Conversation suggestions

Wear Out The Silence” is a campaign asking white people to wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts every Friday as a way for us to bring the racial-justice conversation deeper into our daily lives. We want to use these conversations to move more white people into action, and to give visibility to the many people supporting the Movement For Black Lives.

This is an opportunity for us as white people to break silence around racism, move through discomfort and fear, take risks, make mistakes, and try again. Check out the suggestions below, play with the “script,” and develop your own method. This is a chance to build our capacities to have conversations about why Black Lives Matter with your friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and others. You may make mistakes, or fumble over your words, but this is OK and part of the process. As white people, we have rarely had to deal with our own racial discomfort. This is an opportunity to lean into it – to learn and stay open, to keep going and grow more confident.

Don’t forget to listen to the people you speak with. Be curious and ask questions. Seek to understand who they are and where their beliefs might have come from. White people may need to vent, think, and talk through things before they can recognize their mutual interest in racial justice. Reflect back to people what you hear them saying, and see what you can learn about the different ways that racism shows up. Ask open-ended questions, such as, why do you think that is, or what do you think?

Approach this project with an attitude of abundance. There are millions of white people open to an opportunity to show up more meaningfully and to deepen their understanding about race, racism, and the Movement for Black Lives.

Avoid blame and shame. Be truthful and spare them no reality, but avoid blame and shame. This is about calling people in, not calling them out. If folks are angry, hostile or defensive, walk away if you need to.

Share your story. Our goal is to connect with people and build bridges. This means sharing your story with them. Who are you, and what brought you here to this interaction? What are the ways race was or was not talked about at your dinner table growing up? What are the ways you are pushing yourself deeper into racial-justice conversations?

Moving people into action. Our goal is to move more white people into action by calling them in to the racial- justice conversation. Refer them to our website and to our partner organization Bay Area SURJ (Showing Up For Racial Justice) for more information and for resources to deepen their understanding of the Movement for Black Lives and white supremacy and to sharpen their racial competencies.

Try out some of these responses to common questions you may get and see what works for you.

“Don’t All Lives Matter?”

Black Lives Matter is a statement of inclusion, not exclusion. When we say Black Lives Matter, we are saying black lives matter, too. In our society, white lives are already included. No one is questioning whether white lives or police lives matter. But in a society where black people are shot with impunity by police; in which black children disproportionately attend under-resourced schools and are targeted by the school to prison pipeline;  in which black people are harmed every day by the systemic inequities within our society, we have to say Black Lives Matter, until they do. We have to say Black Lives Matter until we live in a country that honors, respects, and cherishes the value of black lives.

When people say “all lives matter” they are, perhaps inadvertently, refocusing the issue away from systemic racism and its impacts on black lives. This minimizes the message that black lives matter.

We say “black lives matter” because society has a tendency to say otherwise. While I agree with you that all lives matter, right now, from police killings to the underfunding of schools, many aspects of our society say otherwise.

Do you think that our society values black lives? If so, how?

“Is Black Lives Matter anti-white?”

Black Lives Matter is not about hating white people. The suggestion behind this assumption is that in order for black lives to matter, white lives cannot. Black Lives Matter is an inclusive statement and an affirmation of the value of black lives, too.

The system already treats white lives as if they have more value. This is what needs to change.

Black Lives Matter is also a statement of mutual liberation. Our humanity as white people is intrinsically tied to the lives of people of color and the struggle for racial justice.

“What about blue lives?”

Similar to “All Lives Matter,” “Blue Lives Matter” also misses the point. Black lives matter, too. Not instead of.

When folks say “blue lives matter” they refocus the conversation away from the necessary conversations we must have in this country about the systemic racism within our police departments and in our criminal-justice system.

This does not mean that all “cops are bad,” nor does it mean that there are just a few “bad apples.” We must understand that this is a systemic and structural problem. Black people are profiled, harassed, assaulted, and killed at a highly disproportionate rate by the police. But when police officers kill civilians, they are rarely charged with murder or brought to trial.

Why do you think that is?

“Sorry, but I don’t see color.”

Many well-intended white people say that they “do not see race,” or that they are colorblind, mistakenly believing that to notice race reinforces racial differences rather than understanding that it is our inattention to race that actually reinforces racial inequities.

The colorblind narrative is a compelling one and speaks to our most aspirational beliefs about race–that race should not matter. But we do not live in that world — we live in a world where race matters and racial disparities have real-life consequences. When we convey the message that race should not matter, we are conveying the message that race does not matter.

What are ways that you notice race but might be uncomfortable naming?

“I am uncomfortable talking to my kids about race.”

There are racial differences and our children can see them. In the absence of meaningful engagement from parents about the causes of racial disparities, the messages that white kids do get from media images, school curriculum, and the world around them—which consistently gives preference to whites—go unchallenged. They stay on the surface of the problem and never learn to understand systemic causes; they remain blind to the connection between how they are racially advantaged and how people of color are disadvantaged.

Were their conversations about race in your house growing up? If so, what did you talk about?

Do you talk about race with other people? What’s that like for you?


Many thanks to Black Lives Matter, SURJ and Western Mass SURJ for some of the ideas used in this content.

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