Lee’s Dr. Milliron offers advice on responding to racial slurs

By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG Staff Writer
Posted 10/1/17

Though it may be hidden to those who are not directly affected by it, racial discrimination does exist in this day and age.

In light of this, Lee University faculty organized an event to give …

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Lee’s Dr. Milliron offers advice on responding to racial slurs

LEE UNIVERSITY students and staff discuss ways they can respond to racial discrimination, during an event led by the director of the university’s graduate counseling programs.
LEE UNIVERSITY students and staff discuss ways they can respond to racial discrimination, during an event led by the director of the university’s graduate counseling programs.
Banner photo, CHRISTY ARMSTRONG
Posted

Though it may be hidden to those who are not directly affected by it, racial discrimination does exist in this day and age.

In light of this, Lee University faculty organized an event to give students advice on responding to racial slurs and other hateful words and actions.

Dr. Trevor Milliron, director of graduate programs in counseling at Lee, offered students and community members alike some tips during a recent event.

“A lot of times you are caught unaware when something hateful is said,” Milliron said. “This is to give you some tools, so you can better respond in the moment.”

Much of his talk was centered around helping people who witness discrimination point out the problems with it. For example, a white person may inform another white person that what they are saying is wrong.

The No. 1 goal, Milliron said is to “de-escalate” the situation at hand, while respectfully standing up for the person targeted by the hateful words or actions.

Milliron recommended those who see someone being victimized “put themselves between” the victim and the perpetrator. With someone else seizing the perpetrator’s attention, the victim can quickly exit the situation, if he or she chooses.

He added one may also choose to support the victim by giving him or her the opportunity to talk about what happened, “so they do not feel alone.” 

The professor urged the students to be careful about confronting the perpetrator about his or her words or actions, to avoid “escalating” the situation at hand.

“People don’t like to be confronted, even if they’re wrong — especially if they’re wrong,” Milliron said.

The psychology professor noted a person being confronted is likely to get defensive and be more likely to want to lash out. He also said to avoid using inflammatory words like “racist” or “bigot” in such heated moments, even if those words accurately describe the person.

“Stay calm,” Milliron advised. “People who are intentionally causing pain want you to lose your cool. It’s a win for them.” 

It can be tempting to treat a hateful person with hate, but injecting more hatred into a situation is “unproductive,” he added.

He also said it can be a good idea to give a person an “out” when describing how what they said was wrong. Sometimes, people “do not realize the pain they are causing,” he added.

One way to give a person an “out” is to begin what you are saying with the phrase, “I know you did not mean it this way.” Using such phrasing shifts the focus to what was said, without attacking the person who said it.

Milliron also said to avoid using highly subjective words like “offended” when describing the impact of the racist words or actions. Rather, one should describe how the words or actions were “hurtful,” “harmful” and the like.

Everybody has a reason for thinking the way the way they do, and Milliron noted racism is often related to some sort of hurt. The person being targeted by the hatred may simply be a scapegoat, someone they feel they can blame.

Milliron said it is helpful to acknowledge any perceived slight the perpetrator shares. That way, one can explain that going out of the way to hurt someone else will not solve the problem.

During the event, several students asked questions about how to approach specific situations.

One student complained Milliron’s approach is “too nice” and said he feels racism must be decisively dealt with in the moment, without sparing the perpetrator’s feelings.

Milliron reiterated his view it is best to “de-escalate” a situation so calm conversations can be had about the situation at hand.

He described the results of a psychological study which involved speaking to former members of white supremacist groups about why they left. Many of the study participants said what changed their mind was being able to form healthy relationships with people who showed them the error of their ways.

One event attendee shared how she has struggled to maintain certain relationships, because of differing views on issues related to race. Milliron said one should make it clear what his or her views are. Setting such clear boundaries may end some relationships, but Milliron said one should avoid completely eliminating someone from one’s life out of spite.

The professor also spoke about addressing racism among family members. He explained several students have shared stories of how they have had to address this issue in their families.

“You want to stress how much this person means to you,” Milliron said. “You want to be very respectful, but share how you feel this does not reflect your family’s values.” 

He admitted those who follow these steps may not end up changing a person’s mind. Still, he said “responding to hate with love” may help some see the error of their ways.

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christy.armstrong@clevelandbanner.com

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