Discussing Race, Racism, and Anti-racism During Black History Month

In Blog, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion by Fatima Dainkeh

Many of us might find ourselves asking: how can we honor or celebrate Black History Month this year? As a facilitator, I think that having honest, guided conversations that lead to action is one way to honor Black History Month. I’ve seen companies bring in guest speakers, support black owned businesses, donate to organizations, etc. While all of that is important, I also think that having conversations with employees can support us in making sure that our external efforts align with our internal efforts. One way to do that is to open a dialogue to talk about the construction of race, the impact of racism, and how we can adopt an anti-racist framework to dismantle racism in our workplace and beyond. 

Of course this isn’t easy, especially if you’re discussing these topics in the workplace. However, if you’re ready to take the next step forward, you can start thinking of ways to incorporate this within structures you already have. For example, you can send a calendar invite to employees and block off one day out of the week where employees can come together to discuss certain prompts, if you have an employee resource group (ERG) you can structure the next few meetings to align with Black History Month, or you can expand team meeting times for those who may not be able to meet after work hours. Below are guiding questions you can use to structure your conversations.

The following questions are categorized by the ways racism manifests in our society and workplaces. I’ve used the 4 I’s (ideological, internalized, interpersonal, and institutional) of oppression framework to help have deeper conversations. You may want to share this with employees beforehand in case they have additional questions they want to discuss. 

Note: These questions are best answered when facilitated by a person or group of people who have facilitation experience and a deep understanding about issues related to privilege, identity, power, and racism. It’s important that individuals and groups create guidelines and establish trust with one another before having these conversations. If you’re interested in facilitating conversations related to diversity, equity, and inclusion and are in need of support and guidance, learn more about our leading DEI conversations program.

Ideological – the stories, narratives, and beliefs about race

  • What did you learn about your race when growing up? 
  • What did you learn about other racial groups when growing up? 
  • Where or who did you receive this information from?
  • Do you still experience or witness these ideologies? If so where? 
  • How have these ideologies shown up in your past or present workplace?
  • In what ways does our company perpetuate these ideologies?

Internalized- acceptance of narratives about racial superiority and inferiority 

  • What were you made to believe about your racial group?
  • What narratives about your racial group did you accept/think was normal growing up?
  • Which internalizations are still with you, if any? 
  • Which internalizations have you let go of, if any?
  • How do internalizations about race and racism show up for you at work? 

Interpersonal- our attitudes and behaviors that manifest into bias, discrimination, etc.

  • What is your understanding of racism? 
  • What advantages have you experienced because of racism? 
  • What disadvantages have you experienced because of racism?
  • How has your understanding about your racial group impacted your relationship with colleagues from a different racial group?
  • What would our relationships look like/feel like if we could move beyond barriers? 
  • What do I gain/lose if I address negative racial attitudes and biases that may be affecting my relationships? 

Institutional- policies, procedures and norms that uphold racist attitudes 

  • How do you talk about race and racism at our company, if at all? 
  • What has been your company’s response to the recent social unrest and Black Lives Matter movement?
  • Were you satisfied with this response? Why or why not?
  • What is your understanding of anti-racism/dismantling racism?
  • What are you doing right as a company to help dismantle racism? Where do you have opportunities for growth?
  • What next steps would you like to see at your company? 

While these questions are not an exhaustive list, it could be a start or continuation for companies working to become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. To learn about additional ways you can honor and celebrate Black History month, check out our latest video.