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Talking About Racial Inequality

Conversations about race and racism can be uncomfortable, but they’re necessary. 

The integration of social justice into curriculum may be difficult when faculty and students are not formally trained to engage and/or facilitate conversations about race or intersectionality of overlapping social identities (i.e. ethnicity, social class, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.) that can be sources for discrimination and oppression. Additionally, the politicization of social justice in broader society may present a barrier for discourse. 


However, when we exclude these conversations from group discussions, the classroom, and the workplace, we perpetuate the vicious cycle of institutionalized racism that exists in many of our institutions, including those of higher education.

Anti-bias education is an approach to teaching and learning designed to increase understanding of differences and their value to a respectful and civil society and to actively challenge bias, stereotyping and all forms of discrimination in schools and communities. It incorporates inclusive curriculum that reflects diverse experiences and perspectives, instructional methods that advance all students’ learning, and strategies to create and sustain safe, inclusive and respectful learning communities.”    Anti-Defamation League

We want you to be able to share what you have learned in these modules with colleagues, students, friends, and family. We hope you have the opportunity to engage in dynamic and constructive discussions to further your learning. This is why we are providing you with some resources that highlight how to navigate these courageous conversations whether in a classroom discussion or at the dining room table. 


Engaging in Courageous Conversations

Build the courage to speak up when you or someone else has been hurt or wronged by bias and stand up to exclusion, prejudice and injustice. 


Tips for Facilitating Productive Conversations About Race

Explore ineffective and effective race talk strategies that will lead to more positive outcomes.  Resources for empowering and educating people on anti-bias education. 

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Inclusive Language Guides

Develop language and knowledge to accurately and respectfully describe how people (including themselves) are both similar to and different from each other and others in their identity groups.

 Prepare for a Conversation about Race
by Starting with Learning About Yourself! 

Building Identity

It is important for you to develop positive social identities based on your membership in multiple groups in society and be able to express pride, confidence and healthy self-esteem without denying the value and dignity of other people. To do this, there must be a recognition of traits of the dominant culture, your home culture and other cultures and understand how they negotiate your own identity in multiple spaces.

(Southern Poverty Law Center, 2018).

To become a changemaker, we must recognize stereotypes and relate to people as individuals rather than representatives of groups.  This will help to identify unfairness on the individual level (e.g., biased speech) and injustice at the institutional or systemic level (e.g., discrimination) (Southern Poverty Law Center, 2018). This activity will help you explore your personal implicit biases. Use this information on your unconscious bias as a first step to addressing and unlearning them!


Engaging in Courageous Conversations

Build the courage to speak up when you or someone else has been hurt or wronged by bias and stand up to exclusion, prejudice and injustice. 

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Talking about race matters because everyone has a racialized identity and racialized identity has a major impact on a person's life (The National Museum of African American History and Culture, n.d.).  Many of us are interested in diving deeper into conversations about race and racial identity, social identities and systems of oppression, historical foundations of race, and whiteness; however, we may not:

  1. know where to start,

  2. feel like we have a safe space to speak our truths or have a fear that others will not understand our truth,

  3. be able to overcome the worry of unintentionally offending someone or have a fear of being offended by what others may say,

  4. accept the actuality of multiple truths that ALL have value, or

  5. want to admit what we do not know.

It is important to note that even in safe spaces, these conversations may still be uncomfortable, but meaningful learning occurs in these moments.

Hundreds of multiracial people crowd portraits headshots collection, collage mosaic. Many
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  • Stay engaged

  • Give everyone the opportunity to speak

  • Listen to understand

  • Assume good intentions

  • Allow yourself to be vulnerable

  • Experience emotions and allow others to do so as well

  • Appreciate and acknowledge what people say

  • Consider your biases and confusions around an issue 

  • Be intentional about your language

  • Use "I" statements to acknowledge you are speaking of your individual lived experiences

  • Ask questions to clarify and gain understanding

  • Own your intentions and impacts, including taking responsibility for the effects of your words

  • Steer participants away from blaming or belittling statements

  • Be open to challenges of your own view

  • Avoid "right" and "wrong"

