How to Have a Conversation About Race
Hint: Stick to the *Experience* of Prejudice
One really cool thing about living in the times we do is that racial prejudice is generally looked down upon. Modern societies have specific laws and protections to minimize the negative effects of stereotyping for all kinds of minorities, from race to gender to age, and increasingly, sexual orientation.
But the issues are so complex that it can be really difficult to talk about. Emotions run high. Jobs, education, and identities are at stake. People feel threatened and marginalized on all sides of the debate.
As a result, most of us would prefer to avoid talking about these kinds of issues. Particularly majorities talking with minorities about these issues: men talking with women about gender, whites talking with non-whites (in the US at least) about race, etc.
I can hardly write about it without worrying that I am going to offend someone by leaving them out or mislabeling them. I only say non-white to include a variety of the minority groups in the US, but I cringe at throwing them all together and labelling them in opposition to the norm instead of affirmation of what they identity as.
Many of us are not comfortable offending someone, and much of that motivation comes from a very caring place.
Yet we must talk about these things. We must because they still exist, and like repressed emotional pain in an individual, repressed pain in a society will find a way out. The more buried the pain is, the more likely its unconscious expression will be unhealthy. And without accepting and acknowledging that it is there, it will never transform into something that makes us stronger.
So we must talk about these thorny issues, to socially acknowledge the truth of people’s experience, regardless of the rationality of it. We do it in service of loving what is and transforming ourselves into a better, more inclusive, more compassionate, healthier society. We do it, like an individual gets therapy and coaching, to become more resilient and adaptive than ever before.
And like an individual, the way in which we go about doing it is extremely important.
How to Have a Conversation About The Experience of Prejudice
Here’s the trick: instead of talking about ideas, which are likely to get heated and personal, talk about the subjective experience in you, and inquire about the subjective experience of another.
Your conversation will actually not be about race (or gender, or sex), it will be about the experience of prejudice. Not your thoughts or your assessment, your feelings. Everyone has experienced prejudice in some form or fashion; everyone has been a “victim” of it, and everyone has been a “perpetrator.” So get some shared reality about what it is like to be a human. The more you feel the feelings in-the-moment, as you are talking, the better.
Be the Change You Want to See
Go further by setting an intentional context.
Ask to be listened to with an open mind, acknowledging that your feelings are often not rational and are counter to what you consciously know to be the case. And model the same kind of open minded, supportive listening that you want to experience.
This can be tough because it is more vulnerable. But the irony is that it is less likely to cause a problem. Our feelings are inherently irrational, and therefore they cannot be argued. Stick with how you experience things, and be open to being influenced. Be gentle, appreciative, and patient. Always connect with love.
And let us know how it goes.