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How to respond to racism

A study published in Science magazine in 2014 showed that thoughtful conversations worked best to change people’s minds. The next year, a scandal broke. All the data from the study turned out to be false. However, the results of a second study, this time with real data, came out in 2016. Even more strongly that the faked study, it concluded that people can change their attitudes by discussing shared experiences and then understanding another person’s point of view. The 2016 study dealt with transphobia, but the theory behind it also applies to racism. Especially in a time when Trump voters are viewed with hostility, the methods used in the study can be applied to everyday conversations with the goal of reducing racist attitudes.

The type of conversation is called “deep canvassing.” Here’s an example of it used by the study. A gay canvasser, someone who talks to others to try to change their finds, approaches a man named Gustavo. When the canvasser, Virginia, first asks Gustavo his thoughts on legislation for transgender protection, he opposes it. Virginia reacts calmly and says “I’m gay.” Gustavo seems interested, and two discuss what love means to them. Gustavo shares that he loves his wife even though she’s disabled, leading to Virginia and him finding common ground because they both believe love is shown through how they treat people. Virginia says she thinks how we treat people is what the transgender protection legislation is all about. Gustavo is now more open, and when Virginia asks again if he supports the legislation, he says yes.

During the election, Trump’s lead persisted despite the media’s repeated statements that he was racist. This shows that just saying someone is racist doesn’t lead them to change their minds, and in the case of the election, of their followers to stop supporting them. By extension, the media also called Trump’s followers racist. Hillary Clinton, despite her many outstanding qualities, said that half of Trump voters were “deplorable.”

A key demographic of those supporters is the white, rural American who sees a lack of opportunities for success. People like that feel they’re incapable of racism after the Civil War. They feel scared, though, because they see other racial groups gaining economic power while they themselves struggle to find jobs. Calling them racist makes them feel like politicians are ignoring their issues. Even if they might hold some amount of white privilege, they still face the problems of unemployment and painkiller addictions.

In addition to making them feel like their problems are ignored, calling white rural Americans makes them defensive. According to German Lopez of Vox Media, racial issues can be addressed the same way as transphobia was in the study. White rural Americans can find they share common ground with people of other races and feel like their ideas are listened to. Examples like New York City show that people from diverse backgrounds can work together. Conversations about race are difficult and take patience, but they might make a difference.