The RACE Method of talking to a racism skeptic

The RACE Method is an approach that anti-racism allies can take to trying to share their perspective with people who are skeptical that racism against people of color is a problem worthy of specific attention. It is based on principles from Non-violent communication and on findings from the science of persuasion. RACE stands for: Reflect, Ask, Connect, Expand. (The video lasts about four minutes).

The RACE method at a glance

  • REFLECT
    • Do your preparation to be in a listening mode
    •  Reflect on your own experiences that illustrate your own journey as an ally
  • ASK
    •  Probe the skeptic about their beliefs – and the experiences that drive those beliefs
  • CONNECT
    • Offer your own experiences that are likely to have some resonance with them
  • EXPAND
    • Raise questions that open possibilities for a broader view
    • Offer your experiences that suggest a broader view of race than they have now
    • Encourage the skeptic to consider a broader view and more conversation
    • Highlight data, facts, or illustrations that support a broader view (probably a subsequent conversation) 

Here is a more complete explanation of the RACE Method 

REFLECT:

Prepare yourself to respond to racism from place that is principled, centered, and strategic.

  • Know the racism-denying statements that trigger negative emotions within you, and that often undermine your listening
  • Remember that lectures that are good for other allies sometimes shut skeptics down.
  • Reflect on the personal stories that bear upon the issue. Practice telling your stories at different durations (45 seconds or 3 minutes) to a friend or to the mirror.
  • Think about what facts, studies, or explanatory concepts you might want to bring up later in the conversation.
  • Have a general strategy for the conversation(s) that takes into account the setting, mood, and other factors.
  • Do some reflection on your own beliefs.
  • Remember that this productively engaging the issue take more than one conversation.
  • Breathe and try to relax. You got this.

ASK

Probe the skeptic for their beliefs

  • Within key topics, ask questions to learn the contours of the subject’s skepticism about racism.
  • Look for places of maximum alignment with the skeptic as opportunities to start the dialogue.
  • Manage your non-verbal communication so you don’t convey judgment. Let go of the desire to admonish them about their views about race, or about their viewpoint generally.
  • Ask them to share an experience that explains why they see things like they do.

CONNECT

Move the conversation from beliefs to experiences that have created and validated beliefs.

  • Make sure they know you don’t think the skeptic is inherently and irretrievably wrong.
  • Share a story that tends to validate as much of the skeptic’s perspective as you authentically can.
  • If you have external data or facts that validate the part of the issue you agree on, share this information. 
  • Let the connection between you linger in the air between you. This is the building block of your effort to move them forward.
  • If you have ever thought like they did, you can describe how your own view was once like theirs. Don’t focus on how you have grown – that will come later.
  • Remember, you are not saying everything they believe is right because you agree with one thing.

EXPAND

  • Raise questions that encourage the skeptic to imagine that there might be another truth that exists along side the point of agreement above.
  • Invite the skeptic to collaborate with you to look for this larger truth
  • Raise open ended questions like: Is it possible that (the agreement) is true, and some other things are also true?
  • Share one or more direct or second-hand experiences that suggest the larger truth they tend to deny.
  • Ask questions to see if they have had experiences that also suggest a larger truth that exists alongside the point of agreement discussed earlier.

Expand, Part 2: At the right time, deploy some facts can further undermine the myth

  • After mining the potential of stories about experiences, move to other kinds of data. In many cases, this will be in a conversation on a different day, to give them time to ponder how you have expanded their sense of what might be true.
  • Polling data often can make compelling points to skeptics who are open to science.
  • Large-scale social science experiments (e.g. sending out hundreds of resumes to employers and testing whether “ethnic sounding” names get a difference response from “white sounding” names) can make powerful points

Expand, Part 3:  Enlist the skeptic in the search for unifying concepts and offer suggestions

  • Find out how the skeptic fits together his/her original truth and the experiences and facts you have been discussing.
  • At the right time, offer how you see it; perhaps include non-hot button connecting concepts (e.g. white privilege, unconscious bias) that link the original truth and the facts you have been discussing.
  • If you are of a different political ideology, don’t try to change their entire worldview.  You are doing retail work – not wholesale!
  • Think of different possible focus areas of the next good opportunity to continue talking