For years, Ijoema Oluo, a Nigerian-American writer, observed numerous distressing discussions of race; some caused even further harm to people of color. These observances prompted her to write a blog and eventually the book "So You Want to Talk About Race" on how to talk about race more effectively and more kindly.
Many people are hesitant to discuss race for fear of saying the wrong thing. Oluo informs us we will make mistakes, and sometimes these will be large mistakes, but that we need to forge ahead and attempt to have these conversations anyway.
Oluo offers a helpful list of guidelines which include:
State your intentions for the conversation: That way, people can decide whether this is a conversation they are willing to join. I realize stating your intentions for a discussion may seem a little stilted, but in addition to providing the other person a chance to bow out, I believe it gives you more opportunity to think about how you will enact your intentions.
Remember your top priority in the conversation: Do you want to be right or do you want to gain a better understanding? This reminds me of the adage "Do you want to be right or do you want to be married?" I think difficult conversations are always aided by placing kindness ahead of righteousness.
Never force a person of color to discuss race if they don't want to: Obviously, you don't want to force a discussion of a topic that has the potential to be deeply painful.
If you find yourself feeling defensive, ask yourself why: What am I thinking that this conversation says about me? Has my top priority shifted to preserve my ego? Have you ever been asked about whether a given behavior of yours was racist? I have, and unfortunately, my priority became defending myself, trying to convince this other person I hadn't behaved in a racist manner, instead of trying to understand and listen to the other person. After having read Malcolm Gladwell's book "Blink," I have come to a different understanding of racism. Most of us possess implicit bias against people of color, attitudes we wish we didn't possess, attitudes that we'd like to deny having. If you are curious about your own unconscious bias see how you score on the Implicit Attitudes Test (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGnENyG3Aq4).
Oluo discuses other important topics from affirmative action to tone policing. However, the first several chapters on how to talk about race seemed the most important to me.
Qhyrrae Michaelieu is the manager of adult services at the Missouri River Regional Library.