Can people of color be racist? How can white people make reparations?
These are a few of the honest – and sometimes awkward – questions about race that you may want to know the answer to but were too embarrassed or scared to ask.
Race is a sensitive topic, so we’re answering your questions anonymously as part of the Frequently Awkward Questions segment on the KING 5 series “Facing Race.” If you want to ask a question, fill out this form. We will ask a panel of race experts for the answers.
Chapter one: Antiracism and being an ally
How do average white people who want to grow in regards to race relations make progress?
Race educators say it starts with personal work.
Dr. Caprice Hollins, co-founder of Cultures Connecting, urges white people to examine how they have been socialized about race and recognize their own biases and white privilege.
To identify your own bias, Hollins recommends noticing the times you are surprised and asking yourself why. For example, if you ask to see the manager and that person is black or in a wheelchair, and you’re surprised, ask yourself why.
Finally, Hollins says white people should own where they collude with racism, including ways they have been silent or didn't do anything to dismantle it.
“That’s one of the most important things white people can do because it takes them to a different place in the conversation,” Hollins said.
What can white people do to apologize or try to make amends to people of color?
While you can apologize to people who you were racist towards, race educators said the best way to apologize was through remunerations, such as supporting an organization that does racial justice work.
“I think that trying to think about the type of antiracist action that you could engage in in your own area, working on racism in your own family, in your own work circles – that’s a way of apologizing,” said Dr. Ralina Joseph, a professor of communication and ethnic studies at the University of Washington.
If there is someone who you personally hurt, you can try to make amends, but author Ibram Kendi warned not to put any expectations on it. That person may not want to hear your apology.
A final piece of advice from Joseph – don’t just walk up to a person of color and apologize.
“That would be very awkward,” Joseph said.
Can anyone – people of color included – be racist?
The short answer: depends who you ask.
Dr. Caprice Hollins, co-founder of Cultures Connecting and a race educator, says she’s in the camp that people of color cannot be racist. However, she believes people of color can collude with racism.
“There are things that I can do that reinforce systems of oppression," Hollins said.
On the other hand, in his book, “How to Be An Antiracist,” historian Ibram Kendi argues anyone can exhibit racist thoughts if they believe in a hierarchy that says one racial group is better than another.
However, Kendi said the more important question to ask is whether someone is being antiracist, meaning they support policies that bring equality among racial groups.
“Are you recognizing that because there’s racial inequities there must be something wrong with bad policies as opposed to bad people?” Kendi said. “That should be the question. Are we being anti-racist whether the person is Black or Asian or Native or Latinx?”
Chapter two: Why can't I say that?
Why is it wrong to say that you’re colorblind or "I don’t see race?"
When someone says, “I don’t see color,” race educator Caprice Hollins says it’s not coming from a bad place. Hollins believes that person may be trying to say they’re not racist or they think we’re all the same but said that’s not how the comment comes off.
Instead, Hollins said colorblindness communicates a person doesn’t want to talk about race or even understand experiences that people of color have.
“So now you collude with racism by maintaining these systems that say we don’t need to pay attention to them or do anything to change them,” Hollins said. “Again, that’s not the intent, but that is the impact.”
Instead, author Ibram Kendi said we should be teaching our children to see beauty in human difference and value it.
“We shouldn’t be teaching our children to not see the very colors they can see on people’s faces,” Kendi said.
Why has the phrase “All Lives Matter” gotten so much pushback?
Chapter three: Interpersonal relationships
I have stopped talking to many relatives because of their racism. I love my parents dearly but in all honesty, they too are quite racist. What can I do or say that will have a positive influence on them, and is their hope that they will ever change?
Dr. Ralina Joseph, a professor of communication and ethnic studies at the University of Washington, urges people to not give up on their relatives. Keep having challenging conversations, because as Joseph says, you know your family best and ultimately know the best ways to communicate with them.
She also shared some tips for navigating those conversations:
- Keep your tone neutral
- Ask clarifying questions
- Share your experience but don’t turn it into an argument. Remember the conversation is about hearing each other.
Chapter four: Policing
Do people of color want me as a white person to stop and act as a witness when they are pulled over by police? I often feel like I should stop, but I don't want to assume or be nosy.
Dr. Alexes Harris, a sociology professor at the University of Washington, cautioned she could only speak for herself, not all people of color. However, Harris said if she or a family member were pulled over, she would appreciate someone pulling up behind them and possibly recording the interaction.
“I think it just would give me more sense of security if someone was willing to do that, and I would appreciate it,” Harris said.
Is there any way a bridge can be built and repair the divide between the ethical cops and the African American community and communities of color? I support protesters, and I also support cops that aren't corrupt.
Yes, says Dr. Alexes Harris, a sociology professor at the University of Washington. There absolutely is a way to build a bridge between police and communities of color.
Harris says that bridge could come in two ways. First, Harris says we need to have conversations and learn from different communities to understand their experiences with police.
“For many people, the history of the criminal justice system, how it’s evolved out of slavery and control of Black bodies, that history is playing really, really loudly for a lot of people, particularly when we interact with police,” Harris said.
Second, Harris says the real key is through structural change that wipes out racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
This story was produced as part of “Facing Race,” a KING 5 series that examines racism, social justice and racial inequality in the Pacific Northwest. Tune in to KING 5 on Sundays at 9:30 p.m. to watch live and catch up on our coverage here.