Unless you work at the American Civil Liberties Union, you probably don’t expect to engage in racially-based discussions at your place of employment. However, these conversations do come up.
It’s important to be prepared when they do. Racism is a controversial, yet necessary, conversation. As a woman of color, I’ve both willingly and begrudgingly had to talk about race at places I’ve worked. Here are some tips I’ve used myself in order successfully educate coworkers about racism.
1. Check your motivation.
Are you engaging in a conversation about race because you’re looking to fight? It sounds strange, but it’s not as bizarre as you’d think. Maybe it’s a slow day at work, or maybe you’re looking for a way to vent unrelated frustrations. Regardless, make sure you have good intentions when speaking of race at work. Diversity isn't a subject that should be taken lightly. If you aren't trying to make the world a more accepting place, don't start the conversation.
2. Be Patient.
It sounds easier than it is. Tensions often run high when talking about race. If you find yourself becoming too agitated, end the conversation. Don’t make a huge scene in the middle of your office. A shouting match won’t solve anything, and it could make you look bad to the rest of the company.
3. Set a realistic goal as to what you want to accomplish in your conversation.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and slavery wasn’t abolished overnight. In an ideal world, it would only a few words for someone to realize the harmful nature of their actions. But it doesn’t work like that. Yes, you can launch into the entire history of slavery and how institutionalized racism still runs rampant today, but you can also just tell someone that racial slurs are bad.
4. Make it a discussion instead of a lecture.
There’s a reason everyone stops paying attention in meetings where they’re getting talked at the entire time. If a conversation isn’t engaging -- meaning both sides are actively participating -- then you’re almost better off not having a conversation at all. Make sure to let the person you’re talking to get a word in edgewise. Listening is just important as speaking.
5. Remember, you most likely aren’t an expert on racial divisions either.
Try to avoid sounding like an academic paper. In a conversation as nuanced as race, it’s hard to have all of the facts. Don’t act like you do. Speak how you would in everyday conversation.
6. You don’t always have to engage.
I know, I know, sometimes you feel as though the weight of the Woke World rests on your socially conscious shoulders. If you’re a person of color, there are days where you simply don’t feel like arguing about race. This doesn’t make you a bad person. You don’t have to save the world every time. Sometimes it’s better for you to report an incident to HR instead of tackling it on your own. In fact, if you suspect workplace harassment of any kind, it’s important for you to contact those in charge. People are there to help you!
Samaria Johnson is a freelance writer (and other things). You can find her on Twitter @decentsamaritan.