Tips on Starting Family Discussions About Racism

June 9, 2020

Pooja Mehta helped create a short guide for speaking with South Asian parents about ongoing protests and systemic racism in the United States.


-By Duke Global staff

It can be really hard to start a conversation with your family about race, says Pooja Mehta ’17. And for South Asian families, in particular, certain challenges exist.

Mehta, now a master of public health student at Columbia University, and two friends wrote and posted “How to Talk to Your South Asian Parents about #BlackLivesMatter” on Instagram.

“Racism and colorism are rampant in the South Asian community. We think that because we are minorities, we can’t be racist, because people are racist towards us,” Mehta writes in the introduction to the guide.

“We think, because we are the ‘model minority,’ we are exempt from taking action. But that’s not true, and over the last few days, I’ve seen so many resources on points you can bring to the conversation about race with your parents,” Mehta adds. “So with the help of @krithical_hit and @mkondapi, I’ve put together this guide on how to have the race conversation with your parents or the aunties and uncles in your life.”

Here are six suggestions presented in the guide to help you start that dialogue. (Reprinted with permission.)

1. Consider Your Parents’ and Relatives’ Relationship with Politics/Government in Their Home Countries

If you try to initiate a conversation about race/United States politics with your parents and immediately go into “you are ignorant and racist”-mode, you are not giving them enough credit or honoring their complicated histories with unstable governments and Western imperialism in their home countries.

Relating current events to protests and political movements that led to freedom and rights in their own histories can help them see the importance of rioting, etc.

2. You Will Likely Not Undo Your Family’s Decades-Long Internalization of Anti-Black Racism in a Single Conversation

Set realistic goals and be patient and persistent. Even a small win is growth.

Also, the odds you change anyone’s mind might be low, and that’s frustrating, but it’s still worth the time to bring up the topic.

3. Once Your Family Indicates Interest in Something You Share, Be Consistent in Sharing More Resources

You should not only be having these conversations when a Black person is murdered in this country. If you want them to prioritize learning anti-racism, you need to make these conversations a priority for yourself.

4. Speak with Compassion, Not Condescension

Many of us have received at least some level of education in the United States – from high school, university or social circles – about the extent of anti-Blackness and violence throughout Black history and the present.

Remember that many of our parents were not awarded the same opportunities and experiences, and they worked hard to give us access to the education and opportunities that we now have. Blaming them for their lack of knowledge may not be helpful or productive.

Educate them without invalidating their own intelligence and lived experiences.

5. Listen and Ask Questions

It is hard to understand why parents/relatives might believe the things that they do without first listening to and understanding their perspective. This will help you address their specific concerns.

A willingness to listen and hear their side also shows that you are ready for productive discourse rather than a lecture-style education format.

6. Statistics and Sources Are Powerful – Use Them

Especially for parents and relatives who are more highly educated, using credible sources that support your thoughts can be very helpful. Using statistics and numbers can add weight to the significance of the problem.

South and Southeast Asia