  • Take a breath (or two) before responding

  • Use facts graciously - not to shut down a conversation

  • Find ways to respectfully challenge others

  • "Be comfortable with the uncomfortable"

  • Be open to mistakes and accepting that you might be wrong

  • Expect and accept non-closure

  • Be open to growth

  • Share what lessons you have learned while maintaining confidentiality of others



  • Invalidate or minimize the experiences of others

  • Compare your experience with another person’s experience

  • Interrupt others

  • Generalize, especially if it can avoided

  • Force others to speak

  • Look to others to speak on behalf of their race, gender, ethnicity, or other groups they may identify as being a part of.

  • Assume you know best

  • Assume you can help a person process their pain or discomfort

  • Feel as if everyone must agree

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While there are some people who do not want to talk about unequal opportunity or the existence of racism, the majority of people shy away from it due to perceived barriers to initiating these conversations, which is a consistent side-effect of white supremacy culture and bias of professionalism standards (Gray, 2019).


There is no short-cut way to talk about the complexities race places in life, which is why many of these conversations can quickly become volatile with emotional rhetoric.  This is why we are giving you tips and resources for engaging in these courageous conversations (WLA Learn Local, 2017W.K. Kellogg Foundation, n.d., (Repair the World, n.d.):

Additional Linked Resources 

Guide to Respectful Conversations


Repair the World


Talking About Race



The National Museum of African American History and Culture

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Six Steps to Speak Up


Learning for Justice

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Talking about Racism, Racial Equity and Racial Healing with Friends, Family, Colleagues and Neighbors

W.K. Kellogg Foundation


How to Push DEI Conversations Out of the Comfort Zone


Dr. Chera Reid,  & Jara Dean-Coffey, MPH

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Tips for Facilitating Productive Conversations about Race

Explore ineffective and effective race talk strategies that will lead to more positive outcomes.  Resources for empowering and educating people on anti-bias education. 

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10 Steps to Facilitating

Productive Conversations about Race:

(Moore & Deshaies, 2012;  Repair the World, n.d.)


1. Start with Names and

Gender Pronouns

When we use someone’s correct pronouns, it serves to create an inclusive environment, demonstrating care and respect (Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio). It is important to be mindful about the specific pronouns people (cisgender, transgender, and gender non-conforming) use, whether  female, male or gender-neutral.  Be cognizant that (1) pronouns come with a set of expectations and gender norms about how people express their identity and (2) correct pronouns for a person do not necessarily align with the associated gender identity or expression (Anti-Defamation League, n.d.). Learn more about pronouns with this Pronoun How To Guide. 

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2. Co-Design Ground Rules/Communal Agreement for Conversations


Guidelines built by the group that all members agree to follow during the course of the conversation, class, and/or workshop. These guidelines, often referred to as "ground rules" or "community norms," should provide a framework to ensure open, respectful dialogue and maximum participation (Gorski, 2020,  Guide for Setting Ground Rules).  

3. Communicate Plans and Expectations


By establishing a framework for the discussion with a specific focus, students will be kept on task, ensuring that your goals for the discussion are met.  Starting a discussion with clearly articulated objectives can help shape the nature of the discussion and link it to other course goals (For additional information, see Guidelines for discussion of racial conflict and the language of hate, bias, and discrimination by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching [CRLT], University of Michigan, 2011).


The CRLT lists the following as examples of general objectives:

4. Build Basic Understanding for Core Concepts (social justice, identity, power, culture)


Before diving into deep, meaningful conversations, it is important to define key concepts to ensure participants have foundational knowledge to build upon. The facilitator can also draw upon students' own knowledge to establish a common basis (CRLT, University of Michigan).

  • connecting the topic with course material, including fundamental concepts and strategies for analysis and thoughtful reflection

  • Increasing awareness about the topic by providing information that is not generally addressed in informal discussions

  • Promoting critical thinking by helping students to understand the complexity of the issues

  • Enhancing skills for dialogue that students can take into other venues

  • Relating classroom discussion to the roles that students have as citizens within the university community and larger society

  • Examining and developing positions on issues of social policy, university policy, or social convention.

