small) to stop them. Though the response goes no further than stopping the action, it is an important stage since you’re no longer passively accepting oppressive actions, but rather actively choosing anti-oppression actions. Moving through the ally continuum takes courage, perseverance and dedication. It also requires us to find our voice, unlearn old habits like self-silencing, and begin practicing new habits like speaking up/out, using language that is unambiguous about where we stand and what we tolerate.
Because Allyship is a continuum, where you are on your allyship journey aligns with how comfortable you feel taking action as well as the type of action you take. Here are twenty basic phrases, varied in their prospective outcomes, that will help you as you begin to interrupt oppression, and move further along the continuum.
- I’m sorry, what?
- That doesn’t sound right.
- I didn’t realize you thought like that.
- What was just said doesn’t feel okay to me.
- Why would you say a thing like that?
- I don’t see the humor in that.
- I can’t find the value in that statement.
- That sounds (fill in the blank – i.e racist, homophobic, xenophobic etc.)
- People who believe in equality don’t think that way.
- I/We can’t align myself with that idealogy.
- Give me a moment, I need to process what you just said.
- Help me understand your thinking.
- That’s not something I want to teach my children.
- That’s problematic.
- That’s offensive.
- What you just said is harmful.
- That’s not okay with me.
- We don’t think that way here.
- We don’t say things like that here.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive. These phrases simply provide for quick responses that are intended to either shut down oppressive speech/ideaology, and/or spark additional conversation in which anti-oppressive ideology can be shared, and education will hopefully take place.
We want to continue developing this list. Please feel free to provide feedback, responses, or outcomes to using the phrases on this list, and be sure to share any phrases that you’ve used or heard others use that have proven effective. You can do so by emailing us here.
*Images Credit: Shutterstock Stop Image credited below.
Special thank you to the women of H-Can Racial Justice Action Group whose work around confronting racism inspired this list; **and to sweet little Agnes Ombam, all of 4 years old, who during a virtual children’s protest in response to the recent racial injustices, provided the last response and likely the most powerful on the list – STOP. Agnes’ mom was kind enough to provide her photo.
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