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Racist Rebuttals Recap

On Tuesday, November 5th, we continued our virtual bi-monthly Happy Hours with a discussion group session dedicated to spotting and stopping racist language when we encounter it in our lives. This event was held as part of our ongoing commitment to learning how to be better allies to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) designers, colleagues, and friends.


We had three very rich discussions where we really just scratched the surface of how to intervene when we witness injustice. There is still so much to learn and so much work to do! But we have to start somewhere. Find a few key takeaways below as well as links to a couple of very powerful videos and some snapshots of our slide deck. Interested in learning more or helping us craft a Racist Rebuttals handout/one-pager? Just shoot us a quick note at womenindesignpgh@gmail.com and let's continue the conversation.




Key Takeaways


  • Overcome the shock of a racist comment -- Several of us expressed concern over the speechlessness that comes with hearing someone we work with or are related to saying something racist and unacceptable. The first step in being able to respond to racist comments is to recover from the shock as soon as possible and figure out how to address it.

  • Be prepared and practice -- Racist language and comments are going to come up. Even in situations that we think could never incite that kind of language. In order to be conscious allies, we need to stay alert and begin figuring out how to respond. It will surely feel uncomfortable at first. But the more often we intervene and learn how to talk about difficult subjects, the less difficult they become.



  • Pause and assess -- There is a lot to weight internally before figuring out how best to respond. We referred to this as “internal emotional accounting.” Before saying anything, it can be valuable to ask ourselves: What is my relationship to this person? What are the power dynamics at play here? Do I need to ensure I do not damage this relationship beyond repair?

  • Start speaking up -- Many of us expressed a desire to shift from staying silent to speaking up. Before we awakened to the reality of the racism that pervades our society, we may have felt something was off when we heard racist language, but might not have known how to respond. We may not have felt comfortable because we didn’t have enough education, facts, or information to back up our gut reaction and emotional response. The more we educate ourselves about injustice and the roles we each play in perpetuating or combating social inequities, the more fuel we will have to fight with. [See our resource list here to get started!] We do want to note, however, that there may be situations where it is not safe for you to speak up. Pay attention to those instincts as well. We want everyone to stay safe.


These are all what we refer to as "microaggressions." Micro not because they are small -- in fact they can be quite painful to be on the receiving end of one of these statements -- micro because they are happening between people, on a micro scale, rather than in society at large (macro scale).


  • Learn to spot patterns -- As Ibram X. Kendi notes in the early pages of How to Be an Antiracist, more often than not, Black people are posited as representative of a whole race while white people are given the benefit of the doubt. Each of us could come up with an anecdote from our own lives that illustrated this tendency. We need to recognize when these unequal treatments of people are happening so that we can call them out and correct them.

  • Learn to spot patterns in the media we consume -- Many of the movies and television shows we watch (and so much more so now that we have nothing else to do!) perpetuate these same negative stereotypes around Blackness. For example, white vs. dark as good vs. evil in Disney characters, and this notion of white being the default for many of our points of reference. Similarly, heroes tend to be white and attractive while villains are darker skinned or darker-clothed, and purposely given not as attractive features. This perpetuates the idea that you can only be one or the other -- good or bad -- and these characteristics are then associated with certain people or demographic groups to sorely negative effect.




  • Start learning a new language -- We discussed the importance of language and how ingrained racism is in our culture -- dark vs. light analogies, master bedroom, blacklisted vs. whitelisted, blackballed, cakewalk. It is essential to start naming these things and understanding where their racist origins lie. Only then can we start to change them. There is also a whole new set of vocabulary many of us are learning around social justice -- performative allyship, cultural appropriation, intersectionality, cultural competence... There is a lot to learn, but the important thing is to just start paying attention to our words. They have way more meaning than we sometimes give them credit for. [More on this soon in a forthcoming post!]


Tell us about a time when you spoke up in the presence of racist language. How did it go? What additional tips do you have?

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