Welcome to the seventh and final Gift of Anti-Racism Education – Continue the Conversation. A gift that will help you have better conversations about race and racism. Holding conversations about race can be difficult for those who don’t experience racism. The fear to acknowledge what you don’t know, the fear to come across as insensitive can often lead people to remain quiet and later regretting their silence. We want to change the internal voice telling you “just don’t say anything”. We want to take the anxiety away from that next conversation you have about racism and race. (7 mins read)
Today’s gift is one that keeps on giving, it is the power to communicate. A set of fundamentals to bare in mind whilst having those race conversations and tips on how to go about it, based on a book called Courageous Conversations About Race : A Field Guide to Achieving Equity in Schools by Glen E. Singleton and Curtis Linton and a guide created for the National Day of Racial Healing in the US.
Agreeing to talk about Race
Conversations about race and racism begin with the genuine willingness to do so, and an acknowledgement of what you do not know. An understanding that conversations about race create anxiety and conflict amongst different cultural groups is the starting place. White people believe that these conversations stir up old hatred and tend to avoid heated arguments perceived as divisive, violent, conflicted and resulting in a loss of control. People of colour perceive conversations about racial problems from a distance as someone else’s to deal with. What then is required is an agreement to talk about race. In the book Courageous Conversations About Race, the four agreements have been stated as follows.
1. Staying engaged
It refers to not switching off if what you hear isn’t what you may have been expecting. Often committed by those whose bodies may remain in the room without the inclination to further engage, sustain, and deepen the dialogue. It is a commitment that you remain morally, intellectually, emotionally and socially involved. Remembering at all times that conversations for change especially racism are extremely complex and challenging to have.
2. Experiencing discomfort
It is about accepting differences and preparing to feel the lack of comfort and feelgood that comes with other traditional training modules such as diversity and inclusion workshops. The honest and truthful way to have the race discussion is to address our differences versus blindly accepting that we are all the same.
3. Speaking the truth
It is the sole reason for your participation in this conversation that should defy all other inhibitions such as telling people what they want to hear. Instead be upright and speak your mind, share honest opinions, thoughts and attitudes. We know it is easier said than done – but remember the common goal is reconciliation.
4. Expecting and accepting non-closure
The final agreement is knowing and accepting that there will not be a solution at the end of this discussion. Questions will remain unanswered and several points not agreed upon. Accepting that there is a method in the chaos, dialogue in the process and unlearning in the lack of agreements and sharing of views different from our own will ensure an end to the stigma associated with complex race conversations.
How to have courageous conversations about race?
1.Give everyone a chance to be heard – Ask questions
It’s important, without being disrespectful or impatient, to hear what each person has to say. We all like being heard and that’s something everyone should have the opportunity to experience. Setting the purpose of the conversation by expressing your intentions to listen, learn, and explore may help set the right tone. At this onset, deciding on your role in this conversation as either a facilitator, contributor, listener, interpreter or documenter can prove effective. A healthy conversation has many requirements and only one of them is to provide input.
2. Assume good intentions
Encourage dialogue, respect and thoughtful listening. Assuming good intentions, practicing active listening and preventing interruptions are rules of good conversations. Making people feel comfortable and ensuring the understanding that some people with good intentions may misspeak, can be a good mental note to have. The words you use to share your reactions will need to be thought through, rather than rushed into. For example, 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”
prevents closing off someone’s views or making them feel silenced.
Similarly, letting others know how their words affect you is more productive than voicing your opinions of assumed intent. For example, 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”
allows the other person to respond without feeling defensive. Instead they’re given the opportunity to see your perspective from a position of empathy.
We also know from constructive conversation exercises that productive discussion can’t take place without all participants getting to know one another – especially if they are someone you don’t know very well. Talking about ourselves at a deeper, meaningful level helps people see one another in a humane light. Instead of jumping into serious race related conversations right away, take some time to warm up. Try starting your first conversation with any of the following topics:
- Tell me about a place that makes you feel good.
- Tell me about someone that you miss.
- Share with me a story about something important you have lost or found?
4. Big Talk
When people are feeling more comfortable try to probe for deeper conversations with some of these questions:
- Have you ever experienced a situation where your racial or ethnic identity seemed to contribute to a problem or uncomfortable situation?
- 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?
5. Practice Gratitude
All good discussions, especially those centred around unlearning should begin and end with gratitude. Make a point to thank people for their courage to share everything they offered. Thank them for the things they have helped you learn and unlearn. Encourage participants to share what they unlearned and give gratitude for something they learned. Encourage journal writing to continue the discovery and self-learning processes. Compile a list of actions participants said they would take because of this conversation.
Finding the new “normal” by continuing your unlearning process by journaling and thoughtfully embracing discussions will help your progress day to day. Just like every habit takes at least 21 days to be made, the best way to make progress is to start uncomfortably with a focus on supporting social equity, to ask questions, and start listening.