6 Things I Tell People Before They Start Talking About Race

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It seems like everywhere you turn these days, you’ll hear race at the center of conversation. It doesn’t matter if it’s sports talk radio, the nightly news, social media or your favorite television show. Everyone is talking about race. If you or someone you know has been reluctant to engage in the conversation, here are some things you should know:

1. It’s not as scary as it seems.

Polarizing conversations are hard, and few conversations are more polarizing than dialog along racial lines. Racial discussion is driven by people on the extreme outer edges, and for that reason can appear scarier than it actually is. Reasonable people can engage in tough talks without stooping to personal attacks or harmful rhetoric.

2. Listen. 

None of us get to interpret someone else’s experience for them, but I’ve witnessed people try over and over again. I once heard it said that: a person with an experience is never at the mercy of a person with an argument. Approaching issues of race from a solely statistical point of view dishonors the human experience at the core of the conversation. When a person shares their story about how their race has impacted their lives, our job is to listen.

3. Don’t try to “win”.

It seems like some people jump into important conversations to win an argument or prove how intelligent they are. That type of approach isn’t helpful when engaging in a discourse aimed at healing. If my goal is to help, then I have little time for going back and forth with someone intent on proving that they are right.  No one wins a shouting match, so don’t bother trying.

4. Know when to walk away.

If you are a person trying to move us forward as a society, then it’s important to recognize that not everyone has that same agenda. There is a difference between an ignorant fool and an arrogant fool. The former is open to dialog and growth. The latter is looking to validate their own bias.

5. Play the long game. 

The race conversation has been around for thousands of years, so don’t approach it from the naive prospective that your experiences, ideas, questions, or data will have an overnight affect. When we adjust to the reality that every generation has a responsibility to chip away at hatred and injustice, we have more peace and a greater sense of resolve. We could be the generation to end racism, but only time will tell.

6. Privilege affects your lens

None of us can do anything about our history. We can’t change the family we were born into, the ethnicity we were born a part of or the path our parents put us on. We bring all of that to the conversations we have. If I enter a race conversation from a place of privilege, it will affect what I say and how I say it. White people talking about issues of race are without question speaking from a place of privilege. It’s not something to be sorry for or feel guilty over. Neither of those sentiments are actually helpful. It is helpful to recognize that a privileged lens blinds you to what it feels like to be a minority, which makes #2 your most valuable take away.

 

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