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How to Talk About Racial Issues Respectfully

By: Jessica MousseauDiversity Insights
How to talk about racial issues respectfully

Having clear and open dialogue about vital topics like race helps us to understand each other more deeply. These discussions, while often uncomfortable,  help increase awareness  of others’ opinions and beliefs. The goal is to facilitate learning and personal growth, leading to evolved  thoughts or behaviors.

Ultimately, awareness leads to empathy and it’s not uncommon for our minds to change and to grow as we learn more about cultural issues, such as racial injustice. However, learning how to talk effectively with your friends, family, colleagues, or classmates amplifies this powerful experience.

How to Approach Conversations About Race

The first step toward success when talking about serious and emotional subjects is to be clear and open about the purpose of the conversation. In some instances, setting ground rules for respectful engagement can be beneficial. For instance, practice attentive listening by refraining from speaking over others, or consider setting a time limit for each participant’s input.

Choose the approach that you think will result in the most productive experience. This likely will vary depending on the setting you’re speaking in. If you’re speaking with people who are close to you, you may not need to set the same boundaries as colleagues or classmates. That ultimately depends on you, your comfort level, and those around you.

Open-Minded Conversations Prevail

Addressing contentious topics like race demands an open mindset, allowing for differing views. Productive conversations prioritize active listening and acknowledging other people’s experiences before passing judgement. Everyone has a unique perspective shaped by their culture, upbringing, where they grew up, and more, leading to different experiences regarding identity or race.

Note: If things start to get too uncomfortable for the conversation to be constructive, take a break.

Remember that one conversation can’t erase deeply rooted racial issues. The goal is to make a thoughtful and realistic commitment to personal growth and learning from others. This commitment will help break down thoughts about race passed down from generation to generation.

How to Initiate a Conversation

Sometimes, initiating a conversation is as simple as just asking direct questions. For instance, “How do you feel about what’s happening in today’s world? What change do you think needs to be made? What is your racial identity? Do you think you experience privilege?

Speaking About Race Respectfully

To expand your knowledge about the topic and to make your conversations more productive and respectful, learn more about terms like unconscious bias, marginalized, race, racism, privilege, stereotypes, systemic racism, and racial injustice, to start. Not only do these conversations bring awareness, but they allow us as a society to learn and grow from one another.

Elevate the impact of your conversations by exploring our Online Diversity Training and using our Diversity Calendar. These resources empower you to actively contribute to inclusivity and growth.


How do you have a constructive conversation about race?

The first step to having a constructive conversation about race is to understand your own racial or cultural identity. Next, acknowledge any racial biases you may have. Validate someone’s feelings regarding them and encourage them to speak out if they feel uncomfortable about the way people speak around them.

How do you have difficult conversations professionally?

Having difficult conversations professionally means that you don’t procrastinate having tough talks. Also, focus on the facts and always consider the other person’s perspective. The focus of this talk should be acknowledging each person’s feelings and brainstorming a positive change that can occur to ensure that the situation doesn’t happen again.

What are good questions to ask about race and ethnicity?

When you want to learn more about someone’s race or ethnicity, consider asking them some questions to get to know them. What racial or ethnic groups describe you? Or, what do you consider yourself to be? Leave the responses open-ended instead of restricting people to just one answer.

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