  • Identifying a core problem underlying social conflicts and exploring possible answers to the problem.

  • Analyzing the root causes or reasons for a social conflict (i.e., a past-oriented discussion).

  • Exploring possible consequences or implications of a conflict (i.e., a future-oriented discussion).

  • Planning effective actions to reduce such incidents and/or to support vulnerable populations.

Iceberg model adapted from

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5. Explore Personal and Social Identities

Everyone has a personal and social identity. According to the University of Southern California:

"Personal identities include an individual’s name, unique characteristics, history, personality and other traits that make one different from others.

Social identity includes affinities one has with other people, values and norms that one accepts, and the ways one has learned to behave in social settings."

Exploring our personal and social identities helps build greater self- and situational understanding. Understanding that people have different lived experiences will develop openness and tolerance in dealing with adversity that will surely present itself in conversations covering sensitive topics.

6. Identify Majority ("agent") and Minority ("target") Status

Key concepts in social justice, such as oppression, exploitation, marginalized, and privilege cannot be understood without an understanding of the agent and target  framework (University of Southern California). Group members need to be able to recognize unfairness on the individual level (e.g., biased speech) and injustice at the institutional or systemic level (e.g., discrimination). By doing so, they will be able to identify that power and privilege influence relationships on interpersonal, intergroup and institutional levels, allowing them to have deeper conversations on how they have been affected by those dynamics and develop empathy for those with other lived experiences (Learning for Justice).

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7. Guide, Don't Teach

The facilitator does not have to be an expert on the topic to be an effective facilitator! The facilitator’s main role is to establish objectives for the productive conversation and then to build a supportive atmosphere with ground rules for discussions that allow for the group members to engage. With effective facilitation, even the facilitator is there to learn! According to the Guide to Respectful Conversations by Repair the World, the role of the facilitator is to serve “as a guide for participants and helps them find value and hold multiple truths in their and other’s experiences and ideas.”

When the group looks to the facilitator for the “correct” answers or “expert” opinion, one can bypass this is by opening the question back to the group: “I’m not sure. What do you think?” (Repair the World).  An active facilitator will help with rewording questions posed by grouping members, correcting misinformation, making reference to relevant reading materials or course content, asking for clarification, and reviewing main points (CRLT, University of Michigan).


8. Use the Strategy of Calling People “In”, NOT “Out.”

Facilitator must try their best to find a balance between holding someone accountable for an unintentional offensive or ignorant statement and still engaging them in the conversation (Repair the World). These make for great teachable moments (if the group has the bandwidth for it!). Advise group members to use the “I felt.... when you...” format to discuss how one person perceived someone’s statement. If a member of the group is intentionally inflicting harm through their actions or use of hateful language, then the facilitator should ask that member to leave the space.

9. Adapt to the Group's Needs

Be prepared to be flexible! An agenda should be able to adapt and change based on the needs and interests of the group, as well as the dynamics of a particular session  (Repair the World).  An active facilitator will need to balance having a clear purpose and direction for a discussion with being open to group members observations and interpretations (CRLT, University of Michigan).


10. Revisit 


With conversations that challenge the way people see the world, it is important for group members to have time to reflect on their experience. Most importantly, they need time to digest what they have learned from other's as well as what they may have learned about themselves. After a period that allows for group members to unwind and reflect, the facilitator should consider developing a follow-up activity or discussion that will continue to build awareness and comradery in the community and support differing viewpoints (Moore & Deshaies). 

In your quest to facilitate productive conversations on race, consider doing the following: creating anti-bias education goals, understand the essential components of social justice education, and attend DEI trainings. 

Create Anti-Bias Education Goals

The creation of anti-bias education goals as a teacher and/or facilitator sets forth values-based principles and methodology in support of respecting and embracing differences and acting against bias and unfairness, requiring both critical thinking and problem solving (Teaching for Change, 2021).  Every subject area has possibilities for anti-bias themes and activities. Addition of these themes will make learning more meaningful and impactful.  The following four core goals of anti-bias education were formulated by Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards in the second edition of Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves.  Although tailored to early childhood education, the goals are relatable for all who want to create safe, supportive learning environments. 

