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
- Do your preparation to be in a listening mode
- Reflect on your own experiences that illustrate your own journey as an ally
- Probe the skeptic about their beliefs – and the experiences that drive those beliefs
- Offer your own experiences that are likely to have some resonance with them
- 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
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.
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.
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.
- 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