Have Essential Conversations
(Here’s How)

Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:9 (ESV)

Let's face it.  Most of us don't like to talk about race.  Maybe you've been concerned about what others may say.  Or maybe you've been thinking "I'm not racist, and you're not racist, so what is there to talk about?" But no matter how you feel about it, the racial divide is much too important not to talk about it!  And we especially need to talk with others whose race is different from our own. Keep in mind that if you focus on listening to truly understand the other person's view instead to trying to get them to understand yours, you should be fine. Here are some tips to help you along the way.

Yes, You Can Talk About Race At Work (It’s About Time You Do)

Avoid Missteps

  • Keeping silent. Many White people avoid talking about race because they’re concerned about being seen as prejudiced, so they adopt strategic colorblindness instead.  
    • But being neutral means you’ve chosen the side of the oppressor.  The words of Dr. Martin Luther King remind us: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
    • No one has the perfect words to address the deep pain caused by racism in our society.  But we all need to try.  And we need to give others grace if their efforts fall short in our eyes.

  • Becoming overly defensive.  It can be easy to react defensively, especially when our world-views, or advantages are challenged. Robin DiAngelo’s research on white fragility gives some examples.   
    • When hearing about police brutality against unarmed Black people, one might be tempted to justify it by searching for evidence that the victim did something to deserve the abuse, rather than acknowledge the actual abuse.  
    • If some people engage in looting during protest, one might become defensive and try to discredit the protest by focusing the looting as being more important than the pattern of injustice that drove people to the streets.
    • These reactions only put up walls between us and don’t allow for constructive engagement. Remember that comments on systemic inequalities are not personal attacks.

  • Overgeneralizing. When triggering events occur, there is a tendency to make sweeping generalizations about groups of people involved in the public conflict.
    • Though individuals of the same race, gender or other identity often have shared experiences, don’t assume that “they” all think and feel the same thing or even that all the people of your race or identity group share the same views as you.  
    • When in doubt, ask others about their individual experiences to acknowledge their uniqueness without asking them to speak for everyone in their identity group.

  • Take Meaningful Action
    • Do the research to fully understand events, using information from reliable sources. Take the initiative to search beyond social media.
    • Do give others the space to be angry, afraid, or disenchanted in response to events.
    • If you are not Black,
      • Do not rely on Black people to educate you about their experiences or to justify their hurt or outrage
      • Do not try to avoid the issue of racism by being “colorblind”.  If you are a White person who doesn’t see anyone else’s race then you’re assuming their experiences and views are the same as yours, and it may mean you’re not seeing  them for who they truly are.