How to talk to your (non-black) family about Black Lives Matter

After the last 48 hours, one thing is clear. We can’t leave this up to black people. We’ve got to do our part.

And I'm seeing a lot of white and brown folks in my social feeds who want to do more to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

One thing we all can do is talk about it. And not just to people who already agree with us. But with everyone who really matters to us -- our parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, colleagues, college buddies, and neighbors. This is our circle of influence -- where we as individuals are better positioned to make an impact than anyone else. After all, if you can't get your mom thinking about BLM, then who can?

But it's hard to know where to begin.

We don't want to start political fights with the people who raised us. Depending on your culture, disagreeing with an elder might feel like a BIG DEAL. And let's be real here. For many of us, a political discussion with mom and dad sounds like an opportunity to regress straight back to 14. And nobody (nobody!) wants that.

So what would it take to cultivate a greater sense of confidence and strength in having these conversations? That's what I hope to contribute with this post. 

I'd like to offer to you what's worked for me. And while this is focused on families, I believe it can apply to colleagues, legislators, neighbors, and anyone we want to influence.

But it's a bit unorthodox, because it's not about convincing anyone of anything. Rather, it's about having the courage and humility to take a stand.

The beauty and power of simply standing for what you believe.

To take a stand, you don't need anyone to agree with you. You just do it. An entire room can laugh at a racist joke. If you find the courage to speak up, there you are, standing up for what you believe is right. 

And it does take courage to take a stand. It can feel like going out on a limb, especially if no one is there to back you up. In my experience, sometimes it feels lonely. But as we saw with the Stanford rape survivor, who took an incredible stand against rape culture, that kind of courage has the power to draw people in.

But it also takes humility. It takes a capacity to say, "This is what I believe," while letting go of what we think other people are supposed to believe. It takes letting go of convincing others of anything.

And that's the paradox: our capacity to persuade is greatest when we stop angling and strategizing, and just speak from our hearts about what feels real to us.

So here are a few tips, for when you take your stand.

1. Think long term. Don't try and do it all in one conversation. This isn't about sitting down and saying, "Mom? Dad? I have something to talk to you about. #BlackLivesMatter."

It's about showing up, over and over, as someone who visibly and vocally believes in racial justice. Your passion and courage will do more to influence those around you over the long term than a lecture will.

2. Give them room to disagree with you. While it's important to engage in the conversation, you don't need to "win" the conversation. Rather, it's about showing up, showing them who you are, and what you believe.

Your ability to respect people with differing points of view is powerful in and of itself. For one, by hearing them out, you will better understand where they are coming from, which can only help you. And two, rather than having a political battle that could fray your relationship, your respect will make your relationship stronger, which better positions you to make an impact.  

3. Understand and embrace your family's culture around debate. In some families and cultures, debate is seen as healthy, and a sign of respect and family closeness. And some, not so much. There's no right and wrong here. Rather, I think it can help a lot to think about your family's culture around disagreement and debate, and adjust accordingly.

For instance, does your family see disagreement as a sign of disrespect? If so, how can you shift your approach so you can make clear your intention to respectfully disagree?

4. Take your stand. Here's how that can look.

+ Talk about the news. Ask your mom if she saw your post on Facebook. Say what you think and feel, and ask what she thinks and feels.

+ Show them that you feel something real about this. Let them see how it's affecting you. Name the emotions that are coming up.

And don't stop at anger. Our political culture is very angry. And while anger can give us the strength to act, it can also cut us off from each other. So cut through the noise by showing who you are underneath the anger. Does the violence scare you? Are you saddened by the deaths? Then say so.

+ Talk about what moves you to care so much. Talk about the people who have died -- who they were, who they left behind. Say their names.

So what do you think? Are you planning on having one of these conversations? I’d love to hear how it goes. Let me know in the comments, what worked, and what didn’t work, and I’ll share what I hear back next week.