How to have effective conversations about racism, racial injustice

In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, more people are having important conversations about racism and racial injustice. But how do you discuss those topics constructively and effectively? 

FOX 11's Vanessa Borge spoke with psychologist, Dr. Julia Harper. 

Q: How do we speak to our kids about race? 

A: "I always say the way you talk to your child about race the way you talk to them about sex. It's part of life and it's not a one-time conversation. You need to have that conversation over and over and over again. The younger the child is keep it simple keep it limited but keep it honest. As the child gets older you can add dimension to it and talk about why people see things different."

Q: How do you have meaningful conversations about racism with family and friends? 

A: "I don't believe people have to understand each other I do think people have to respect each other. Understanding means I need you to get my point of view, but I don't need you to get it but I need you to respect it. I respect your choice to believe what you want to believe. I respect who you want to vote for. I choose to see it that we do not have to agree and we certainly don't have to understand each other. 
Once you get into trying to convince someone or get someone to understand your point of view that's when things get ugly turns in to a fight and communication breaks down. If I'm not speaking to you to understand then why talk about this? Education. Education does not require that you agree with me."

Q: What are some ways people can overcome the anxiety of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing? 

A: "When that anxiety comes up it's 'oh am I going to say the wrong thing am I going to offend somebody?' They are anxious because if I say the wrong thing not only will you see that I am a racist but more importantly I'll see that I am a racist and that's the challenge that we have. We don't want to face ourselves. Respectfully saying I know I am going to mess up I don't know what to say but I am here with an open heart please educate me that's all we can ask anyone to do. That's where real change can happen."

Q: How do we overcome the anxiety, fear and sadness that has been building this year from the ramifications of the coronavirus crisis to now the murder of George Floyd? 

A: "Anxiety is really the fear of the future so if we weren't afraid of COVID or racism it would be something else. This anxiety is coming from a place of wanting to control the future COVID-19 will take over we will all die in a race war that nightmare we all have in our minds. These things are not necessarily things we can control but what we can do is control ourselves the counterbalance to anxiety is self-control. What is it that I can control in my thoughts in my communication because I can not control what is going to happen out there in the world."

Dr. Harper said something very encouraging as well - she works in the field of neuroplasticity - that's the idea that the brain is constantly changing and growing. She said she knows for a scientific fact that we can change. So keep having the tough conversations. Keep learning.