4 Tips For Starting Uncomfortable Conversations About Race

Talking about race and racism can be awkward and uncomfortable. However, these discussions are necessary to help us move forward and find solutions.

Talking about race and racism can be awkward and uncomfortable. But it is necessary to help us move forward and find solutions. Dr Karyn Gordon shares some advice on how to have these difficult conversations.

Interesting research:

  • Research found that when Blacks & Asians “whitened” their resumes – they got more callbacks for interviews (Source: Harvard University)
  • Research found that ¾ of white employees don’t have any non-White friends which is a problem if companies rely on employee social networks for referrals (Source: Business Insider)
  • Research that highlights race are rare (almost absent from top psychological publications) – and when its discussed – it is usually authored and edited by white scholars (Source: Stanford)


Tip #1: Understand Racial Conditioning

“I was taught to see racism only as individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group” (Peggy McIntosh, White Anti-Racist Activist). This quote opens up the conversation about race in her ground-breaking essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” where she asks questions such as:

  • I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed
  • I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated
  • I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented

So what happens because of these white privileges:

  • Many White people unconsciously or consciously learn: I belong. I matter. My voice is important. I’m special. I’m safe. I’m deserving.
  • Many Black or POC unconsciously or consciously are told: I don’t belong. I don’t matter. My voice is not important. I’m not safe. I’m inferior.

If you are White – stop and think about this. Listen, don’t defend. For those of us who are White, we’ve never thought of racial conditioning. We take for granted our status and assume it’s the same for others or avoid asking ourselves uncomfortable questions.


Tip #2: Change The Racism Question

Don’t discuss racism from a binary yes or no –“Are you racist” lens. Instead shift to “how.” For example:

  • How are we allowing racism to function in our family life?
    Ex. We only read books written by White authors.
  • How are we allowing racism to function in our business? With our teams’  Ex. Our senior team is 95% White.


 Tip #3: Surround Yourself With Diversity At Work & Home

Make sure you have diversity at work and home so you can hear different perspectives.

  • At Home: How many really close friends do you have from a different race? Look at your wedding photos? Look at your social media pictures?
  • At Work: How much diversity do you have in your organization?
  • Prioritize diversity because you genuinely value their voices, and want them at your boardroom/ family dinner table to spend time and learn from.


Tip #4: Get Comfortable With Feeling Uncomfortable

Comfort is a feeling based often on what is familiar and safe. Anytime we try something new – we will feel uncomfortable. Ask yourself is racial equality important to you? If YES – then make a decision based on VALUE not FEELING to lean in and discuss race.