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  • Writer's pictureMargaret Nelson

On Navigating Race, Racism, and Culture

The world is quickly becoming a more diverse place. With shifting demographics and increased immigration, it’s more likely that you will interact with people from all over the world, even if you never leave home. Now more than ever, we need to learn about other cultures and how to navigate unfamiliar ones. The more you interact with unfamiliar cultures, the more you will interact with people of different races. The more you interact with people of other races, the more likely you will be in situations where you must navigate race and racism.

Race and racism are two subjects that we as a society need to discuss. As a white person, I am not an expert on either of these topics by any means. However, in the wake of George Floyd’s death last year and the resulting protests, I saw how important it is for white people to learn about race relations and racism in the United States. It hasn’t been easy, and I’ve made my share of mistakes. To move forward as a country, though, we have to learn how to have difficult conversations and push through our discomfort.

This is a picture of a bunch of outstretched hands. There is a painted heart over all of the hands, as though they were a canvas.
We need to work together to overcome racism.

The fact is, interacting with unfamiliar cultures means learning about countries outside of North America and Europe. In other words, it means interacting with people of color. Because you will interact with people of color, part of understanding another culture is learning how to talk about and navigate race and racism. For many white people, race is not an easy topic to discuss. It often brings up hard feelings, such as guilt, pain, sadness, and awkwardness. This discomfort can lead people to avoid talking about race; in extreme circumstances, these feelings can lead people to say that they “don’t see color” or even deny the existence of racism in the first place.

However, it is hard to appreciate another culture without understanding the challenges that the people face. Unfortunately, the reality is that people of color in the United States face unfair treatment because of the color of their skin. If we ignore this reality, we overlook the challenges, triumphs, and contributions of people of color.

At ReDefiners World Languages, our goal is to intentionally help develop multilingual and multicultural people. Culture and race are tightly intertwined. You have to know how to navigate both to understand the big picture. The closer you come to unfamiliar cultures, the closer you become to people of color, their stories, and their experiences. In America, it’s an unfortunate reality that people of color experience racism and discrimination in their day-to-day lives. To become multicultural, you have to know how to talk about race and fight against racism within yourself, your loved ones, your communities, and institutions.

For most of us, this is easier said than done. Some of us grew up in diverse areas where we met people of all races and cultures, and we had plenty of opportunities to talk about racism with trusted adults. However, some of us weren’t so lucky. In my case, I grew up in a mid-sized town that was overwhelmingly white during my childhood. Almost everyone at school and church was white. As I grew older, though, the demographics began to change. This shift was due to a variety of factors, including increased immigration from Central and South America. Despite these changes, I wouldn’t learn how to navigate these topics until much later.

As a kid, I had no idea how to interact with people who were different from me. I had very little exposure to other cultures, and the adults in my life avoided conversations about race. I didn’t get a lot of practice navigating unfamiliar ideas. As I got older, though, I began to see the reasons why I needed to learn more about race and hold myself accountable. These reasons included high-profile cases of police brutality, an increased number of immigrants in my area, attending a very diverse college, and befriending people of other races/cultures.

As white people, race is often a painful, awkward subject to discuss. We do not get many chances to explore these topics as children since many white adults feel uncomfortable discussing such ideas with kids. This secrecy can breed feelings of discomfort, awkwardness, guilt, and shame. By the time they get to be adults, those negative feelings become so strong that they shut down any conversations about race, perpetuating the cycle.

To fully appreciate another culture, you have to learn about the beauty and challenges that people face. If you adopt elements from a specific culture without comprehending the people’s challenges, you could commit cultural appropriation.

If you hope to become a multicultural person, you have to be comfortable interacting with people of color and talking about race. Doing so can feel uncomfortable, especially if you don’t have much experience talking about race. You have to learn how to do so, though. The only way to become multicultural is to listen to other people’s experiences. Sadly, for most people of color, racism is a part of their experiences.

This is a picture of two men and four women of different races.
Multicultural people know how to discuss race and racism.

Over time and with the right tips, it becomes easier. As a white person, I will never understand what it’s like to be a person of color or experience racism. I had to learn how to have these conversations. It wasn’t always easy. It was awkward in the beginning, and I made a lot of mistakes. I learned from these mistakes, though, and these conversations eventually became less difficult. Even though I’m not an expert by any means, I practiced navigating new cultures and discussing race, and I learned some lessons along the way:

  1. Stay humble. Keep in mind that you are approaching unfamiliar territory. Other people have been in this space longer than you have. It’s important to remember that you are not the expert here. You need to listen and be humble and empathetic. You’re not going to have all of the answers, and that’s okay. By staying humble, you open yourself up to opportunities to learn and grow.

  2. Acknowledge that mistakes will happen. It is too much pressure to expect perfection. If you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. Be humble enough to apologize if you accidentally offend someone and use that information to avoid getting into the same situation again.

  3. Join the fight against racism and discrimination. The more you interact with other cultures, the more you will interact with people of color. Because of this, there is a higher chance that you will witness acts of racism. Learn how to help effectively. Consider taking de-escalation training so that you know how to diffuse racist acts. Lean on your strengths when fighting against racism. For example, if you enjoy writing, write to your representatives and demand change. If you enjoy being creative, create a work of art and post it to social media to spread awareness. You can also donate money to advocacy organizations, volunteer your time, or provide pro-bono services. Regardless of your talents and time, find a way to fight against racism.

