Tips: Challenge your colleagues’ views on race without blame

Talking about race can be difficult and uncomfortable. Keep in mind that we have tools to help us listen and not make assumptions about what we think we heard. If we are going to have honest racial conversations we need to work towards understanding and not judgment, meet each other where we are, and move the conversations forward:

  • Listen. Be sure to let your colleague know that you are listening rather than waiting for your turn to speak. Sometimes that means taking notes while listening, so that you can refer back when it is your turn.
  • Acknowledge. Let the person know that you are hearing what they are saying. This doesn’t mean acknowledging that they are right; it simply means letting them know that you understand what they have said. “I understand that you feel ____ because _____.”
  • Keep an open mind. It can be easy to write off someone based on their behavior, tone of voice or other traits. It is important to remain respectful of the person you’re speaking to. You might be surprised by what you both may learn about each other in the process.
  • Ask questions. Ask your colleague why he or she made a comment or feels a certain way. Challenge him or her to remember specific personal experiences that fuel the concern. Continue to ask “why” to encourage your colleague to come to his or her own conclusions.
  • Challenge your colleague’s behavior, not their moral integrity. Most people are not overtly racist, but sometimes well-meaning people do or say things that offend others because of a lack of understanding. Be patient with your colleagues, explain how your experiences led you to feel concern, and aim for a mutual understanding. Never jump to the conclusion that your colleague is a racist.
  • Remind your colleague that the major problem we face is institutional racism, not the racist actions of individuals. In SPPS, we don’t have very many individuals who are racist, but we have a lot of systems that were set up years ago that need to be examined with an eye toward equity.
  • Don’t try to win. Don’t compete with your colleague and try to prove that you are right. Listen and acknowledge the concern, while directing him or her to the appropriate resources (the Office of Racial Equity is a good start).
  • Seek higher ground. You and your colleague can likely agree on something – even if it is simply that you both want what is best for SPPS students. Try to help your colleague focus on what you have in common.
  • Make connections. If you or a colleague has a concern about the Racial Equity work at SPPS, call the Office of Racial Equity at 651-744-1310 so that we can hear from you. We need your help to learn where and how we can do better.

Remember even the individuals responsible for the failing systems are not at fault, because they were doing the best they could with the tools, resources and personal experiences they had at the time. It is far more productive to look toward the future -- how we can interrupt systems that perpetuate racial disparities -- than to point fingers toward the past.