Having open, honest conversations about race

When talking about race, white people are often afraid they're going to say something wrong or offend someone and be called a racist. So how do we have open, honest dialogue?

Lorenzo Boyd, a race relations expert at the University of New Haven, said it starts with relationships.

"Building relationships with people, you get to know what you can say, what you can't say," Boyd said. "You get to understand what's offensive and what's not offensive."

It is important for everyone to talk about racism because American history has been built on viewing the world through a white male lens, he added.

"Let's acknowledge the pain that people have. It's OK not to know. And it's OK that you feel hesitant about things," Boyd said. "But if we can be open and honest about that conversation and to walk up to somebody and say, 'As a white person, I want to be supportive—I don't know what to do,' it's being genuine that's going to help."

City-As-School Public High School in Manhattan is at the forefront of these conversations.

"Talking about race and equity has to be integrated into everything you do extremely intentionally," Principal Rachel Seher said.

The student population at City-As-School is 35% black, 44% Hispanic or Latinx, and 15% white. The staff has received training on talking about race to incorporate it even more in open, honest conversations with students. Some of those conversations are being led by the students themselves.

"Principles as simple as 'oops' and 'ouch'—If someone says something that hurts, articulate that," Seher said, adding that if you've done something to hurt someone, you should take ownership.

"It has to be part of the fabric of the school," she said. 

Understanding the country's painful history of slavery and the long-term effects it has had on how people of color can be viewed is an important part of this entire process.

"We can't just assume that white people know because they're white. Sometimes we have to do some teaching and we have to do some training," Boyd said. "And everybody, regardless of race or ethnicity, if they could practice a little bit of patience with each other, then we can move forward."


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