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How to Talk About Race: Awkward but Necessary

Simma Lieberman

The Inclusionist

Building Inclusive Cultures That Lasts

Simma Lieberman has been a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion consultant at for over thirty years. As “The Inclusionist,” Simma helps leaders build inclusive cultures from the inside out. She has been a DEIB consultant, speaker, and facilitator for over thirty years. Simma provides our guest blog, How to talk about Race: awkward but necessary.

Simma hosts the podcast, “Everyday Conversations on Race for Everyday People.” It is a cross-race conversation on race and related issues


How to Talk About Race: Awkward but Necessary

Talking about race can be uncomfortable and awkward, but it’s a necessary conversation that we can’t afford to ignore. Racism exists, racial conflicts persist, and inequality prevails.

Suppose you’re ready to begin this critical dialogue. In that case, Simma Lieberman provides excellent insights to enable you to move out of your comfort zone and into inter-racial dialogue.

Are You In Your Comfort Zone?

Staying within theoretical and academic realms can be easy yet uninspiring; instead, seek out challenging yet exciting.  Even those working in the diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging field often stick to their comfort zones and primarily interact with people who resemble them. Meaningful change can only happen through genuine interactions, honest conversations, and what may initially seem like taking risks.

Over the past four years, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing and recording people from diverse racial backgrounds, ages, and other dimensions of diversity for my podcast, “Everyday Conversations On Race For Everyday People.” 

Step Outside of Your Zone

Everyone agrees that we need to engage in conversations across races. However, many individuals hesitate to talk to those outside their racial group. White people often feel awkward, uncomfortable, or afraid of saying the wrong thing, leading them to say nothing at all, and consequently, nothing changes.

Far too often, when Black and other people of color raise the topic of race, they are either dismissed, trivialized, or told they are being overly sensitive.

Our World

Ask yourself, “What kind of world and community do I want to live in?” If we aspire to a future where everyone can thrive and fear of those who are different no longer exists, we must be willing to discuss race and other differences with people who don’t look like us.

Police shootings, the Black Lives Matter movement, issues of inequality, and the rise in racist hate crimes and rhetoric all underscore the urgent need for genuine conversations about race.

Issues such as the underrepresentation of Black and Latinx individuals in the technology industry, often attributed to the false belief that there is a lack of qualified candidates, necessitate a genuine conversation about race.

The fact that many white individuals assume all Black people are poor or that they lump all Asian and Latino people together without understanding the diverse cultures within these groups further emphasizes the need for conversations on race. Additionally, it is far too common for people to think that race in America is solely about Black and White individuals.

We need conversations that delve deep into our belief systems, drawing from past and present experiences. We must embrace discomfort and acknowledge when we don’t have all the answers. 

Open Dialogue

Talking about race across racial lines may feel awkward and uncomfortable if we never do it. Often, these conversations focus solely on numbers and representation, as they feel safer, less personal, and provide a quantifiable measure of success.

Actual change must go beyond numbers because the people in your organization are more than just figures in a company photo. They want to contribute their unique talents, succeed, and help organizations thrive.

If we don’t address organizational and individual biases, assumptions, and stereotypes, and if individuals who don’t fit the leadership mold don’t feel welcome, they will leave. Pretending that everyone is the same and ignoring racial differences is a surefire way to make people feel invisible.

Meaningful Conversations

How can we have meaningful conversations about race across racial lines if we’re uncomfortable doing so?

  1. Acknowledge and embrace the potential awkwardness and discomfort that may arise initially. Denying this discomfort will only perpetuate the awkwardness and lead to avoidance of different people. Many participants in my Inclusive Leadership Coaching programs, mainly white individuals, express these sentiments.
  2. Prioritize creating a safe and trusting environment where individuals can empathize and truly listen to each other. Engaging a skilled facilitator trained in dialogue can be immensely helpful.
  3. Before starting the conversation, establish guidelines for handling disagreements, providing feedback, and responding to one another. Having these agreements in place makes the conversation flow more smoothly.
  4. Communicate your discomfort to the others involved but emphasize the importance of the conversation. Everyone should assume positive intent while acknowledging that intent doesn’t always align with impact.
  5. Be open to sharing and discussing the impact of others’ words or actions. If someone’s intent is positive, but their impact is not, provide constructive feedback that educates rather than attacks.
  6. Seek to learn and expand your understanding. If you receive feedback, listen first without becoming defensive. If something needs to be clarified, feel free to ask questions.

Improvements begin with open conversations on race. Visit our website and contact us today if you genuinely want to foster an inclusive culture where everyone can thrive beyond mere slogans and superficial politeness. Experience live how to talk about race by listening to the podcast “Everyday Conversations on Race,” 

In Conclusion: How to Talk About Race

We’re here to help transform discomfort into comfort and unite people across races.

We need conversations that delve deep into our belief systems, drawing from past and present experiences. We must embrace discomfort and acknowledge when we don’t have all the answers, and accept the unique moment is the time to begin listening to everyone we encounter. 

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Sales Tips: How to Talk About Race

  1. Upon realizing no one has all the answers is time to begin listening carefully to what others say to find the loopholes in our beliefs and learn how to talk about race.
  2. Listening is a personal, social, and business skill essential for improvements.
  3. Asking questions upon hearing something unclear or disagreeing will embolden the stance between all.
  4. Arguments never resolve anything; our best solution is to attempt to find an agreement.
  5. A friendly negotiation is essential for seeing all sides of an issue and coming to a better conclusion.
  6. Asking how other people in the conversation see a better approach and potential solution can get you and those involved on a better track.
  7. For an in-depth conversation, request a complete ‘wish list’ of the other parties to prioritize and begin trying step by step.
  8. Realize that essential effort is challenging and will require focus and inspiring others to join the cause.
  9. Chart your progress in improving how to talk about race to inspire others further.
  10. Celebrate Success!

Today’s insights are provided to help you achieve the Smooth Sale!


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Elinor Stutz International Best-Selling Author

Elinor Stutz broke through barriers long before doing so was popular. Against all the odds, she defied the theme “women can’t sell” to become the top producer at every company she ever worked for, ignoring attempts to get her to quit.

Eleven years later, I lay motionless on a stretcher with an irreparably broken neck. Two visions appearing before me, and a brilliant gold light encasing my entire body, gave me a reason to believe I would recover. I wholeheartedly knew I was about to empower audiences far and wide. At the moment, I negotiated a full recovery with the promise to be of service. The surgeon and hospital staff anointed me with the title “The Walking Miracle.”

As the CEO of Smooth Sale, Stutz adapted the motto, “Believe, Become, Empower.” Believe in yourself; Become the person you envision; Empower your audience to do the same. Stutz is on the Social Media Committee for Inclusion Allies Coalition devoted to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

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