As our society, including our workplaces, becomes more diverse, it becomes more important to talk about race, particularly in cross-racial dialogues.
The benefits include the potential to heal racial divides, reduce prejudice, dispel stereotypes, decrease fear of differences, and increase appreciation and sense of connectedness with others. But talking about race is a difficult thing in the United States. As a society, we tend not to do it, and when we do, we do not do it well, with attempts often ending in more polarization.
From my research into racial equity and cross-racial dialogues and my experience as a facilitator, I would like to share what I’ve discovered about dealing with barriers to honest discussions and fostering meaningful conversations.
Two related reasons for the absence of dialogue are emotional discomfort and fear. For example, if someone makes a mistake, expresses a racist or oppressive thought, or speaks out of privilege that they do not recognize, conversations are derailed as hurt feelings and animosity increase. Some people feel talking about race makes problems worse.
To address the inevitable moments of discomfort and insecurity, it is vital to establish group norms and adhere to them. This measure creates the security required for people to engage in the risk-taking necessary to discuss a sensitive topic, and it results in increased trust and relationship among the group members.
Call out the likelihood of discomfort at the beginning and commit to working through it by listening to each other. As a society, we say we do not know how to talk about race, but in large part, we do not know how to listen about race. Our typical behavior when confronted with language or perspectives with which we are uncomfortable or do not agree is to interrupt, shut down or figure out what we are going to say next. Listening requires that participants be fully present in a conversation and resist the desire to interrupt.
And we must show each other grace. We have all made mistakes, held and acted out of racist beliefs and assumptions, clumsily attempted to discuss race and have likely been misunderstood or challenged. If we want to be forgiven, we should forgive others who make the same mistakes.
Ready to take the plunge and start a dialogue about race? Here are a few ways to begin:
- Seek out opportunities to be a participant in a dialogue about race.
- Become acquainted with racial content and dialogues available on the internet.
- Seek out opportunities for facilitator training.
- Practice being a facilitator. Ask for volunteers among your circle of family and friends to spend an evening or two with you dialoguing about race in a diverse group.
We can talk about race in productive ways, with commitment, patience, practice, and courage.
This article is sponsored content paid for by Ball State University.
Kendra Lowery is assistant dean of school engagement in Ball State University’s Teachers College. Her research focuses on educational leadership practices to promote social justice. She is also the author of “Bridging the Racial Divide Through Cross-Racial Dialogue: Lessons and Reflections from My Experience as a Facilitator” in the Journal of Critical Thought and Praxis. Learn more about Ball State’s innovative faculty.