Relationships

Race Matters: “How Can I Talk About Race Without Getting It Wrong?”

Christine Pride

Welcome to the second Race Matters advice column, in which a white college student asks how she can best engage in race conversations with her Black friends…


Dear Race Matters,

I grew up in a very affluent area and went to a private school deep in the South. I was surrounded by huge privilege. As I got older, I wanted something different, and I wanted to be where I could understand other people’s experiences.

Now I’m in my freshman year of college studying social work. My roommate and I became friends immediately. However, our experiences have been vastly different. Her mother is white and her father is Black, so she grew up with a lot of questions about her identity. She went to a school that was the opposite from mine. There are things she has been told, been called, and has seen that I could not even begin to imagine — just because of her race.

I want to understand so desperately, but I am terrified of getting it wrong. When she talks about race, I mostly stay silent and listen. However, I don’t want her to feel as if I don’t support her or don’t want to talk about race. I just know so little and I am ashamed of that.

How can I educate myself and better support my friend? Should I actively engage in conversations about race or is it better to just listen? I want to tell my roommate how scared I am that my privileged experience has made me embarrassingly naive, but I don’t want to make the topic of race about me. How can I do better?

Rebecca


Dear Rebecca,

I was so touched by your letter and its sincerity. In reading through the mail I get at Race Matters, it always strikes me how much people’s sentiments overlap. There are many (white) folks who share your fears about talking about race — the idea of saying the wrong thing, or overstepping — as well as your confusion about how to support a friend when it comes to experiences you just can’t share.

But that fact that you have these concerns at all, and took the time to write such a heartfelt letter, tells me you’re probably doing a better job, intuitively, than you may be giving yourself credit for.

Forging a relationship with your roommate requires bravery and vulnerability (on both sides) — that’s true of friendship in general, of course, but especially true when it comes to race, which is a subject you and your friend can’t shy away from if you’re going to have a true and meaningful relationship.

I want to keep making clear in this column that I don’t speak for all Black people (*the opinions here are mine and mine alone*), but based on my personal experience, I’m willing to bet that your friend wants you to engage with her about race as much as possible. It’s helpful that you listen, attentively and empathetically when she shares with you. But verbalizing your thoughts and feelings to your friend is critical, too.

I say this because there’s a risk that your friend may misinterpret your silence as a sign that you don’t care or that you don’t want to engage (when that clearly couldn’t be further from the truth). Your skittishness risks working against you and the intimacy you desire.

Here’s a confession: One of the most infuriating things I hear as a Black woman from white colleagues or friends (and I know I’m not alone in this) is: “I feel so uncomfortable talking about race or racism.” I may plaster an understanding smile on my face, but what I’m screaming on the inside is, “Yeah, well try experiencing it.”

Which is to say, your discomfort at talking about race, understandable as it may be, can’t be more of a hurdle for you than it is for your Black friend. You can have these feelings — sure, that’s only human — but you can’t hide behind them. And you should be careful about verbalizing your discomfort, too, because that sets up a dynamic where she has to worry about your feelings in discussing her experiences, which may discourage her all together. It’s too big a burden to put on your Black friend to have to set up the perfect conditions under which any talk about race will involve no discomfort on your part and no risk of your saying the wrong thing. That’s an unfair expectation of your friend and your relationship. It’s also an impossible bar.

I know this seems like a lot. Let’s take a breath because in practice it isn’t that hard. You can do this. Let’s boil it down to some concrete advice (that’s what we’re here for after all!):

* First, accept (embrace!) the fact that it’s okay that you don’t know everything. There’s no advance homework you need to do to prepare yourself for a relationship with a Black friend — the chief requirements are the qualities of any and all friendships: openness, honesty and empathy. (Though a willingness to watch a Girlfriends marathon at the drop of a hat also helps.)

* It’s also okay that you’ve had a very different experience in life and won’t have a firsthand understanding of what your friend has gone through. If we could have intimate relationships only with people whose lives were exactly the same as ours, our pool for potential friends would be small (and boring!).

