Having discussions about racism can be challenging because they often touch on personal experiences and core questions of identity. It can be hard to hear about experiences that do not match your own or that call your own worldview into question.
Here are some tips that can help these sorts of conversations be safe and productive.
- Check your Own Bias. We all approach conversations about race through a different lens. No matter what race you are, that lens will include some prejudice, so be mindful of the biases you hold, says Holmes. Your age and the time period in which you grew up may also affect how you see the role race plays in society, and that has changed throughout the decades. It's important to think through your ideas before beginning conversations, but also to remain open to hearing other perspectives.
- Practice Active Listening. In conversations about race, it can be easy to listen for — and key in on — certain hot-button issues and use them as an excuse to get defensive or cut people off. The point the person is making may be unexpected, and you'll miss it without listening closely.
- Refrain from Interrupting. It is common to want to interrupt someone if what they are saying runs counter to your experience or seems wrong. Give respect to the other members of the conversation by giving them space to share their perspective. This will also give you the opportunity to listen and perhaps find common ground.
- Call Out, Then Call In. Sometimes, someone might express ideas or words that are offensive to you. When this happens, it is okay to directly state this in discussion. Be direct about the issue and then invite that person to explore deeper by asking a question which examines the problematic underlying assumptions.
- Assume Good Intentions. Recognize 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 useful, but ascribing intent can be counterproductive.
- Use “FFF” Statements. Expressing your feelings on race and how they've evolved over time can evoke strong emotions. Tatum recommends using “FFF” statements — express yourself by saying “I felt … I found out … and so now I feel.” This strategy can be helpful because the focus is on your feelings, so statements are less likely to provoke defensiveness.