How to Support a Sister Who Has Experienced Covert or Overt Racism 

Delta Gamma is committed to creating an inclusive environment for all members—one that supports women and gives them the resources they need to support someone who may have experienced covert or overt racism. Racism and discrimination have no place in our sisterhood. Delta Gamma embraces every member at every level with sincere support and thoughtful inclusion. Grounded in Article II of the Fraternity Constitution and Delta Gamma’s Positional Statement on Inclusivity, members are honor-bound to uphold the high ideals of sisterhood throughout all aspects of life.

This resource serves as a guide for how to support a sister who has experienced covert or overt racism, whether at the hands of a sister or a non-member. If you are looking to help support a sister, friend or family member who has been a victim of racism, or have been a victim of racism yourself, this document is for you. All of the resources provided are aimed to support any person who has experienced harm from a racist act.

As a reminder, Honor Board is responsible for facilitating difficult conversations regarding racism and discrimination along with holding members accountable for actions that do not align with the principles of Delta Gamma. You can learn more about holding sisters accountable here.

Where to start?

There is no one way to support someone who has experienced racism. There is no one set formula for dealing with racism or helping a friend who has experienced it. As each of us are made up of many intersecting social identities, our experiences with racism and oppression are similarly going to be distinct and unique. However, there are tools we all can use to support a sister, friend or family member who has experienced racial harm.

It goes without saying that experiencing racism is mentally, physically and emotionally draining. No matter the perceived severity of the racial harm, the consequences impact the well-being of people of color, and we must acknowledge the toll that racism takes. Below are some steps we can take to support members of our community who have experienced racial harm.

Seek Permission

When supporting someone who has been harmed by racism, it is important to first seek permission to have the conversation. For People of Color, it can be incredibly daunting to always be spoken to about racism. Remember, racial harm is trauma, and it may not feel safe for someone to speak about it. A good rule of thumb is to allow the person to come to you with their experience, don’t try to force them to open up about it unless that is their choice.

Actively Listen

It may seem obvious, but actively listening to someone as they tell you about their experience with racism is crucial. The first step to this is belief. When someone is being vulnerable with you and sharing about their experience- believe them. Allow them to share their experience without interruption and establish a space that is non-judgemental, compassionate and safe.

Validate

Remember, this is not about you. Refrain from saying things like “If I were you I would have…” You also don’t want to diminish their experience by implying that they are being too sensitive or blowing something out of proportion. Society often tells People of Color that they are being “too sensitive,” or “too angry,” which can cause someone experiencing racial harm to start to doubt their own experience - this is a form of gaslighting.

What you can do is acknowledge that every person experiences discrimination and trauma differently and that their reaction is valid, regardless of your opinion. Tell them that what happened to them was wrong and unjust, and remind them that it was not their fault. 

If you find yourself feeling judgmental about how your friend reacted, you must recognize that this is your own personal barrier and it could potentially cause more harm. Understanding the root of your reaction is internal work that you need to do.

Allow Them Ownership

When someone we love is harmed, it may be our first reaction to want to seek justice. We may want to seek out the perpetrator, go to the police or speak to a lawyer. However, it is imperative that we allow the person who experienced the harm to make their own decisions about how, when and if to pursue action. Ask them how they would like to handle the situation. If you know, share with them what their options are. If you don’t, offer to help them find out what courses of action they could take. Once they have decided how they want to move forward, support them- regardless of your own opinion on how they should act.

Advocate & Educate

This can be the most challenging step, and the one that you may be most likely to shy away from or forget. Support and solidarity alone are not enough if not backed by action. If the person has decided that they would like to seek action, offer to help. This could look like assisting in documenting the encounter, offering to physically go with them to the Equity & Inclusion Office on campus, making phone calls or doing research about what resources may be helpful for them. Don’t just “tell” them what to do; offer to help with action.

Additionally, this step requires you to examine your own behaviors and ways that you may be contributing to systems of oppression. If you don’t understand why your friend is so upset, if you are confused how an act might be racist, if you find yourself identifying with the perpetrator of the racist act, or if your friend’s experience is causing you to react defensively, this is an opportunity for you to examine yourself. It is not the person who experienced harm’s responsibility to educate or comfort you- you must take the initiative to explore any feelings or topics you don’t understand. 

If you are a White person or a person in a position of power (positional or social), consider the ways in which your chapter/community/school/family may be contributing to systems of oppression.

Check In

Check in. See how they are coping with this experience and if there are additional ways in which you can support them. Checking in is especially important if you haven’t heard from them in a while. Moving forward, be mindful that you are not defining the person who experienced harm by the racism they endured. It may not be helpful to always talk about their racist experiences. Again, seek their permission to broach the topic as talking about it again may be traumatic.

Acknowledge Your Own Baggage

As much as you want to be there for your sister, friend or family member, you may not be the right person. You may be reconciling your own experiences with racial harm. You may be struggling with your own contribution to systems of oppression. If you cannot engage in this conversation without needing your own guilt to be comforted by the person who experienced harm, you are not the right person. And that is okay. Help to identify who the right person may be and acknowledge openly and honestly why you might be experiencing boundaries.


Definitions

Covert racism: the expression of racist ideas, attitudes or beliefs in subtle, hidden or secret forms. Often unchallenged, this type of racism doesn’t appear to be racist because it is indirect behavior. (Southern Cross University)

Overt racism: the unfair or unequal handling of a person or a group on racial grounds. It involves conscious and deliberate acts of intolerance and hatred perpetrated by individuals or groups. Overt racist beliefs, attitudes and practices are expressed or shown publicly or in an obvious way. (Southern Cross University)

Intersectionality: The complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism and classism) combine, overlap or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups. (The Kirwan Institute on the Study of Race and Ethnicity)

Gaslighting: a form of psychological abuse related specifically to racism. Racial gaslighting often comes about when a victim is led to doubt and question their own sense of reality with regard to racism. (BBC)

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