Starting a Conversation on Race: Questions to Ask
You know how if you live in a city, you’re sometimes less likely to do the touristy stuff? So as a Chicagoan, you might realize at some point you’ve never ascended the Sears (okay, Willis) Tower or hopped aboard the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier or built a personalized Gravitron at the Museum of Science and Industry.
The same thing might happen with a friend, but don’t let it. Maybe it’s someone you work with or run with or golf with or see movies with; when you think about how their racial identity has affected them, you just don’t know. And if you don’t know that, there could very well be an entire side of them you don’t know.
As awkward as it may seem, people often do want to talk about their experiences with race. The keys are sensitivity, vulnerability, trust and just good listening. But how do you start? What do you say?
First, invite someone into a conversation who’s a different race from you. Second, choose somewhere unintimidating, like a coffee shop or a pair of comfy couches. Third, promise each other you won’t judge each other or interrupt. Just ask a question and let the other person talk. Ask follow-up and clarification questions only when the other person is done talking. Finally, ask each other beforehand for grace, forgiveness and gentle correction should you inadvertently offend.
Here are some questions to help you get the conversation started:
1.) When did you first become aware of your racial identity?
2.) How comfortable were you when you discovered you were white/black/Latino/Native American/Asian American/mixed-race?
3.) Under what circumstances did you realize you’re a racial minority? Or if you’re white, when did you realize your race may have given you certain privileges?
4.) When was the first time someone hurt you because of your race? What were the circumstances? What were other emotional wounds you haven’t forgotten?
5.) How often did you see people who looked like you in history and literature in school? When was your first opportunity to learn about the identity and history of people who looked like you?
6.) What systems or structures do you feel like are oppressive you because of your race?
7.) How do you react when you see racial minorities in positions of influence and power?
8.) How would you assess how Christians are doing in bridging racial divides? What about in standing up to racially unjust incidents or systems?
9.) What more would you like to see the church do when it comes to racial justice and reconciliation?
10.) What privilege(s) do you have, be it race, class, experiential, educational or something else? If you have certain privileges, what’s your personal responsibility to serve those who don’t have those same privileges?
11.) What responsibilities do you believe society has in correcting, atoning for and/or repairing past and current wrongs that have been rooted in racism?
(Think about such history as slavery, Native American land removal, Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration, Japanese internment, etc…)
12.) When did you feel like pain you experienced because of your race started being understood by someone who's not of your race?
13.) What are instances you’ve experienced of healing from interpersonal or systemic hurts wrought by racist comments, attitudes or structures?
14.) How do you feel like you can stand in solidarity with others who are experiencing oppression?
Resources: After engaging in conversation with a friend, perhaps you could take a field trip together. Or take your family to learn about a culture that’s not your own. Chicago is home to a bevy of ethnic neighborhoods that continue to celebrate their history and culture. Here are a few suggestions of places to visit and engage across race and culture:
Question: The Cell Phone Test: How inclusive and diverse is your social circle? Take out your cell phone and scroll through your contacts. Are the majority of the people in your phone the same race or ethnicity as you?
Back to Mosaic Main Page