* You have to trust that even if you say the wrong thing one time (you might!) that your friend isn’t going to categorically cancel you. Instead, it could be an opportunity for her to share how you can support her better (and vice versa). That’s how friendships grow.

* I encourage you to prompt these conversations. Because here’s another confession: sometimes it feels, as a Black person, that you’re the only one “allowed” to bring up race, or as if it’s solely your responsibility to initiate any conversations about the subject. But race affects everybody and everything, so it’s just as important for you to be proactive… even if it’s an article or observation or movie that serves as an opening to discuss with your friend. You can also ask questions — not by interrogating your friend, but in the same way you might want to understand her relationship with her parents better, or her ex-boyfriend. Ask for personal stories instead of asking more general questions about race theory or current affairs. She may not have a review ready of the latest Ta-Nehisi Coates but everyone loves to talk about themselves and how they have experienced the world. You learn about the people closest to you, slowly, over time and with a sincere curiosity.

Bear in mind too, that this friendship requires bravery of your friend, as well. It takes a lot for a Black person to share intimate, sometimes painful experiences. Her biggest fears (speaking again, from my own experience) are probably that you’ll minimize or diminish what she says, or get so appalled and upset about the injustices she experiences that she ends up comforting you. So, do aim to avoid those classic pitfalls.

The good news is that for all your worries about the minefield of confronting race and racism (and any hard topic, really), the more you engage in these discussions, the easier it will get. The more it comes up, the more it will organically become a fluid part of your conversations. You’ll get braver about asking questions and sharing and so will she and before you know it, you’ll have inside jokes about washcloths and leg washing.

Ultimately: You have to go there. You have to lay bare your vulnerabilities and say (actually say the words, out loud): I want to talk about this, and I see you and I’m here for you and there’s nothing you can’t tell me and I won’t always say or do the right thing but I love you.

Those are the elements of friendship that are extra important when making your relationship with your Black friends grow and flourish, but they’re also not race specific! Try ’em on your white friends, too.


Thoughts? Please feel free to email me with any questions or feedback at racematters@cupofjo.com. Thank you!

Christine Pride is a writer, book editor and content consultant. Her debut novel, We Are Not Like Them, written with Jo Piazza will be published by Atria in 2021. She lives in Harlem, New York. She also wrote the Cup of Jo post Five Things I Want to Tell My White Friends. Feel free to email her with your questions at racematters@cupofjo.com or connect with her on Instagram @cpride.

P.S. Christine tackles another race question, and how to raise race-conscious children.

(Photo by Christine Han for Cup of Jo.)

  1. E says...

    I love that Christine addressed this letter in the form of broader points and also from her own personal experience. As a white person, one of the things that I think I do is to worry about talking to a Black person in the abstract, but that forgets all their individual experiences and feelings. It’s a balance. I also love that she emphasized that (at least in this situation) it’s based in friendship, and the skills you practice make you a better friend in any relationship.

  2. ST says...

    Hi all,

    This is a beautiful letter and such a beautiful response. From my perspective as a WOC, I think it’s really important for all of us to do the anti-racist work to mitigate the emotional labor placed on others in constantly having to explain the big and small things about living in a white world when you are not white. I get so drained when a lovely friend with a pure heart asks me basic questions that they could have googled. It’s really frustrating to me to feel like I’m always doing the work on top of bearing the burden. The more work someone has done on their own about these issue, not only is the convo more in-depth, but I feel like I can get deeper into issues because there is some understanding between both of us. And I generally appreciate when the work is done in earnest. We’re all going to make mistakes. I think back to times when I was tired and shut down. I have told people to google things out of exasperation, which may have discouraged them from asking at all. I would never want that. I think we all have to help each other trudge along this important path with many potholes, but with the understanding that our work is sometimes different.

