What Can You Do About That Racist Uncle? — Try A S.P.R.O.U.T. Approach To Resistance

Tiffany Galvin Green, Ph.D. / Megan Wilson-Reitz, M.A.

In “Plant a Justice T.R.E.E.E.,” we introduced The “Justice T.R.E.E.E.” (Tackling Racism: Educate, Engage, and Effect Change) model in which the growth cycles of a tree are used as an analogy for the growth patterns needed to cultivate the work of racial equity, from the individual to the community level. The analogy of the life stage progression of a seed to a tree to a forest is used to capture the cyclical, constant, and evolving nature of racial justice work.

At the beginning stage of this model, we find the acorn in its hard shell. It may appear to be doing little, when in fact, it is, in the best case, at an insular stage — like a person that is beginning to shore up their knowledge, drawing in new information and ideas from outside the system that encloses and imprisons one, seeking education in order to gain power to burst through its constraints and seek new growth, eventually moving to the sapling and tree stages requiring more engagement and impact on others in the community.

While we have received quite a positive response to this imagery and framework, we have been challenged with an interesting question — how do we deal with acorns that want to stay in their shell? In other words, what about the person that is not seeking knowledge, not open to drawing in new information or ideas, and not seeking to gain education or growth? What about the active resistors that, unfortunately, we all have met, have encountered, and who sometimes exist within our personal networks, social circles, even families? You know, the ones you might avoid conversations with during certain events, or family gatherings, for fear of the discomfort or arguments that might develop.

We are painfully aware that there are many that resist believing in racial equity and justice. For various reasons, stemming from multiple influences and narratives, there are many that still fight the existence of racial and systemic injustice. As a result, these individuals prefer not to grow. Instead, they will actively protect and defend their “shell” of what can amount to white supremacist ideologies, hierarchies of human value, and myths of meritocracy.

So the question becomes — how do we talk to them? How can we work with them? Is there any way we can contribute to the growth of those who choose to ignore, refuse, or resist the work? There will be times and spaces in which we may feel compelled to make an effort to work with an openly resistant person: a family member’s Thanksgiving-dinner tirade, a neighbor’s hateful social media post, a friend’s casual use of slurs, a parent’s open support for a racist demagogue, a student’s problematic essay topic. In these “hard cases,” where should we start?

The SPROUT process

We propose a process for you to help a person to “S.P.R.O.U.T.’ When carried out successfully, it can be a viable framework to approach resistance. It requires a focus on five distinct characteristics as commitments to the process, those being Slow, Personal, Relational, Overt, Uncompromising, and Transformative, which we detail below:


  • Expect the dialogue and changing of mindsets to take time. These topics are emotional for many, and can stem from years of not just beliefs, but ingrained values.


  • Lead with owning and sharing your own mistakes. To persuade others, they must be able to identify with you. This requires self-awareness and humility on your part. Humility can be disarming. The ability to admit one’s mistakes allows for the ‘calling in” of others into a conversation, compared to the usual defensive posture that could result. So leading with the mistakes that you’ve made or times when you’ve held a different belief, displayed a bias, or offended someone exhibits more grace than appearing judgmental.


  • Build on a network of existing relationships. In the effort to reach someone, you may need to rely on others in your circle to help support your case. You can bring others into the conversation who may know the person. Hearing the message from multiple people can be more effective over time. Just remember that these messages don’t have to occur at the same time (as this can cause more defensive reactions and resistance). Similar messages can get conveyed in different contexts over time.


  • Set a courageous example of inclusion. Talk openly and proudly about the protest you attended or the changes you’ve had to make in your behaviors. Behave as though you assume they will support you even if you are unsure — you may be surprised. In addition, you can learn a great deal from their response, which gives you insight on how to approach them moving forward.


  • Don’t doubt or lose sight of the purpose that motivates your efforts. Tackling resistance is not something you are giving to or doing for those who endure injustice — it is a gift you are giving to the person who is resisting, and the greater society that they are influencing. You’re not a savior, you’re an advocate.


  • Remember that you are embracing your role in transforming and effecting change. Recognize where you are in the Justice T.R.E.E.E. process, and be sure that you are doing the work that you need to at the level in which you are ready to engage in order to change others and the broader community.

In conclusion, we should think of a person’s resistance to seeing and understanding justice and equity as an opportunity to help a seed to grow. Whether it’s opening up to confronting one’s personal biases or gaining a fuller understanding of the multiple inequalities that are faced by marginalized identities, due to race, ethnicity, religion, class, gender identity, and sexual orientation among others.. YOUR EFFORTS ARE NEEDED AND NECESSARY. The insights provided in this a S.P.R.O.U.T. approach gives you a host of valuable reminders to help you to remain committed to the task.

We know that there are “seeds” or individuals that refuse to open themselves up to the awareness and insight necessary in order for justice to be achieved. But just as no seed can grow healthy if broken open before it is ready, neither can a person’s mindset be easily changed or evolved. Our job is not to use force — but rather, to provide a steady, unrelenting flow of ‘light, warmth and nutrients’ — until the seed is prepared to risk opening rather than to stay safely imprisoned in its shell. This can be an arduous process, requiring time and patience. But we urge you to try.

The fight for justice is not just tackling institutional and systemic processes. It also means a commitment to improving the individual-level conditions that ultimately impede justice and equity. We have to engage others. Even the difficult ones. That uncle can be reached. Those “friends” do not need to be blocked. Those students can learn new values. But true commitment is needed to stay the course and persevere. The stakes could not be higher, so remember it’s a S.P.R.O.U.T. worth tending to, and we can’t give up!



Innovative Change Agent. Executive Strategist. Inclusionologist. Currently serving as the Vice-President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at John Carroll U.

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Tiffany Galvin Green

Innovative Change Agent. Executive Strategist. Inclusionologist. Currently serving as the Vice-President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at John Carroll U.