Confronting Racism

 Glenn Bigonet, M.A.

Social Activist for Racial Equity

Facilitating Discussions about Racism





Intentions vs. Impact


One of the most common responses when someone is told that something they did or said supported racism or did racial harm to someone else is to defend themselves by saying that being racist was not their intention. They will then focus on what their intention was to clarify that they were in no way being racist. In 99% of these cases it is true that the person did not intend to do something racist and having those intentions known can be helpful however in most cases the conversation becomes completely about the person's intentions and the impact on the other gets lost.


These conversations typically go something like "I hear you say I stepped on your toes but I didn't mean to step on your toes so the fact that your toes were stepped on doesn't matter and I can't be a bad person because your toes were inadvertently stepped on." Yes, this analogy sounds ridiculous but that is just the type of thing most people say when they unintentionally do racial harm. The conversation then becomes about how the offender is not a bad person because they didn't intend to do racial harm and the racial harm and it's effects get ignored. This is a classic maneuver of white fragility that is strongly fueled by the person's belief in the validity of the good/bad binary


The clear effects as stated above is that the racial harm never gets addressed allowing for no space for new understanding or healing to occur. Clearly a more healing response would be something like "oh my god I stepped on your toe! I'm so sorry. Is there something you need now to help it be better? I didn't mean to and I'm not quite sure how it happened. Can you tell me about how you experienced me stepping on your toe? I want to really understand what happened so I can make sure I don't do it again in the future." In this scenario the conversation becomes about the impact of what happened, validating it, and learning from it so that we dont' do it in the future. By letting go of what our intentions were and acknowledging the impact our actions have we therefore create a conversation that creates greater understanding and connection as opposed to shutting someone down and disconnecting.  

Copyright © 2020   Glenn Bigonet, M.A.