  3. L says...

    Well this was a truly lovely exchange – the heartfelt question and the very generous and enlightening response. I really want to live in a world where we can have more of these! I appreciate this community so so much for helping lead the way forward and especially during such a dark time when it feels like there is a large contingent of Americans that are giving in to their very worst instincts. I’m also a white woman who was raised in the south and I will say that sometimes the weight of the history and on-going injustices feels crushing. But as someone said so pointedly above it isn’t about us. The work of our lifetimes is working toward building a better world than the one that some of our ancestors built. It is a huge job. Thank you Rebecca, Christine and Joanna. Sending light and love to all in this incredible community.

  4. Tricia says...

    Thanks for this practical and generous advice, Christine! Looking forward to reading more of your columns.

  5. Lynne says...

    Thank you so much for this thoughtful response! So much to think about and practice. Thank you!

  6. Abby Wolner says...

    I love the part about initiating the conversations. In a similar vein, I think speaking up about racism that you witness has the power to build trust. Sometimes as white people we pretend we’re not sure if what we just saw was fucked up, when really we know, and the Black people in the room DEFINITELY know. The more you practice speaking up about those things regardless of who is in the room (i.e., beware of performing allyship), the better you will get at it.

  7. Caitlin Marshall says...

    Thank you so much for this essay! I eagerly look forward to more.

  8. Rosalie says...

    This is such a beautiful response to this question. Thank you!

  9. Michelle says...

    Christina thank you for such a loving and deep response. I look forward to each column of yours.

    • Michelle says...

      Sorry Christine.

  10. Brenna says...

    oops, wrong addressee!

  11. Barbara says...

    Thank you, Christine, for this column. Since Rebecca says that she is a college student, may I also encourage her (and her roommate!) to take a class (or more) in Black Studies and/or race and ethnicity/racism with faculty of color who have scholarly training and experiences and perspectives grounded in these communities? I guarantee she will learn aspects of U.S. history and experiences that she did not learn in HS; as a future social worker, it will be invaluable to learn from both friends and scholarship. It allows her to take a proactive role in her own anti-racism education, which supports her friend too.
    It’s hard to talk about race if you’ve never been taught the intergenerational trauma of race/racism in our society – and that’s most of us. I wish them the best – because they are our future.

  12. Kim says...

    Thank you for answering these letters!

  13. AMK says...

    So thankful for you, Christine 💕

  14. Gerry Lopez says...

    Thank you so, so much for this. Definitely needed to read this today. I sincerely hope this column continues.

  15. Liz says...

    Thank you so much Christine for putting your time and effort into writing this column. Your empathy and generosity shows and I am grateful for it.

  16. Heather says...

    This is so very helpful, thank you for posting this

  17. CM says...

    I am so grateful for this column and Christine’s generous advice.
    I have a (sort of?) follow-up question:

    As a white person, in having these meaningful and connective conversations, I always wonder how to get things wrong (I’m going to be unlearning racism all my life! I’m gonna get stuff wrong!) without harming my friend/person I’m talking with? I don’t want my learning through fumbling to hurt someone who I care about. I’m curious how Christine and other folks think about this.

    • Brenna says...

      I wouldn’t be surprised if this question isn’t race specific, so I’ll maybe venture to add my own 2 white cents.

      I like it when people bring up certain uncomfortable elephant-in-the-room topics that pertain to me. It’s refreshing if people aren’t tip-toeing and it’s a relief to get a chance to express my own thoughts and feelings. It does suck when someone is really enthusuastically engaged but totally not getting it. If their conversation style is too steamroller-y I feel like all I’ve done is make them more certain of their misconceptions! It’s nice when people freely reflect back what they’re hearing, but also throw in a “would you say it’s like that, or no?” here and there, and then LISTEN.

    • Janecia says...

      One thing as a black woman I really respect is if you pose a question rather than be defensive. So let’s say you read an article or heard a news story and you want to talk about it – you can say ”Hey I saw this and this is what I thought, what do you think?” or ”hey I saw this, what do you think? And then after they share – you can say ”my immediate first thought was this…” And you can talk through it. To me at least the most important thing is that you recognize you may be wrong, be open to having your mind changed and you LISTEN. Understand that you don’t get to tell black or other POC people what their experience is. Having open dialogue is the most important thing. I don’t want my white friends to never talk about race with me or be timid in doing so- my life experience is 100% impacted by race. Not talking about it makes me feel like you don’t see or don’t WANT to see what’s happening in the world.

