World Trust

Polite People Don't Talk About Race

Posted by Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong on August 21, 2014

Photo Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/8661653@N02/2307500590/">Daniel E Bruce</a> via <a href="http://compfight.com">Compfight</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">cc</a>

Here at World Trust, we believe that it is impossible to overcome systemic inequity without dialogue. But decisions around how to talk about race on campus, at work, or within another institution, can be very fraught.

A couple of weeks ago, we discussed a report which stated that a majority of millennials either didn’t understand race, or didn’t know how to talk about it. This week, we wanted to share a study that takes it one step further, outlining some concrete skills that can be used to build the ability to begin the conversation.

Growing up in the suburban Midwest, I (Ali Michael) never talked about race with my family. We were white, all of our neighbors were white, and it never occurred to us that there was anything to say about that. As a result, in later years, I developed a deep sense of shame whenever I talked about race — particularly in college, where I was expected to make mature personal and academic contributions to race dialogues.

At a certain point, I realized that this shame came from the silence about race in my childhood. The silence had two functions. It was at the root of my lack of competency to even participate in conversations on race. But it had also inadvertently sent me the message that race was on a very short list of topics that polite people do not discuss. My parents did not intend for me to receive this message, but because we never talked about race, I learned to feel embarrassed whenever it came up. And so even when I wanted to participate in the conversation, I had to contend with deep feelings of shame and inadequacy first.

In their piece "What White Children Need To Know About Race," authors Ali Michael and Eleonora Bartoli go on to speak at length about the silences that can proliferate at the edges of a colorblind or post-racial view of the world, no matter how well-intentioned. Having identified these systemic harms, they offer an equally methodical set of skills as a solution. The difficulty of conversations about race, coupled with their uncertain outcomes, has long conspired to keep well-intentioned individuals silent. But in order for the world to change, first things first: we have to start talking.

World Trust is committed to diversity training that is safe, respectful, and appeals to all. Read about one school district’s experience using our work with a largely white audience here.

Download "5 Hallmarks of Effective Diversity & Inclusion Events" by Shakti Butler, PhD

Topics: White Privilege