Let’s Talk About Race: 10 Tips to Help Your Conversations

September 29, 2020

There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a racial reckoning in our country. The Black Lives Matter movement is more prominent and visible than ever, and is forcing Americans to recognize, reevaluate, and fix the systems we have in place that oppress people of color. It has initiated conversations that are often difficult and uncomfortable, but necessary and urgent. 

Over the past few months, I began reading to understand better the white supremacist systems that are woven into the fabric of our nation – and how I can become a better ally that speaks up and out against injustices. 

In my quest to educate myself on my white privilege, I came across the book “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo and let me just say – WOW. She blew my mind. 

Here are ten takeaways from her book that I found helpful in approaching conversations about race with co-workers, family, friends, and anyone in between. 

1. Be resourceful 

It is not the job of people of color to educate white people about race or to have conversations around race, especially in the office. You should not be turning to the people of color in your office to speak about or explain their experiences with racism. This can bring back trauma and puts them in an unfair and uncomfortable situation. If they want to say something, they will.  

2. Check your privilege

Make sure you’re aware of your privileges and how your view of the world is different from others. Just because you haven’t experienced racism doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist at your company.

3. Use your privilege

Once you acknowledge your privilege, you can use it to enact meaningful change! Here are some ways Oluo suggests you use your privilege for good: 

  • Did your privilege allow you to go to an expensive private school? Use the financial security you gained from your own education to support public education. 
  • Does your privilege grant you access to meetings that others are not invited to? Ask why there are no people of color in the room.
  • Does your job give you the ability to go to your child’s PTA meeting? Ask why the meetings are scheduled during times most parents have to work.

4. Broaden your scope

Recognize the intersectionality of the people you are talking to as well as your own intersectionality. Most people do not just identify with one category and may be oppressed because of many aspects of their identity. Try your best to make sure your company supports all of these intersections.

5. See the whole picture

You cannot borrow aspects of an oppressed people’s culture without taking on the pain endured to create it. Beware of cultural appropriation. And beware of unfair rules that discourage people of color from embracing their culture at work, especially if those rules don’t apply to white people or apply unfairly.  

6. Be empathetic

If you say something offensive to a friend, employee, or colleague of color, acknowledge the hurt you may have caused and apologize. Recognize that the trauma of previous microaggressions build over time. And the receiver of the comment does not have to accept your apology.

7. Intent only goes so far

Good intentions are not a valid excuse for racist comments. Oluo says it best: “Do not make this about your ego. If you truly meant well, then you will continue to mean well and make understanding what just happened a priority.” 

8. Stop moderating

If you are having a conversation about race, DO NOT tone police or shift the conversation’s focus to the way racism is being discussed rather than the oppression racism causes. 

“To refuse to listen to someone’s cries for justice and equality until the request comes in a language you feel comfortable with is a way of asserting your dominance over them in the situation.” 

9. Expect imperfection

Get comfortable being uncomfortable and expect to screw up. Conversations about race are hard and uncomfortable, especially in a corporate setting. Focus on DOING right instead of BEING right. 

10. Walk the talk

Make your actions and support tangible. It’s not enough to release a company statement saying you support Black lives if you don’t actually do anything to support Black lives. Here are some ways you can make a legitimate difference: 

For more best practices, perspectives, and tools to help you build a more equitable workplace, visit our Workplace Diversity, Anti-Racism, and Allyship Resource Center. Looking for more bite-sized brilliance? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter, the Inkwell, and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter!

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