Bet we’ve all, at some point in time, thought, “How I wish I had not said that”. We’ve all had that “oops moment” after saying something hurtful. We’ve found ourselves telling stories which we originally thought were innocuous just to realize later they had different implications. Sometimes we say things with the best of intentions, but because we don’t give it enough thought, those words often come out the wrong way and hurt our relationships with others. Regrettably, even the sincerest apologies are often not enough to take those words back.
Some of the things we say can be racist, and the sad thing is that we might not even realize it. But if we made it a habit to think before speaking, then we would be able to speak in a more effective way. Before looking at how thinking can improve our general communications, let’s focus on some common racist statements people make which might seem harmless on the surface.
1. “I don’t mean to sound racist, but…”
This is probably one of the most popular “unintentional” racist phrases out there. If you find yourself starting any statement like this, then chances are you are about to say something racist. This does not really need further expansion. That said, think before you speak!
2. “Where are you actually from?”
On the surface, this question might sound inoffensive. It could just be you trying to know the person you are interacting with better. However, this might be interpreted differently by people belonging to minority groups. Keep in mind that visible minorities hear these types of questions, again and again, implying that they don’t truly belong because of their appearance. The better thing to do might be to allow people to talk about their origin whenever they feel comfortable doing so.
3. “You are so articulate”
You have probably said this to a friend or colleague belonging to a minority group thinking, “It is just a positive remark”. But when you take more time to think about it, that remark suggests that you felt the person would be less articulate and you are surprised the person speaks so well. What should I say then? Nothing! A better way to make a positive remark would be to applaud the person’s ideas not the person’s way of speaking.
4. “Is that your real hair?”
This is a familiar question to women of African descent in workplaces, because their hair is often perceived as “less professional” compared to the more familiar smooth hair. This often pushes such women to straighten their hair in a bid to look more socially acceptable. THINK again when next you feel like asking that question.
Making it your goal to avoid the above mentioned racially oriented microaggressions is a great start. Additionally, you can take it a step further by avoiding other forms of microaggressions such as sexist comments and other offensive remarks which might seem harmless, at first blush. This is where the T-H-I-N-K acronym comes in handy. This tool can help you avoid saying things you might regret.
T- TRUE: Before saying anything to anyone, you might want to ask yourself if what you are about to say is true. Telling stories or making comments which are not true can hurt you (shows you are not trustworthy) and other people.
H- HELPFUL: Is what you are about to say helpful in that specific situation? Sometimes it is more helpful to remain silent.
I- INSPIRING: Telling stories or making remarks which are inspiring, or uplifting is the better thing to do.
N- NECESSARY: As a rule of thumb, it is good to avoid saying things that are unnecessary or irrelevant.
K- KIND: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” This quote says it all!
As mentioned above, most of us have been guilty of saying hurtful things to other people, after all, “to err is human”. And if you have read this article to the end, it means you are willing to enrich your communications, and for that, we say, “Mazel tov”.