5 Markers of a Healthy Conversation about Race

An excerpt from Evangelical Free Church of America Executive Director Alvin Sander's article How to have Civil Conversations about Race. Humility. It is significant to consider what I mean by being humble when we see color. Unchecked racially arrogant attitudes are the quickest way to destructive stereotyping. People tend to frame humility as denigrating their self and that is not what I mean. Real humility is to decline the temptation to put ourselves God’s place. It is to take the lesson of Job and figure out our submitted existence in God’s world.

Truth-telling. With people we truly care about, we’re honest about what matters, regardless of how potentially offensive the situation may seem. I contend for most people politeness is not the real reason they skirt acknowledging racialization. The real reason is they want to protect themselves from conflict.

This natural reluctance must be overcome if you and your organization are going to make serious strides. In many cases, the fear of being uncomfortable is what most hinders reconciliation efforts. We must own the fact if we refuse to speak the truth because of fear, we are operating as hypocrites. We may be polite hypocrites, but still hypocrites.

Patience. A big reason people don’t discuss race is because it can quickly become emotional. It is ok to be emotional, but not in a destructive, all-consuming way. This requires we work hard on keeping our emotions in check. When it comes to racial issues it takes time to “get it.” None of us “got it” overnight. If we keep this in mind it will go a long way in helping others realize the significance of racialization.

One thing that has helped me is the realization people can make honest racial mistakes. They really don’t know what they said or did was harmful. It is possible for someone to perform racist actions but not be a racist. I work hard on giving people the benefit of the doubt, marking them innocent until proven guilty.

Encouragement. Too much time is spent on the negative side of racial dynamics. There is a term called “jaundice eye.” It means to approach people with caution. I am contrarian on this. We have to work hard to suspend our root assumptions about people. If we don’t it will lead to stereotyping, which is not good.

We need to be careful to not build an atmosphere filled with a constant diatribe on what is wrong and short-changing spending time on what is right or how to move forward. I won’t end a conversation about bad racial dynamics until the other party and I have some dialog about proposed solutions.

Respect. All ethnic groups need to be treated with dignity. One killer of reconciliation efforts is paternalism — the intrusion of one group on another against its will. The intrusion is justified by a claim that the group intruded upon will be “better off.” What results is a one-sided relationship.