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Let’s Talk About Race: Inner Group Conversations

At Living Room Conversations, we’re known for bringing different perspectives together through conversation.

Certain issues, like racial equity, are often more effective when conversations are held within affinity groups, rather than across differences.

Both mixed group conversations and inner group conversation can be valuable and necessary based on the topic and circumstances.

Due to the intensified needs of this current moment, we’ve created three new Conversation Guides that support inner group conversations.

These Conversation Guides are:

Bringing people together across difference is absolutely essential to our mission. Yet we don’t often explore the value of inner group conversations, so our next two newsletters are going to do just that.

To help bring context and depth to our understanding, I reached out to Brialle Ringer, our Racial Equity Partner, and Becca Kearl, leader of the Guide Review Team, who are spearheading our Racial Equity work. The responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Q: What is Living Room Conversations learning about how to have more meaningful, effective conversations about race?

Becca Kearl (BK): After the death of George Floyd we saw a huge increase in the desire to have conversations around race. Our existing Race and Ethnicity conversation series made efforts to connect people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

With so many people looking to join these conversations for the first time, we revisited our offerings and realized having more resources would help reinforce a safer environment for challenging conversations.

The guides are our best resources, so looking at guide creation made sense. We had recognized the need to expand our approach to conversations around race when we connected with one of our partners, Media Done Responsibly, who had already written guides for the Black community.

There is so much value in being able to approach these conversations from different angles and lenses, so we wrote a guide for white folks as well.

Our next project is to create “conversation pathways” for people to provide multiple entry points to having conversations around race whether it’s your first time or you’ve been doing it for years.

Q: What is an inner group conversation?

BK: I also use the term affinity groups. I understand them as groups where there is a shared connection: a faith group, a racial/ethnic group, a group that shares the same political affiliation, etc.

The content of conversations can vary by the shared lens used to approach a topic. Speaking within an inner group may also allow for more authenticity and vulnerability as participants feel that connection of shared values and that they are less likely to be judged.

Q: How can inner group conversations better support Black folks, and other people of color?  

Brialle Ringer (BR): For Black Americans and people of color, we’ve had a lot of experience reflecting on how our reality is shaped by being of color. Our parents have talked to us from a young age about being treated differently because of the color of our skin, how to interact with cops if we’re stopped, and our own personal experiences of racism and microaggressions.

It’s hard to ignore something that fundamentally shapes the way we move through the world.

To be Black in America is a literal threat to one’s life.

There are things Black folks do to minimize our Blackness, anger, expressiveness in order to protect ourselves from judgment, persecution, and even violence.

It’s called code switching, the act of going from being authentic and fully expressed in our Blackness, to being more palatable and respectable for the comfort of white folks.

So it’s important to have a space to be fully, unapologetically oneself.

Q: How can inner group conversations better support White folks?

BK: As a White woman, my experience with race is radically different than the lived experience of people of color. My privilege–or unearned advantage as a White person- means I can easily avoid conversations around race and content myself with “not being a racist”.

I haven’t had to think about being white and the impact and privilege that carries.

The current atmosphere around race is challenging more White people to engage and educate themselves. I have had a lot of formal and informal conversations, book club discussions, and social media interactions around race since the death of George Floyd.

My White friends and family fall along a spectrum of understanding, experience, and belief/disbelief in racism. So many are looking for ways to learn more and be better allies.

I have also noticed the tendency to turn to the people of color in our lives for advice, but there is so much work we can do internally as a White community.

This guide is an attempt to better equip White people who may feel hesitant to engage in conversations where we may be perceived as the “bad guy”, where we may stumble because we’re unfamiliar with which terms to use or what they mean, or where we may place unnecessary emotional burdens on people of color.

Our voices are best leveraged in our own spheres of influence. A guide specifically exploring the White experience along with its privileges will hopefully create the kind of space necessary for participants to dig in and be honest about their assumptions and experiences with race.

Racism isn’t contained to overt hateful actions and opinions.

We have absorbed and internalized messages about race our whole lives and right now we are being called to pull those out and examine them. We are also being called to think about what being white in America means and how that shows up in our lives.

BR: White Americans, who have the privilege of being the dominant group in the United States, often haven’t had to grapple with what it means to be a White American. Part of the privilege and power of being the dominant group in society is that your experience is the norm.

There’s no shame if the recent racial uprisings are just bringing you into the conversation about race, we’re thrilled to have you!

It can be really valuable for White people to be in conversation with other White people, to reflect on their own experience, and build up their confidence talking about race.

For White folks wanting to support racial justice, one big way to be in action is in understanding one’s own racial experience and talking to other White people.

We often listen to those we have relationships and similarities with. So White folks have more access and power to bring other White folks into the conversation about race, than I do as a Black woman.

Talking about race with fellow White friends, family, colleagues, and community is really powerful and important.

***

Warm thanks to Brialle and Becca for sharing with us, and for pouring so much wisdom and hard work into this growing and important aspect of Living Room Conversation’s work.

Stayed tuned to our newsletter next week, where we will explore part two of this conversation.

There, Brialle will share her experiences as a Black woman in conversation space, and Becca will help us understand how these guides came out of conversations and learning from some of partner organizations.

In the meantime, help us understand your experience. We’d love to hear if you’ve tried out one of these new Conversation Guides, or if you’d had a different conversation about race lately, and how that went for you.

Always, always, always, we learn and grow alongside you.

 

Yours,
Shannon Mannon
Newsletter Editor