7 Ways to Stand Up to Racism
"Workplace diversity is about more than hiring people of different ethnicities," says Keith Yamashita, founder of the workplace-transformation firm SY Partners: "You have to work at being truly welcoming and inclusive. It's the little everyday things—microbehaviors, microchoices, microactions"—that can make an environment harmonious or hostile. Try asking yourself...
Whom do I mentor, and why? When I need advice, whom do I ask? At meetings, who speaks up? Are certain voices favored over others? What judgment am I passing when I listen to others' stories, analyses, and ideas? When I start a project, do I consider perspectives other than my own? When I walk into a room full of new people, whom do I acknowledge first, and whom do I not see?
2. Keep Your Hands to Yourself
When you see a head of hair so awesome that you want to reach out and touch, here's a piece of advice: Don't! No matter how curious you are, hair is personal.
3. Read Widely
To discover more authors of color, don't rely on the canon (Modern Library's 100 best novels include 94 by white writers). Start with O books editor Leigh Haber's list of singular storytellers:
Junot Díaz: The Dominican American novelist explores race, diaspora, and dislocation in an electric style.
Han Kang: Gorgeous Gothicism is this standout South Korean writer's specialty.
Adonis: A Syrian poet known as the T.S. Eliot of the Arab-speaking world.
Gwendolyn Brooks: The black poet probes self-doubt, womanhood, race, and power.
Sherman Alexie: American Indian lives—on and off the reservation—rendered with delicious wit.
4. Stay Real
The best antidote to racism is for people from different groups to get acquainted, says Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, PhD, of the University of California, Berkeley. But the aim is to connect, not show off how enlightened you are: In a Princeton study, white subjects took a test that measured unconscious bias, then were paired with black partners to discuss race. Researchers found that white people with lower bias scores were less liked by their black partners. "If someone's making a big effort to look egalitarian, he or she may seem fake," says Mendoza-Denton. "You're both human beings—just listen, be thoughtful, and stay present."
5. Dine Boldly
You might be wary of bone-in goat steaks or curried duck tongue. But if you only stick to the foods you know, you miss out on an essential way to connect with other cultures. It's small, but it's a start (often a tasty one).
6. Say Something
Neither of my parents—an Appalachian hillbilly and a Midwestern farmer—is ever intentionally racist, but their understanding of what constitutes acceptable talk doesn't always align with the rest of society's. The good news? They want to learn. So we have a tradition called "right hand if it's racist." When someone says something inappropriate, those who find it offensive raise their right hand. The speaker gets to ponder where she went wrong, but no one makes it a big, shameful deal. Even without a handy tradition, we'd all do well to speak up in a way that aims to educate, not castigate. I've been on the receiving end of that right hand myself, and it makes me strive to be better.
7. Don't Maim the Name
As Rita Dove wrote, "Listen how they say your name. If they can't say that right, there's no way they're going to know how to treat you proper, neither." Acknowledging people's names acknowledges their humanity and shows that you respect them enough to get it right. Ask till you're sure, then pronounce it as it was pronounced. You can do it!