Goal 1: Identity: Teachers will nurture each child’s construction of knowledgeable, confident, individual personal and social identities. Children will demonstrate self-awareness, confidence, family pride, and positive social identities.

Goal 2: Diversity: Teachers will promote each child’s comfortable, empathetic interaction with people from diverse backgrounds. Children will express comfort and joy with human diversity, use accurate language for human differences, and form deep, caring connections across all dimensions of human diversity.

Goal 3: Justice: Teachers will foster each child’s capacity to critically identify bias and will nurture each child’s empathy for the hurt bias causes. Children will increasingly recognize unfairness (injustice), have language to describe unfairness, and understand that unfairness hurts.

Goal 4: Activism: Teachers will cultivate each child’s ability and confidence to stand up for oneself and for others in the face of bias. Children will demonstrate a sense of empowerment and the skills to act, with others or alone, against prejudice and/or discriminatory actions.

Employ the Five Essential Components for Social Justice Education


A consistent challenge for educators has been "to teach effectively from a clear social justice perspective that empowers, encourages students to think critically, and models social change." Heather Hackman (2005) describes five key components useful in teaching from a social justice perspective:


1. Tools for content mastery: Consists of 3 principle spheres representing broad and deep levels of information: factual information, historical contextualization, and a macro-to-micro content analysis.

2. Tools for critical thinking: : Critical thinking about an issue requires (1) focusing on information from multiple, non-dominant perspectives, and seeing those as independently valid and not as an add-on to the dominant, hegemonic one; (2) de-centering students’ analytical frame and opening their minds to a broader range of experiences; (3) analyzing the effects of power and oppression; and (4) inquiring into what alternatives exist with respect to the current, dominant view of reality of this issue. 

3. Tools for action and social change: Critical to help move students from cynicism and despair to hope and possibility, these tools help students learn that social action is fundamental to the everyday workings of their lives. 

4. Tools for personal reflection: To make a consistent commitment to self-reflection and personal interrogation gives educators and students alike a place to enact social change and growth. Self-reflection reminds teachers to reflect critically on themselves and the personal qualities that inform their practice.  It can also serve as a constant motivator, as it knocks teachers and students out of complacency and steers them in the direction of the solution instead of the problem. 

5. Tools for awareness of multicultural group dynamics: An awareness of these dynamics determines how social justice educators will approach the previous four dynamics, and thus impacts the efficacy of their implementation. Attention to student identities or multicultural group dynamics should not be used as an excuse for avoiding such conversations, but instead should be a reminder that who is in the room has an effect on content and process.


Attend DEI Workshops and Trainings

Diversity, equity, and inclusion workshops and trainings are widely available to help you become more culturally competent, empathetic, and self-aware. DEI trainings must be sustained, visible, and holistic (Lewi & Duran Baron, 2021). They can promote an inclusive classroom or workplace culture, which can lead to gains in engagement and retention. In these spaces, you will learn about topics such as unconscious bias, awareness (microaggressions, belonging), and skill-acquisition (inclusive management, allyship). 

Additional Linked Resources


Ten Tips for Facilitating Classroom Discussions on Sensitive Topics

Dr. Alicia L. Moore and Molly Deshaies




Dr. Derald Wing Sue



Five Essential Components for Social Justice Education

Dr. Heather Hackman


Teaching Controversy


Learning for Justice

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Diversity Toolkit: A Guide to Discussing Identity, Power and Privilege



University of Southern California

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Inclusive Language Guide

Develop language and knowledge to accurately and respectfully describe how people (including themselves) are both similar to and different from each other and others in their identity groups.

Linked Resources

General Principles for Reducing Bias

American Psychological Association



Reporting Guide



Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation


Style Guide

for Inclusive Language

DC Fiscal

Policy Institute


Racial Equity Tools Glossary


Racial Equity Tools


Style Guide: Racial and Ethnic Identity


American Psychological Association

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