How people of color can navigate racist confrontations

Howard Stevenson and Stew Friedman discuss how to read, recast, and resolve racially stressful moments.

Managing the stress of racial encounters and navigating everyday microaggressions is difficult. Howard Stevenson, the Constance Clayton Professor of Urban Education in the Graduate School of Education and executive director of the Racial Empowerment Collaborative, notes the importance of helping people of color cope with the emotions of racial trauma and focuses on strategies for reacting to these charged moments. Stevenson joined Stew Friedman on his show, Work and Life, on SiriusXM Wharton Business Radio to discuss racial socialization, racial literacy, and how to respond to instances of racial confrontation.

Illustration of a person of color and a white person standing back to back looking in opposite directions.

“Racial socialization often starts at a young age, whether directly through educational conversations with parents or indirectly through parental actions and reactions,” said Stevenson.

“I’m a clinical style psychologist primarily working with families and families of color. For about 30 years, I’ve been studying the question of whether it matters when parents talk to their kids about race. That area of research is called racial socialization. In a nutshell, one argument is Black and Brown families tend to think they need to talk to their children about race because of racial hostility in the world, and whether it’s direct or indirect, children pick up messages from family and make judgments about it.”

To Stevenson, the keys to a successful approach are to read, recast, and resolve to calmly assess and confront racism in everyday life. “Reading is, ‘Do I see it?’ Recasting is, ‘Can I manage my emotions and stress?’ and resolving is, ‘Do I walk away from the moment feeling I made a just social decision that matches my values? Did I underreact and pretend it didn’t really bother me when it did? Or did I overreact and curse everybody out, including the cat, the dog, knowing they had nothing to do with it?’”

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