Courageous Conversations on Race: Some Helpful Hints and Points for Discussion

If you weren’t lucky enough to be at our Summit, you will have missed the insightful session from Fitzroy Andrew, Sukhjeen Kaur and Martin Saunders, where they sought to unpick current language changes and work towards losing the fear around talking about race.

Here’s a round up from them of some helpful hints and points around courageous conversations on ‘race’.

You can also read more about race as a social construct in our Black History Month article: The Invention of Racism.


There are very few golden rules to observe that are guaranteed to work in every single scenario. Black  and brown people are not monolithic in their views, opinions, and reactions – what may offend one  may not offend another. Equally, you will be on your own individual learning curve and will have your  own capacity for tolerating what one writer has called ‘racial stress’. It is impossible to prescribe a set of  guidelines that will work for every single reader of this note 100% of the time. 

That said, there are some points which are worth keeping in mind which may well help in any given situation. Some of these are related; few of them are straightforward. All of them are the basis of  further conversations you could have with people you trust. 

Get clear on your message

This takes presence of mind and can mean that you need to  recognise how you are reacting emotionally to the exchange. It helps for you to recognise this  and clear your emotions first, before responding. Less is often more in these situations, so avoid  talking too much – over-explaining can appear as defensiveness. 

It’s emotional – for you and the other party

Feelings are at stake in racially sensitive  conversations, and they are not a hierarchy – your offence at an accusation should not be placed  above the other party’s reaction to what you said or did – both are equally valid. Handle your  feelings, even if the other party is not handling theirs. 

Avoid over-rehearsing

Be real and ’authentic’ in how you respond. The less you plan to say, the  easier this often is (hence ‘less is more’ above) 

Stay calm

Keep a neutral tone and keep your EGO in check – you are not the most important  person in the conversation. Treat it as ‘subject-to-subject’ communication, even if the other party  may not appear to be doing so. 

Stay engaged

Avoid checking out of the conversation, intellectually or emotionally. Again easier  said than done, if what you have triggered is someone’s anger. This takes character – as does  facing up to a lifetime of racism, so a sense of perspective can help. 

Speak your truth

Say what is so for you, not what you think the other person wants to hear. It  can be helpful to keep the distinction between intent and impact in mind, as the two are  sometimes not the same thing. Having the other party hear you acknowledge this can help. 

Experience discomfort

Develop your tolerance for getting comfortable with being  uncomfortable. Conversations on race can be ‘nice’, but often aren’t and ‘niceness’ can be  misplaced. Become open to the idea of ‘teachable moments’ being available for you in the midst  of these conversations. 

Expect and accept non-closure

Especially in a scenario where the parties have an ongoing  relationship, keeping the conversation open is more important than the ‘quick fix’. It does not have to be a ‘one and done’ situation.


If you would like to learn more about anti racism and feel better informed for these kinds of conversations, we have plenty of resources throughout our website.