How Do We Talk About Race?

The Phillipian_ sat down with Linda Griffith, Dean of Community and Multicultural Development, who shared her advice on how to engage in meaningful, constructive and respectful dialogue about race._

“The best way to talk about race is, I agree with Mr. Palfrey, in person. We can’t always talk about race in person and I get that, but we are a community. We are here, we live here: we are a residential community. I think we have to find safe spaces, create spaces, and we have to — many people don’t like the word ‘train’ — but we have to equip adults and students to be able to have a safe and respectful dialogue.”

**Guidelines for Conversation**

“One guideline is always using ‘I statements.’ Another thing that is really important is for people to understand the difference between intent and impact. That is huge in diversity training because someone’s intent may have been to set the record straight or to give his or her viewpoint, but understanding the impact is something I practice a lot in conversation. Another skill that is very effective is called ‘and/or both’ thinking, as opposed to ‘you think this, but this is the way it is.’ If you just change one word to ‘I see it this way, and you see it that way,’ there is a very, very slight difference, but you can hear it. I’ll give you an example: ‘That is a great dress, but it’s green,’ what’s the implication about the green? That it is problematic. When you change ‘but’ to an ‘and,’ there isn’t a bias that goes into the expression.”

**Building Vocabulary**

“I think what’s important is that students know it’s okay not to be skilled and versed at this when they enter Andover. So, how are we going to ensure that they have language? One is the start of the glossary, which I’m really excited about. You have to start with having some vocabulary and language, creating safe spaces with ‘I statements’ and with ‘and/or’ dialogue thinking and thinking about intent and impact.This also means you agree to disagree in a very respectful way.”

**The Three “H”s: Head, Heart and Hand**

“The other thing you need is to be equipped with some awareness, and I’d like to call it cultural competence. As long as we reduce race into something intellectual, we’re in trouble, and that is the critical issue here at Andover. Yes, you can be a CAMD Scholar, you can take a course on race or on the civil rights or gender issues or intersectionality, so it can definitely be academic. [But] race is beyond that. Race is our lived experiences. So if you want to take that from me and give me a stat or data or reduce it to intellectual dialogue, you just invalidated my life experience.

Whenever we do work in real diversity training, I use the three ‘H’s: you have to get it in your head, you have to have some empathy in your heart and you must change your action with your hand. So if people keep intellectualizing it, nothing is going to happen. It’s very similar to our motto that went up on the board on [Wednesday at ASM]: goodness without knowledge is feeble. We have goodness without knowledge and knowledge without goodness, but we need both. It’s got to be both. We need it on the intellectual level, and we need to have it at the heart level. If you reduce the feeling part, you have this intellectual argument, where we argue numbers and stats that prove and invalidate. What happened here is that we took a conversation that could have been about affirmative action and turned it into something that felt personalized because the school has a core value of intentional diversity. Race is a core part of our identity that we can not change. We need to stop reducing this to intellectual discourse and we need to understand it is about feeling.”


“When there’s a conversation about race, it’s cannot be reduced to black and white or black and Asian. It’s everybody, so that’s another difficulty that we get into when we say we’re going to have a conversation about race. That was one of the best parts about working with the ‘Out of the Blue’ (OOTB) team. The OOTB white students had to engage with race, and they had to be told, “You have a race and we want to hear about your race. We want you to speak about it and get to understand your race and racial history, your racialized history.” I think that’s a really big point in conversations about race, just like conversations about class. If we’re having a conversation about class, I want to talk about the upper class, elite class, middle class, low-income, working and poor. I don’t want the conversation to be just about poor people. It is far more complicated.”

**Overcoming Fear**

“The fear of making mistakes, of saying the wrong thing, of not knowing in a community that values intellect more than anything and intelligence is the other point I want to raise. Why would I engage in a conversation with you about something I know little about? Because this community values intellectualism, and I don’t have it in that area. Kids come to Andover and it’s not on their mind; it’s ‘let’s get that ‘6,’’ ‘let me get that 800 on the SAT.’ They don’t have to think about race, but when you’re an underrepresented person, you typically do. When you feel different in any way, you typically do. The only reason we are having the level of discourse we’re having right now on race and gender is because a lot of kids went out and educated themselves, and it is because social media has allowed increased access. People need to read some of the information in ‘Out of the Blue,’ outside of the stories, and I hope that gives you enough context about some ways to begin to have conversations.”