  4. Do your homework. Learn about race, racism, and culture from credible sources. If you have a close relationship with a person of color, consider having conversations with them. However, do not depend on people of color to educate you. Keep in mind that racism can be a painful, triggering subject to talk about, and they might not be emotionally ready to talk about such a heavy subject. If that is the case, respect their boundaries, and don’t force them to do so. Either way, do your own research. There are plenty of books, podcasts, and articles about race and racism. For a list of books about race relations in the United States, click here.

  5. Diversify your social media feeds. If you only follow people who look like you and think like you, our social media profiles can become echo chambers that solidify your worldviews. Considering that people spend an average of 145 minutes per day on social media, that is a lot of time spent reinforcing your views. There are content creators of all races and cultures, though. Following them can help you learn more about others. On Instagram, for example, I follow a lot of people who are different from me. I would say that 65-75% of the people I follow are of a different race or culture than me. I have learned a lot from these posts, and they help me better understand the impact of racism and discrimination. Do what you can to support these creators. Follow as many of them as you can, and make sure you interact with their posts. By that, I mean like the posts, retweet, share and save. That helps their messages to reach more people, and it helps the creators to share information about their experiences. Most creators also have links to Venmo or PayPal, which you can use to donate money as a thank you for their work. If you can, consider making a one-time or recurring donation. If not, amplify their voices by sharing their posts.

  6. Do not be afraid to pass the mike. Give a voice to someone with more knowledge than you. When high-profile events occur, it is natural to want to say something to raise awareness and bring people together. However, by doing so, you take attention away from people who have a better understanding of the situational dynamics. Historically, society treated white people as more trustworthy than people of color, to the point that society silenced them. When race-related tragedies occur, it is crucial to use our platforms to amplify people of color. It does not matter if you have millions of social media followers or not. As a white person, you have a platform and a responsibility to use it to make things fair for everyone. So when discussing race, do not hog the mike. Instead, allow someone more qualified to speak on the issue.

  7. Diversify your bookshelf. When you look at the books you read, how many have white main characters or white authors? I imagine a lot of them do. By diversifying your bookshelf, you make space for authors and works that many have been overlooked. You do not have to get rid of every book written by a white person. The goal is to acknowledge and appreciate works that have gone unnoticed due to biases. The publishing industry tends to favor books about white people written by white people. In 2019, the publishing industry overwhelmingly consisted of white, straight, non-disabled women. In fact, 76% were white, 74% were women, 81% were straight, and 89% were non-disabled. Most people fall victim to the like-me bias, meaning that they favor people like them over others. This bias can lead to an overrepresentation of one group and an underrepresentation of other groups. Books are a safe way to explore the world around you. To get help finding new books to read, click here.

  8. Know that you are never going to understand completely. I say this not to be discouraging but to help you be realistic in your expectations. A person of color is going to have different experiences than a white person. Even different groups of people of color will have different experiences from each other. For example, a Black person has a different experience than an Asian person, and they have different experiences than a Native American. As a white person, you can empathize with them, but you will never fully understand the Black experience, the Hispanic/Latino experience, the Asian experience, or the Native American experience. Because of this, you need to trust and believe people of color when they talk about their lived experiences.

  9. Be aware of your thoughts and beliefs. If you find yourself having negative thoughts towards other cultures or groups of people, stop and ask yourself why. Did your parents pass on their own beliefs? How diverse was your hometown? Unfortunately, in our society, American culture and whiteness are considered the norm. The first step in dismantling your biases is to question them.

  10. Give yourself space to work through your emotions. When you work through your prejudices and biases, it can cause negative feelings to surface, including guilt, shame, embarrassment, sadness, and anger. Feeling these emotions is okay. As tempting as it is to give up when it gets uncomfortable, keep going. Find healthy ways to process these emotions. Consider doing things such as writing, making art, or talking about these feelings to someone you trust. Regardless of how you express these emotions, do not let them paralyze you. Keep going.

  11. Break the cycle of racism. As adults, we need to set an example for our kids. Doing so includes talking to your kids about race and racism. It might be difficult or uncomfortable to talk about this. It can be tempting to think that this will go away if you shy away from the topic. However, this is the wrong approach to take. Kids notice race from an early age. If you refuse to equip them with age-appropriate, factual information, they will either arrive at erroneous conclusions or will adopt the racist views of others. Children are impressionable, and they will learn about race whether you want them to or not. With your involvement, they will learn factual information and have an opportunity to ask questions. If you need more support about how to have these conversations, click here.

  12. Find support. Learning about race and fighting against racism are life-long processes. Neither of them will happen overnight, and there will always be something more to learn. To persevere, you must find the support of like-minded people. They can help you find resources, tell you about advocacy efforts in your community, and give you support when the journey becomes difficult. Learning about racism is not a journey you can take on your own. It takes all of us working together to make a difference.

Racism is often painful to discuss. It is tempting to ignore it or hope that it goes away on its own. The reality is that it will not go anywhere if you turn a blind eye to it. If anything, not acknowledging racism will make it worse. It is an insidious beast, and it will continue to harm people regardless if you address it or not. The better you are at navigating race and racism, the more multicultural you will become. There is far more to learn about race and racism than what I discussed today. Consider this article your launching pad, not your final destination. Learning about race and racism should be a lifelong commitment. There are a wealth of resources to help you along the way. Will you take advantage of them?

This is a picture of the side view of multiple stacks of books.
Are you ready to learn about race and racism?

If you want more tips on navigating unfamiliar cultures, consider taking a language class with ReDefiners World Languages! We offer courses in English, Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin. In all of our classes, we teach you to speak the language and navigate unfamiliar cultures, setting you up for success. For more information, please visit our website or email us at

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