The RACE Method of Conversation

The RACE (Reflect, Ask, Connect, Expand) Method is an approach that anti-racism allies can use to share their perspective with people who are skeptical that racism against people of color is a problem.

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)
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—Part 1: Introduce an additional approach
  • 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

Our goal is to teach anti-racism allies how to manage conversations so racism skeptics can migrate through these steps and revisit how they look at racism. These steps come to life in the core methodology of this project, The RACE Method of conversation.

Core Beliefs
  • If you want to have a reasonable chance of expanding a person’s view of the US racial predicament, it most useful to try to deeply listen to them so that they feel heard.
  • Even though racial anxiety is a minimal/non-existent factor in same race interactions, white allies too often have negative reactions to racism skeptics that make it hard for the ally to be a listening mode. These reactions tend to shut down useful dialogue.
  • Most people who tend to be skeptical about the impact of racism believe a set of myths that can be strategically engaged through methods of dialogue.
  • With sufficient guidance and work in the moment, an ally can usually find some truth that accompanies the myth that they actually believe, even while rejecting the rest of the myth the skeptic believes.
  • The best way of moving the dialogue forward is for the myth and the skeptic to start by sharing experiences (stories) that confirm what they mutually agree on that are relevant.
  • After creating a connection with the skeptic by sharing stories about something they both believe, the ally should then invite the skeptic to consider the possibility of another idea about race that challenges the myth.
  • The best way make this invitation is to offer an experience that illustrates this additional truth.
  • Too often, allies go to quickly to data, evidence, concepts, and metaphors. These need to be in the ally’s arsenal, but should only be used at the right time. If used at the wrong time or with the wrong tone, they can be counter-productive by generating resistance.
  • It is not vital to change their skeptical person’s entire political ideology in order to turn help them move past their belief in a particular racial myth. In fact, trying to change people’s entire ideology is often counter-productive.
  • No one really knows what works to raise awareness, so it is vital that people individually and collectively reflect on strategies, in order that everyone discover which strategies work better or individuals and communities.