The following is an email I sent to my list this morning. At first, I didn't even consider putting it up on my blog.
Even though I've had quite a few people unsubscribe from my list today, I've had several people take the time to reply to my email to thank me and/or let me know that they found it helpful.
So, here is what I wrote. I hope you find it helpful, too...
I debated on whether I should send this email or not.
“Who am I to send an email about racism? I’m white. How could I possibly have anything to contribute?”
“What if I sound ridiculous? Or naive?”
“What if everyone unsubscribes because that’s not what they’re here for.”
… have been running through my mind. A lot.
But in the end I’ve decided to send it because a) it may be helpful to other white women who want to help change things but aren’t sure how, and b) a couple of weeks ago I wrote about how we should show up in ways that make us the most proud and not worry about others' responses. So I'm taking my own advice.
I've been using a tool for years that I've nicknamed "planting seeds."
While I don’t think planting seeds is the complete answer to eradicating racism, I do think it can help.
Because I’m a coach and have a doctorate in psychology, I tend to look at things from an individual and psychological perspective.
As a society we have tried solving racism from the outside. We've rioted. We've changed policies and laws. But it is still prevalent. Still as big of an issue as it ever was. And it's affecting millions of people daily.
But the way I see it, a society is just a collection of individuals. And individuals can change.
As coaches we understand that people don't make permanent change unless they change from the inside. Something has to shift within for any change to be lasting.
But we also know that we can't change someone else's inside. Unless they're open to change, there is nothing we can do.
So how do we get someone to be open to change?
That's where the idea of planting seeds comes in.
Let me share a story to give you an example of what I mean by planting seeds.
My mom and my sister used to butt heads all the time. My mom would make a suggestion for something she thought my sister should do. My sister would immediately say no and my mom would keep trying to get my sister to see things from her point of view. It often ended up in an argument or at least a tension filled stand still.
After witnessing this for years, I shared with my mom the idea of just planting a seed.
I told her, "Once you make your suggestion, if you get resistance, just back off. Say something like, 'Ok, just a thought' and change the subject."
It worked beautifully.
Because my mom wasn't trying to push her agenda, my sister had the opportunity to actually think about my mom's suggestion because she hadn't built up any walls to keep it out.
The seed had a chance to get planted in her mind. And more times than not, she'd take my mom's suggestion once it had a chance to take root.
So what does this have to do with systemic racism?
One of the suggestions I’ve seen is for white people to confront the person whenever they encounter racism in their family or friend circles.
In my experience, that suggestion is probably not going to work for a couple of reasons.
First, confronting someone outright can be very scary, or at the very least pretty uncomfortable. So I’m guessing that very few people will actually do that.
Second, confronting someone makes them defensive. Once someone gets defensive, they put up walls and won’t listen to whatever you have to say anyway.
Let’s use an example...
Let’s say you have an Uncle George who spews racist slurs at the Thanksgiving dinner table.
Confronting him openly is probably going to just put up his walls. Most likely big concrete walls where nothing gets through.
But what if you planted a seed instead?
Let's say that Uncle George starts up with "Black people are blah blah blah."
Instead of confronting or arguing with him, you might say something like "Interesting that you would think that. That hasn't been my experience. In fact, my friend _________ just [something that negates whatever Uncle George has just said.]" and then you leave it.
You don't try to convince him. You just change the subject. Let that seed be planted before any walls get built.
Do I think that Uncle George will change his point of view immediately?
It may take 10 more seeds or 1000.
But I do think it's worth the effort.
There’s several benefits to planting seeds.
- It’s easier than confrontation, so you’re more likely to actually do it.
- It doesn’t make someone get defensive, so they are going to be more willing and able to hear what you have to say.
- Because you’re showing up as respectful, the person is more likely to respect you and listen to your point of view.
Think of it this way…
Even if you’re dealing with someone who has a gigantic oak tree full of racist beliefs, one that is rooted pretty firmly in the ground, if you plant enough seeds and they take root, eventually those seeds have a good chance of crowding out the oak tree.
And I just wonder… If every white person who wanted to see racism eradicated from the planet started planting seeds in his or her family and friend circles every time the opportunity presented itself, would this begin to change things?
I don’t know, but maybe it’s worth a try?
With love & joy,
P.S. And because I'm a coach who coaches other coaches, I also want to point out that planting seeds works beautifully with clients. Have a client who is resistant to a change you know could really help him or her? Plant a seed, let it grow, and see what happens.