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Usable Knowledge

For White Students, How to Talk about Race

The first in a live video series called "Walking the Talk" — honest conversations about diversity, identity, and listening across our differences

How should white college students talk about race? What do they need to understand as they enter the conversation, and what challenges should they expect?

To explore these and other complex questions of diversity, identity, and equity, Usable Knowledge has launched a new series of video conversations, streamed live on Facebook, called Walking the Talk.  Each episode in the series will take on these questions in authentic, live conversations with educators, policymakers, and students at every level, all navigating these issues in the real world. The series is hosted by Domonic Rollins, who leads diversity and inclusion efforts at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

In the first episode of Walking the Talk, Rollins spoke with Madeline Lessing, a social work student at Wheelock College. Watch an excerpt of their live conversation, and see key takeaways below the video.

Key Takeaways for Students and Administrators

  • Being able to talk about race across racial identities is crucial — but to get there, white people often first need space to discuss race with each other, to begin to ask questions that are uncomfortable or scary.
  • When racialized incidents occur, listen to those who have been marginalized, rather than just reading news reports about that trauma. Surround yourself with a diverse range of voices, whether in person or through social media.
  • The history of racism matters in today’s conversations. White people might feel unwanted or mistrusted when engaging in discussions with people of color because of the history of whites dehumanizing or excluding. Keep that history in mind as you continue to try to build connections.
  • Recognize and reflect when you’ve said the wrong thing, or made people uncomfortable — and use that mistake as a learning moment. Keep trying.
  • Try to facilitate difficult conversations about race in less public areas — back home with older family members, or at small town events. Remember that you won’t always be praised or publicly affirmed for creating change, but that that work is still vital.

Usable Knowledge

Connecting education research to practice — with timely insights for educators, families, and communities

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