News·3 min read

How to Have Uncomfortable Conversations About Race

Protester holding silence is violence sign
July 27, 2020

The Story

George Floyd’s death and subsequent protests have sparked a national debate about systemic racism and injustice. And many Americans (predominately White Americans) are being asked to step up as allies. Speaking out and having conversations about race can be uncomfortable. We’ve pulled together some tips that can help. 

Set goals. It’s helpful if you go into these conversations with a goal in mind. That could be to address an offensive term or phrase someone used, or to let someone know how their behavior has made you or others feel. By having an intention, the conversation is less likely to derail. 

Be open. Kwame Christian – a mediator, author, and speaker – says the best way to begin a tough conversation is to tell the other person you know it’s going to be hard. Then, be compassionate so they’re more comfortable sharing their honest opinions. Also, listening goes a long way. Don’t just sit there waiting to share your next point, listen to the other person’s response to better understand them and make them feel heard. Tiffany Warren – SVP and Chief Diversity Officer for Omnicom, as well as the founder and president of ADCOLOR – makes the case that in these conversations, “correction is secondary to education.” In order to have an effective conversation, try to be open, have empathy, and guide the conversation to your end goal. Know your limits. Some people like a heated discussion (see: lawyers). Others...don’t. If you feel like the conversation is getting away from you, Ijeoma Oluo – the author of “So You Want to Talk About Race”– advises taking a break and saying something like, “'Right now, emotions are a bit high...Can we come back to this in a day or two?” Then actually follow up. 

F words are your friend. Talking to family can be tricky. People can take things personally and can be defensive – especially when you know them well. Dr. Beverly Tatum – the author of  “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” – recommends using statements with the words “felt, found, and feel.” Example: if someone says they don’t think police brutality is a systemic problem, you could say you found out about how often Black Americans face police violence. And share how you felt when you saw a video of that violence – like the killing of George Floyd.

Be cognizant of your surroundings. If someone says something offensive in a public setting, like work, Rachel Lindsay – an attorney and the first Black “Bachelorette” – thinks you may get a better outcome by talking to them privately. Her perspective is that “you can garner someone's respect and their attention if you go to them privately rather than embarrassing them and calling them out in public.” It’s something she knows from experience (cough Hannah Brown cough). 


The more we talk to each other about race and confront racial inequalities when we see them, the better chance we have at achieving an anti-racist society. It might feel uncomfortable now. But Emmanuel Acho – the former NFL player and host of “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man” – says that in order for the US to truly be the “land of the free...we’ve got to get a little uncomfortable.”

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