Before You Talk About Race, Read This!

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Image courtesy of Paul Townsend.

By Terry Howard. Okay, class, the subject here is once again “race,” or more to the point, how you choose to talk about race when nobody outside your clique is within earshot. In the end, we’ll address how you can talk about race when those “others” are by your side.
“For crying out loud, Terry, why do you keep bringing up race?”
Yes, I hear that from time to time. However, the truth is that race continues to bring itself up, so it needs no heavy lifting from me. All I do is to prevent it from sliding into wishful thinking, the “hey, we had a Black president, so we can move beyond race” abyss.
Now, as I’ve said many times before, by not talking about race, we are in fact talking about race. That old saying, “Our silence speaks volumes” is an applicable truism here. Intellectually honest folks are smart enough to notice what’s talked about and what’s not talked about. And they often wonder why.
So what do we do?
Well, for those of you who are ambitious enough to give a race dialogue a try, the advice here is to hold off until you do some introspection followed by some grappling with a couple important questions.
Let’s start with former.
Imagine yourself with your immediate family or otherwise your clique of folks who look like you in terms of race (Black, white, Asian, Latino, etc.). You all are in front a big-screen TV in your living room when one of the following images appear on the screen: former President Barack Obama, protesters of police brutality, Bill Cosby, Caitlyn Jenner, Jay Z, Kim Jung Un, members of ISIS, “illegal” immigrants, President Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or a small group of young black males.
So do you immediately switch the channel? And if not, what is your typical conversation when you’re confronted with any of these images in the “safety” of your own group? What are some of the typical adjectives that flow from your lips and theirs? And, if you happen to have young kids within earshot, what impact would your conversation have on them (think second-hand smoke here)?
How would that conversation stay the same or differ if others of another race or form of difference walked unexpectedly into the room? What might you hope that they didn’t hear from a distance?
Okay, moving right along, let’s assume that we’ve now piqued your curiosity about the potential for developing and talking about race in a multiracial context. Before taking that leap, here is a list of questions you may want to consider:
  1. What’s your vested interest in wanting to engage in such a dialogue?
  2. What are some booby traps that can sabotage the authentic conversation?
  3. Should retreats into silence be allowed in the conversation? How do you make it safe during the conversation for people to be vulnerable, and to interrupt those who seek to exploit that vulnerability?
  4. How does one “reel in” the strongly opinionated and help them to stay open to—and not dismiss—the realities of others?
  5. What is a “failed conversation,” and who defines it?
An action for consideration:
  1. First, develop your answers to all of the above questions (or the ones of greatest interest).
  2. Next, have a cross-racial partner develop his/her answers to them. Then the two of you can compare the similarities and differences in your responses.
  3. Discuss what you both learned through this exchange and how you can use it as a building block to launch a conversation or to benchmark an existing one.
  4. Share your experience with the MARC community!
Okay, class is now dismissed!
fb807db700da5f833fdcf1c29694b6ee-originaTerry Howard is a writer, story teller and trainer. He is currently a senior associate with Diversity Wealth, a member of the Cross Cultural Academy and a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, and the Atlanta Business Journal. His blog is He can be reached at 470 558 7310.
Posted by Jared Cline on Feb 14, 2017 9:04 AM America/New_York

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More food for thought from terry howard‍:

1. Who should best issue the meeting notice and what would the ideal message content look like?
2. Who should facilitate the meeting, internal or external expertise?
3. Once word leaks out about the meeting, as it will, how do you effectively calm the fears, misconceptions?
4. What mix of folks should attend the meeting by way of race, age, experience, job titles?
5. If the meeting is intended to address race, would the focus be exclusively on black and white, or others?
6. Do you allow other non race related issues onto the agenda, say gender, generations, sexual orientation, etc?
7. Should the meeting be mandatory or voluntary?
  • Posted Wed 01 Mar 2017 08:45 AM EST


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