5 Ways You Can Begin to Have Productive Conversations About Race

Racial healing is restorative and affirms the inherent value of all people, when it is grounded in empathy and oriented toward equity.

This process provides opportunities to acknowledge and witness the wrongs created by individual and systemic racism, and to determine reparations for people, communities and institutions.

Racial healing is supported through:

• Respectful dialogue

• Recognition and affirmation of people and their experiences

• Connectedness to individual cultures, histories, and practices

• The sense of agency, nurtured through racial justice activism

Talking about racism can be challenging. Your goals should be to commit to creating a safe space for people to be authentic and vulnerable.

  1. Clarify the Purpose of this first conversation:  to explore, to listen and to learn from each other. As facilitator, you should steer participants away from blaming or belittling statements.

2. Set Agreements to encourage dialogue, mutual respect, and deep listening to what others share: “Practice Active Listening,” “Don’t Interrupt,” and “Assume Good Intentions”. They should be written down and visible to everyone who participates in the conversation.

  • Encourage participants to be relaxed and comfortable with one another, especially as differences in beliefs and experiences will emerge. Successful discussion looks like being interested and listening to what others have experienced, and what they think.
  • Consider saying “I’ve never thought of that before – could you explain why you think that?” rather than “I don’t believe it; that’s never happened to me.”
  • Acknowledge that people with good intentions misspeak or make statements that can hurt or offend. Letting others know how their words affect you, or might be misunderstood by others is helpful.
  • Consider saying “I feel frustrated (or I feel disrespected) when people say… because…”, rather than, “That pisses me off; that’s such a stupid (or racist) thing to say.”
  • Establish strategies for everyone to participate, and to be heard. For instance, you might invite quieter participants to share their thoughts and/or questions and actively encourage more talkative guests to give space for other voices.
  • Have a strategy for brief “breathers” or “hitting the restart button”, if the conversation veers into spaces that are too conflicted or unproductive. Select discussion moderator(s) responsible for helping everyone abide by the ground rules: Folks that everyone will acknowledge and respect.

3. Open the Conversation: Begin with a conversation starter to help everyone get to know one another.

Possible Conversation Starters: Begin with one or two of the prompts below:

  • Tell about a place that makes you feel good.
  • Tell a story about something that you have lost or have found.
  • Tell a story about a surprise.
  • Tell a story about a time when you were generous.
  • Tell a story about a time you got angry.
  • Tell about someone you miss.
  • Tell something about how you played as a child.

4. Deepen the Conversation: Once you’re all more comfortable, get serious and deepen the conversation using one or more of the following:

  • How often do you think about your racial or ethnic identity?
  • What aspect of your racial or ethnic identity makes you the proudest?
  • In what ways does being White/Latino/Hispanic/African American/Black/Asian/Native American/American Indian/Pacific Islander impact your personal life? Your professional life?
  • Have you ever experienced a situation where your racial or ethnic identity seemed to contribute to a problem or uncomfortable situation?
  • Does racial or ethnic identity enter in your process of making important or daily decisions? If so, how?
  • Have you ever felt “different” in a group setting because of your race/ethnicity? How did this affect you? How often/deeply do you interact with people of a different racial/ethnic identity other than your own? What is the nature of these relationships and interactions?
  • Have you ever witnessed someone being treated unfairly because of their racial or ethnic identity? If so, how did you respond? How did it make you feel?

After a few people have shared, ask others to reflect on what they’ve heard and share what they related to or what stood out to them without blaming, shaming, or rescuing.

5. Bring the Conversation to a Close. As you reach a point where you feel it is time to close the conversation, consider doing any of the following:

  • Extend gratitude to everyone for their courage and willingness to participate.
  • As the host, share how this experience impacted you and offer space for others to share how the conversation impacted them. It can be as simple as sharing one word to summarize their feelings about the experience.
  • Encourage guests to share an appreciation for the group process or with someone in the group.
  • Encourage group members to follow up with someone from the conversation for deeper dialogue to continue learning and personal discovery.
  • Ask people to share what they learned about themselves or what is their one takeaway from the conversation.
  • Inquire if there are any actions people are inspired to take as a result of the conversation.
  • Schedule another conversation?

It is not the responsibility of one person, one group, or even one organization to drive the work of Racial Healing. The responsibility belongs to all of us to participate in these honest, powerful and moving experiences and, pursue this journey together.

Racial healing is an ongoing process, supportive of wholeness in individuals, communities and societies. It benefits all people because, regardless of background, we live in and are impacted by the narratives and conditions present throughout this increasingly interconnected world. This process provides opportunities to acknowledge the tremendous damage inflicted by individual and systemic racism. 

Through racial healing, we can all forge deep, meaningful relationships, lay the groundwork to transform broken systems, and create a world in which, together, we are a new force for positive change.

Adapted from https://www.raceforward.org/practice/tools/10-ways-start-conversation-about-race

Additional Resources

Charities + Funds

Petitions 

Literature

  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  • 75 things white people can do for racial injustice (via Medium)
  • Ways to help (via Black Lives Matter)
  • I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
  • Natives by Akala
  • Dark Days by James Baldwin
  • Diversify by June Sarpong
  • How To Be Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • White Supremacy and Me by Layla F. Saad
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
  • Freedom Is A Constant Struggle by Angela Davis
  • They Can’t Kill Us All by Wesley Lowery

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