    • CM says...

      Thank you Brenna and Janecia for your generous responses <3
      Janecia, your advice on asking questions/remaining curious is so helpful- thank you. It's such a good mental check-in for me (and I imagine for other white people) to remember your words: your life experience is 100% impacted by race. My engagement and acknowledgment of race and racism isn't going to bring up something you or any other person of color doesn't already know.
      Thank you, thank you. So grateful to this community.

  18. Amy says...

    This is my favorite feature on cup of jo. So insightful. Thank you Cup of Jo and Christine.

  19. Michaela says...

    This is such a beautiful and thoughtful response. I completely empathize with the letter-writer- I too, am so afraid to “get it wrong” and make things worse by speaking when I should just be listening. This advice is so helpful! Thank you!

  20. Annie says...

    Really appreciate this column and Christine’s insights.

  21. Keelia says...

    Love this compassionate advice. And I learned something too. I’ve often felt I’m not “allowed” to broach the subject of race with my black and brown friends, almost as a means of recognizing that I don’t know the first thing about what it’s like to be in their shoes. It never occurred to me that that could be a burden that I am putting on them. Thank you for another interesting perspective.

  22. Annie says...

    This was such an insightful and helpful post. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Sara says...

    Thank you for the thoughtful and patient advice, Christina. I look forward to reading more from you

    • CEW says...

      Probably a typo, but just in case, her name is Christine. :) (My sister is also named Christine and gets the -a mixup a lot so I’m hyperaware of it, haha.)

  24. Sage says...

    I really appreciate this post and am happy this column is now a regular part of CoJ. Thanks for helping to educate, especially at a time when we can’t meet each other in person.

    Serious question: do responses like “I see you” or “I’m here” ever seem, I guess, contrived to others? Not only specifically in conversations about race, but even when I see mental health talked about online, it feels like the focus is on how to project that you’re a good friend/human rather than on the actual listening and understanding part. In the past, when I’ve talked to some people about being depressed, I’ve gotten the “That seems hard” response and while, yes, it’s better than a “just be happy instead :)” text, it still comes across like a brush-off IMO. Like you’re going through the motions of interacting without being genuine and present. There’s just a spark missing when the words feel rehearsed. I worry that instead of internalizing what we’re hearing from people of colour and engaging in an active process of learning, the liberal white community is focused more on believably posturing as Good Allies.

    BUT – it goes without saying that a well-intentioned “you have space here to talk” is much, much better than a total dismissal of other opinions. I’m curious about, not critical of, the advice.

    • Emie says...

      It’s interesting you bring up the phrase “That seems hard”. That is a “textbook” phrase I remember learning during my psych rotation in nursing school. There were more of these “techniques” which I don’t remember since it was many moons ago. At one point in time I was seeing a therapist. She used these “techniques” in such a “textbook” manner that they sounded unnatural. I promptly found a different therapist.

  25. SKW says...

    I really feel like I need to bookmark this and re-read it weekly. I can wholly relate to the questioner, and Ms Pride’s response is so good, generous, simple, and still feels hard (that’s due to me and my learning curve, not the author) — and it should because it *is* hard work. Thank you for your energy, patience, and perspective.

  26. Jessica says...

    *drops everything to start Girlfriends marathon.

  27. Julie says...

    “And you should be careful about verbalizing your discomfort, too, because that sets up a dynamic where she has to worry about your feelings in discussing her experiences, which may discourage her all together. It’s too big a burden to put on your Black friend to have to set up the perfect conditions under which any talk about race will involve no discomfort on your part and no risk of your saying the wrong thing.” This is so helpful!

