Talking About Race: 6 Tips for a Difficult Conversation

Updated: Oct 17, 2020

It is time to talk about race.  

I get it. You're tired. Unless you live under a rock that sits in the crevice of the deepest cave on Mars, you know that things are a mess right now in the United States. A piping hot mess. You probably don't know why things are the way that they are. You're probably exhausted and traumatized by the whole thing. And you should be. Black people definitely are. Things are not "business as usual" and it is time to talk about race.

Here's how to have a courageous conversation about race:

1. Acknowledge that the conversation will be difficult.  

Whether you are talking to someone of a different race, holding this conversation in the workplace or chatting with a family member, pause. Say to the other person or yourself, "this is not an easy conversation. It is not supposed to be and it is okay to feel a range of emotions." Even say it to yourself. Acknowledge your humanity in this.

2. Recognize that you do not know everything.  

Now, this part is tough. To speak about race in a respectful manner, you need to recognize that you don't know everything. No one does. It is for that reason that conversation is important. By having a discussion with people of different walks of life, you can learn something. You can learn more about yourself and the world outside of your own. 

3. Ask clarifying questions when you don't understand.

"What do you mean by that..." "What has been your experience..." "I'm not sure what to say but I want to learn, can you help me?" "How do you feel about..." Simply shouting "I disagree!" doesn't lend another person to listen. When you ask clarifying questions, you are able to clear up assumptions and you can allow people to provide additional information that you didn't even know that you needed. You can also challenge kindly and respectfully.   

4. Listen and then listen some more with your heart.

I sometimes wish I could bottle up empathy and sell it. Everyone deserves empathy - everyone. Yet, we have a tendency to disbelieve people that have a different lived experience. Or, if we cannot understand them, we turn off our ears and our hearts. Never invalidate someone else's experience because you do not understand. See Step 3 and listen with your heart.

5. Avoid the 6 D's.

When emotions run high, we may default to doing the 6 Ds: (1) Dismiss ("...that's not true..." in the middle of someone's statement); (2) Denigrate ("You're stupid and you're an idiot!" simply because you don't like their point); (3)  Delay (avoiding the person in order to dodge the difficult conversation); (4) Deflect ("Sure maybe but what about..." changing the topic to avoid the conversation.); (5) Disregard ("...I'm not sure I understand but let's talk about something else..." - not giving a person a chance to speak up on a topic.); and finally (6) Deny (simply taking away the right of someone to have an opinion on the matter altogether because of your authority.). You want to be mindful of your behavior by anchoring yourself in emotional intelligence. Avoid those behaviors above.  

6. Practice self-care, however that looks for you.   

After engaging in this difficult conversation, be sure to practice self-care. For me, that means journaling, eating Pistachio ice cream and yes, sometimes crying. You're mental health should never suffer simply because you don't want to feel. So be sure to take some time to practice self-care so that you can set a strong precedence for yourself for future difficult conversations. 

I hope these tips were helpful to you. If you haven't had a chance to check out the We Resolve to Win Podcast, please do so today! We are getting ready to enter into a new season in the Fall and have so much more information and knowledge to deliver! Please consider sharing this blog post with a friend!