These tips are offered to first examine how you are “being” in your conversations about race, not just what you should be “doing.” Examining and shifting your racial mindset (i.e. how you think about race) is foundational—it guides how you implement change (doing) at both the personal and organizational levels.
- Be open to learning about others’ viewpoints, particularly when you don’t understand and/or you disagree with them. The goal of courageous dialogue isn’t winning a debate or persuading others. It’s about learning to see and validate another’s viewpoint, while better understanding and validating your own. It’s about learning, not winning.
- Better understand and manage viewing race along a continuum, from the individual to the systemic. Do not do one at the expense of the other. An individual may not have experienced racial discrimination, but that does not mean that racial discrimination does not exist for people of color. At the same time, don’t expect one person to represent their entire racial identity group. If you are white, watch how many times you say “I” and “me.” Systemic racism is about more than individuals, and it is not about your personal feelings. If you frequently find yourself referring to your feelings and your viewpoint, you might be making it all about you. Learn to see and interrupt the inequitable patterns that systemic racism perpetuates and that, on the surface, appear “normal.”
- Expect to be uncomfortable and confused. Do not require that people make the discussion about racism and racial injustice comfortable for you. When it starts to get uncomfortable, get curious about why you might feel that way and/or have the need to defend yourself. If it gets heated, catch your breath, take a few seconds (or minutes) to notice and reflect. If the conversation takes an awkward turn, don’t cut and run. When the road gets rough, just breathe, apologize if needed, and continue the dialogue. Remember that systemic racism is NOT your or anyone’s personal fault—AND you are responsible for engaging and noticing how systemic inequities impact how people hear you and how you hear others.
- Listen, learn, and experience before taking action. You can’t fix what you don’t understand. Stay in the discomfort of not knowing and not being sure of what to do next. While this place can be awkward and unsettling, it is also the zone where transformative learning happens. Stay with it. Do not misconstrue listening and learning with losing your voice. Speak up. Do not be silent; in particular, engage people from your own racial identity group.
- Learn to explore and navigate sameness and difference simultaneously. If you normally connect with people around commonalities, lean into differences. Between all of us, there are areas of sameness and areas of difference. Explore both of these, not one at the expense of the other. While we may often desire to connect on commonality, others may often yearn to have their differences seen or acknowledged.
- For whites, don’t expect people of color to be your educator, coach or mentor about race and racism. If you don’t know much about race and racism, learn. Don’t assume you have to learn from people of color. Learn by educating yourself and with others in your same racial identity group. Be a resource for one another. Doing your own work releases people of color from being the exclusive resource for you and other white people.
- Notice the gap between your Intent and its Impact on others. While your intention may be good, realize that your impact might be quite different. If that happens, try not to defend your intent or insist that people give you credit for your “good” intentions. Rather, explore how what you have done or said has impacted others. These are often ripe moments for breakthrough learning. Expect to make mistakes repeatedly in your learning. When they happen, lean in and listen to how it impacted others. Persevere and make sure you use your support group rather than going it alone.
Several tips adapted from Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk about Race, 2019, pp. 45 – 51.