Talking About Race – Key Narrative Guidance

Talking About Race – Key Narrative Guidance

America’s conversation about race is more in the open and more present than any time since the Civil Rights movement. Which raises the question, what’s the best way to communicate about race if our goal is not just to decry racism? What’s the best way to combat the aggressive use of race to divide us? And to help people understand why racial disparities continue and what to do with them?

In talking about racism it’s helpful to think about two different kinds of racism: strategic racism and structural racism.

Strategic racism, a term coined by Ian Haney-Lopez for dog-whistle racism or coded racism, is the use of race by the powerful to divide people who have common interests in opposition to the powerful. Today, the dog-whistle has been replaced by a Twitter bullhorn.

Strategic racism has a long history in our country, all the way back to the 1600s! What we have learned is that by calling it out, we can combat it. Here’s an example, from a narrative research project called the Race Class Narrative

No matter where we come from or what our color, most of us work hard for our families. But today, certain politicians and their greedy lobbyists hurt everyone by handing kickbacks to the rich, defunding our schools, and threatening our seniors with cuts to Medicare and Social Security. Then they turn around and point the finger for our hard times at poor families, Black people and new immigrants. We need to join together with people from all walks of life to fight for our future, just like we won better wages, safer workplaces, and civil rights in our past. By joining together, we can elect new leaders who work for all of us, not just the wealthy few.

Structural racism refers to the racial barriers and injustices embedded in our institutions, our policies and our culture. Structural racism has deep historic roots, setting in place unjust policies based on race that magnify and reverberate through time and are root causes of racial disparities.

It’s often a challenge for people to see or understand the causes and working of structural racism. So it’s particularly important in addressing structural racism to be clear about its causes and to emphasize that progress can be made. Here’s an example:

Every family — Black, White and Brown — should have the security of some savings, whether to fall back on in times of an emergency, to put down a deposit on a house or help start a small business. That’s tough for a lot of Americans today and because of our history much tougher for African Americans. It’s not just that slavery started Black people off without anything, it’s a long history of discrimination, like our government denying low-cost mortgages to Black communities while providing them to White communities in the 1930s.

Today, we need to take steps to assure that every American family – no matter what color they are – has financial security. When we do that, it’s simple fairness to take specific measures that assure Black families have the opportunity to save in order to buy a house or afford college. We know we can do this; we’ve made real progress despite all the challenges in expanding opportunity, but we can’t stop now. When all of us – Black, Brown and White – can fully participate in our economy, we will build thriving communities across America.

There’s much more on how to communicate about race in these memos:
Talking About Race – Message Advice from Our Story.

Ten Lessons for Talking About Race, Racism and Racial Justice, from The Opportunity Agenda.

Who Leads Us – message guide for talking about more diverse public leadership, from Women’s Donor Network’s Reflective Democracy Campaign.

Recommendations from the Race Class Narrative project.