  28. Lila says...

    Christine Pride is so patient! I wish I had that kind of equanimity. Bottom line : don’t make this about you

    • I try on the patience front, Lila! But I have my moments too– don’t we all? I think it’s important to remember that people are entitled to a range of emotions– frustration, anger, sadness, fear– when it comes to race. (Especially black women who are too often “policed for anger”) I’m wired for optimism, and inclined towards compassion as my default but I also don’t want to be too pollyanna either– it’s a tough balance. But I really feel called to dig into these hard conversations and from a place of patience and understanding (so I am happy to know I’m succeeding there based on your comments). But we should all be mindful that everyone has a different approach, perspective, mood, even depending on the day. :)

    • Elle says...

      Christine, I appreciate this important note you made, that even though you tend towards one approach to talking with white people about race, it is no less valid for Black women to react with anger and frustration, and that those reactions shouldn’t be policed. Thank you for this thoughtful article and your work!

    • Agnes says...

      I agree Elle. One of my very dearest sister friends for the past 19 years is black and I’m white. When she ranted to me once with true anger about the dominant culture she lives within but doesn’t feel part of, I felt privileged that she would show that to me and could only validate how deep her hurt must run. Please speak up. I’m a little disheartened with so few comments here. Please let’s talk and please speak your truth, people. It’s extremely valid and you need to be heard. I’m willing to listen.

    • L says...

      Yes. I think a key part of all this is that all of us no matter the color need to recognize and give room for the fact that there is so much emotion attached to all this and allow ourselves to feel it. It doesn’t work in the long run to shut it down. There is SO much to be angry about. There is SO much to feel guilty about generationally. And of course there is a lot of fear out there. Somehow we have to deal with this. It’s so hard to address and even now I feel like I’m in the weeds because I’m putting all of it on an equal plane which is not fair. Respect, Lila, for being so succinct. I tried to write more but you’re right.
      Thanks for your patience and all your work, Christine – creating this space is so important.

  29. A. says...

    I clicked on the link about washcloths and leg washing. The article brought up an old memory from about fifteen years ago that I had not considered since it happened. I was about 10 years old and my mom was volunteering with our local refugee resettlement agency. A young refugee woman had been informed by her new boss that colleagues were complaining she smelled bad. She was embarrassed and frustrated because she already practiced good hygiene such as showering and brushing her teeth each day. My mom sympathized with her and then took us to the mall so the young woman could buy perfume. They spent a while searching for just the right scent that would give off a sense of cleanliness while being subtle (so as to not create new complaints from her colleagues for over doing it). I remember thinking that was a bizarre complaint and I didn’t think she smelled bad.
    Now, I understand it was racism.

    • Vish Gupta says...

      Ugh. This made me sad to read, but also hopeful based on what your mom said. As a child I moved to America from an Asian country and was so nervous about being labeled smelly. I stopped carrying traditional healthy meals my mom lovingly prepared due to complaints about their smell, and took white wonder bread PB and J’s to school instead. I slathered myself in perfume the minute I was old enough to get my hands on it. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self it does get better.

  30. Agnès says...

    As a french person I find really interesting to listen to these important conversations you’re having right now. We have a different history but we also need to have those conversations to understand each other and I am learning a lot. Thanks.

    • isavoyage says...

      D’accord avec toi Agnès !
      Et il nous faudrait un cupofjo.fr (unetassedekawa ?) !

  31. J says...

    Thank you! This is really helpful.

  32. Martha Patterson says...

    I’m an educator, and equity training has been a huge and long overdue must for all of us…here’s some info from a training I attended last week. What’s really important, is make sure you initiate the conversations, educate yourself, and know it will likely be uncomfortable. The fact that you are wanting to start the work is a huge step! Ground Rules for Courageous Conversations:
    Stay Engaged
    Speak Your Truth
    Listen for Understanding
    Honor Confidentiality
    Expect and Accept Non-closure

    • Brenna says...

      Those phrases like “safe space” and “I see you” seem unnatural to me, too, and I would never use them. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a regional thing.

  33. Annie says...

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Christine. Thank you CoJ.

  34. Lauren says...

    Such beautiful and kind advice. It is an act of solidarity and allyship to engage in the difficult conversations of race. If it’s done with love and some self-awareness, it will be enough to start.

    • Bee says...

