Review: Speaking of Race: Why We Need to Talk About Race-and How to Do It Effectively

Speaking of Race: Why We Need to Talk About Race-and How to Do It Effectively Speaking of Race: Why We Need to Talk About Race-and How to Do It Effectively by Celeste Headlee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great deal of people know that racism--individual, cultural, and structural--exist in numerous ways within the United States and have known this for a long while. But having effective conversations about racism to build understanding, empathy, and even action, rarely occur. There are many reasons for this from current politics and political discourse, to mediums of communication, to conceptions about how the world works and history.  But a big inhibitor to genuine conversations and possible change resides in how we have those conversations and Headlee lays down the different elements that we need if we plan to have conversations about racism rather than talk about racism.  Throughout her book, she points to research-based approaches that enhance the ability for people to engage in complex conversations around controversial topics.  She provides examples, tips, and insights about how to improve these conversations.  What strikes most powerfully without actually being said by Headlee is that the personal is political and so to have conversations about big topics, we actually have to be personal, connect with people and their lives. At the same time, we also have to know our own triggers, enter into conversations with good faith, and try to keep it grounded in the lives experiences of people. None of which is to say the larger context doesn't matter but that to talk about hard things, the further out we draw the conversation, the more abstract it becomes and the harder it can be to maintain mutual understanding in any coherent way.  She highlights the importance and power of using genuine curiosity, active listening, and humanizing elements to connect with others--not with the goal of changing people's minds (a sure-fire way to make things worse) but with an intention to understand and share your own understanding.  It's both a challenging and empowering book for folks who are deeply interested in social justice but often, talk about what's wrong with "them" and not positively contribute to addressing the challenges.

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