Having a conversation about race and between people with different racial backgrounds and experiences can be daunting. Today, we will focus on preparing you to engage in such a conversation. You may feel anxious and concerned not only about the topic but also how you will come across to your conversational partner. So, it is important for us to start with a set of ground rules. While we will be focusing on a conversation about race, these rules apply to any difficult conversation that is on your horizon.
- The first rule is so important: assume positive intent. We are not as articulate or as smooth, especially when engaging difficult topics, as we might like. Feeling awkward, not knowing exactly what to say or how to word something should be expected. Also note that this is a conversation. It is not a debate nor a monologue.
- You need to focus on learning, not being right. And listening, really listening to what your counterpart is saying, and feeling, is critical.
- Embrace cultural humility. Think about and reflect in preparation for, and during, the conversation about your assumptions, expectations, and experiences that can impact how you respond to your partner.
- Be open to admitting when you are wrong; when you have not been the person that you wanted to be. Create a psychologically safe space for both you and your partner to be honest and transparent with each other.
We recommend you watch Kori Carew’s talk on having the courage to interrupt racism. Notice that this video also gives us insight into the effects of implicit bias, the subject of Day 1 in this journey. It also gives you insight into topics that we address later in this journey, such as responding to microaggressions.
Consider writing out, rehearsing, and even role-playing the conversation you want to have. Everyone makes mistakes in the process, but continued practice will hone your skills and build confidence.
As you continue to prepare for the conversation, consider the three phase process described here. State your intentions – which means you need to be clear about what you hope to achieve in this conversation. Consider how you might ensure that the cognitive and emotional load of the conversation is shared equally between you and your conversation partner. Second, it helps to prepare, to take advantage of the resources (many are available to you through this seven day journey). You don’t need to be an expert, but gaining different perspectives on these issues can be helpful. Acknowledge that you do not have all the answers. You and your counterpart are, like all of us, are works in progress. This conversation, and what follows, is not the end of your learning; it is the beginning.
Now, have that conversation.
These conversations can be difficult as well as educational. While the conversation and what you experienced is fresh in your mind, reflect on the impact of that conversation. Now go to the workbook to respond to a series of questions there. Then, re-engage with your partner for a debriefing of the experience from both sides of the conversational aisle. Finally in the workbook, commit to a series of actions that reflect your new perspective.
Additional Resources on Conversations Across Race
If you want to learn more about having difficult conversations, addressing tensions, here are some helpful guides to help you in that effort.
- Guide for conversations with someone who doesn’t see racism as a problem in 2020
- Guide for conversing with someone about expanding shared understanding of racial inequity
- Resources for talking about race from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
- Research on self-presentation in interracial settings
- Research on interracial preferences for communication partners