How do I talk about race at work?
Racial inequality is a centuries-old problem. Fortunately, as recent events have demonstrated, there’s a strong desire among millions of people to eradicate systemic racism and build a more equitable society.
If you want to contribute to this endeavor, then it’s important to be able to talk about racism at work — the one place where you spend 40 hours a week with colleagues from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities. Here are some pointers to keep in mind:
- Prepare. Forbes recommends doing some prep work on racial inequality. Watching some documentaries and reading some articles can make you better equipped to speak about the topic.
- Be clear about your intentions. Racism is a sensitive subject for many people, so it’s wise to state your reasons for wanting to discuss it up front. You could say something like, “I’d like to explain how racial inequality has affected me” or, “I want to be able to recognize white privilege.”
- Acknowledge it’s a challenging topic to talk about. State upfront that it can be a difficult issue to discuss. Assure the person you’re talking with that they can put the brakes on the conversation at any time.
- Validate the other person’s emotions. Talking about racism can bring up all sorts of different feelings including anger, sadness, and fear. Allow your conversation partner to express their emotions, and respond appropriately. For example, if someone expresses sadness, you could say, “I’m sorry you feel this way. Can you explain to me what’s causing this emotion?”
- Ask questions. One of the most important aspects of discussing racial inequality in the workplace is to build a greater understanding of each other’s situation and experiences. Ask questions such as, “Can you give me an example of this type of behavior?” or, “How can I be a better ally?” This will help build empathy while at the same time providing guidance on how you can contribute to a more equitable work environment.
- Refrain from passing judgment. Even if you don’t agree with the other person’s point of view, don’t pass judgment. Their perspective is shaped by their life experiences, and you have to respect it. By remaining objective and respectful, you’ll facilitate opportunities to continue the conversation.
- Let what you’ve learned sink in. Take some time to process the new information, and explore how it impacts your own perspective and behavior.
Keep in mind that talking about race at work might involve an ongoing conversation. And that’s a good thing, because as CNBC points out, thoughtful dialogue can allow for different points of view while prompting conversation, empathy, and the desire to solve the issue together.
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