Talking About Race at Work: Listening and Learning
Updated: Dec 31, 2020
One of the hardest aspects of talking about race is admitting that you don’t know everything. This is particularly hard in the workplace, which is usually where you are striving to show your competence, skills and value. Too often, however, conversations about race don’t happen because people are afraid of saying the wrong thing. That’s understandable but being so fearful where you don't talk about race, is far more damaging than trying to talk about it and stumbling along the way.
As long as you're seriously committed to listening and learning, it’s okay to mess up. That’s part of the process. Remember learning how to ride a bike? Did you hop on your bike as soon as you were tall enough and ride happily into the sunset? Or did you start with training wheels and then fall over a few dozen times before you got the hang of it? Like anything, talking about race and systematic racism is going to take practice.
When you are ready to let go of perfectionism, you are then and only then, ready to start listening, learning and having a real conversation about race.
Three Things to Remember:
1. A good listener is an active listener. We like this definition from indeed.com: "Active listening is the ability to focus completely on a speaker, understand their message, comprehend the information and respond thoughtfully." This means you aren’t waiting for your turn to talk and/or preparing what you are about to say. This also means, when the person you are listening to stops talking, you might not have the perfect response right away -- and that’s okay. Again, this is not about perfection.
2. If, and when, you enviably falter or say the wrong thing, own it. Don’t make excuses for your mistakes or your ignorance. Sit with your discomfort, apologize and commit to learning more about the mistake you made and how to fix things moving forward.
3. Do not rely on your Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) colleagues to be your teachers. If you have built trust and they share experiences with you or give you feedback when in conversation about race – great. But it is up to you to do the work outside of these conversations to set yourself up for success. Google is your friend!
Here are some resources to help you continue your journey on talking about race and learning more about race, diversity, equity and inclusion:
TOOL KIT MATERIALS:
Toward a Racially Just Workplace: Diversity Efforts are Failing Black Employees. Here’s a Better Approach by Laura Morgan Roberts and Anthony J. Mayo
"This ‘Equity’ picture is actually White Supremacy at work" by Sippin the EquiTEA, a blog by the Equity in Education Coalition.
'Lean Into Discomfort' When Talking About Race by Tonya Mosley on WBUR (Boston's NPR News Station).
Brené with Ibram X. Kendi on How to Be an Antiracist on Unlocking Us by Brené Brown