      An important and concrete step (for yourself and your friend) that you can take is to join an anti-racist organization, there are ones geared specifically towards white people, like SURJ: https://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/

      As you actively tackle racism through the support of an organization, you will also probably feel more at ease talking about race bc you’re also living your values. Sometimes I think white people treat interpersonal exchanges with BIPOC with such fear of making mistakes bc they don’t have a sustained outlet/vehicle for taking action.

      I’m a WOC who teaches ethnic studies at the university level. The last thing I want is for white women to be wracked with fear and guilt. There’s too much work to be done. Check out SURJ, it’s a good group.

  35. Nadine says...

    Thank you for writing Christine. It’s a wonderful and thoughtful answer. I’m looking forward to be reading more from you.

  36. Rachel says...

    Thank you so much! This is so thorough and so helpful.

  37. Thank you. We need to hear these exchanges more often than we think,

  38. This was incredible.
    I will be sharing this with so many. Thank you. ♥️

  39. Elizabeth says...

    Wow, this is such a generous and thoughtful response to this (probably very common) question, and will really stick with me.
    Thank you Christine! I am so glad you are writing for Cup of Jo and can’t wait to read more!

  40. joy says...

    I love this column and I love the way COJ is being intentional about being the change we want to see–more contributors of color, more diversity of background and perspective in the beauty uniforms, a good mix of deep and sometimes difficult topics with the fluffier stuff. Please keep it up.

    • Thank you Joy– I’m also so happy to be apart of this amazing community at Cup Of Jo. I agree it strikes such a rich spectrum of lighter fare (I live for My Beauty Uniform!) and the deeper stuff– which reflects the balance in many of our lives: People mag and the Atlantic. :)

  41. em says...

    thank you for sharing your wisdom, Christine. more of this, please!

  42. caitlin says...

    Thank you for this article, Christine. I loved reading this and I’m sure I’ll be coming back to it again and again.

  43. Margaret says...

    This was really helpful, thanks.

  44. Heather says...

    This tackled the question so clearly – broadly addressing every complex and nuanced viewpoint while ending with concise, actionable guidance. Exactly what I would hope for in an advice column! And exactly the sort of subject I appreciate being discussed – thanks for helping to build us in to better humans!

    • I so appreciate these kind words, Heather. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment too!

  45. Anni says...

    This is great. Thank you

  46. laura says...

    looking forward to more posts on this column! thank you Christine for providing your valuable perspective.

  47. Megan says...

    I love this. Thank you.

  48. Elisabeth says...

    I love Christine’s columns — thank you to Jo and Co for hosting them here.

  49. Kim Rhodes says...

    I appreciate you highlighting the perspective of color. I mean this respectfully, and I hope it comes across that way. Why isn’t Christine Han given the top byline here? I just feel like it’s really important to also give those writers their due credit. If I’m misunderstanding, I’d love to hear more about the reasoning.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Oh my mistake! I set up the post and forgot to change the byline — I do that more often than not, forehead slap! FYI, Christine Pride is our wonderful columnist and Christine Han is our beloved photographer. Thank you! Xo

    • Kim Rhodes says...

      Thank you for the reply Jo! Really appreciate it. Keep up the wonderful blog!!

    • AMK says...

      Thank you! That was the first thing I thought too. So glad it was corrected 🙏🏽

    • L says...

      I noticed that too. Thanks for acknowledging the mistake and fixing it Joanna :)

  50. Melanie B says...

    Thank you for sharing the link to the article about Washcloths and Leg-Washing. The author’s research gave voice to thoughts I’ve had subconsciously- proud announcements of infrequent bathing as status declaration- but haven’t isolated outside of my mind before. I appreciate that cold-water-on-the-face moment very much and applaud the objectivity required to make that connection.

  51. Echoing Lena Cruz and Amanda H above – Thank you, CoJ team, for providing this space, and thank you, Christine, for sharing your truth and wisdom. As a (non-black) WOC, I resonate so much with both the question and the answer. What helps me get unstuck is the belief that love – and friendship is very much a powerful form of love – requires each person to be seen. Also, reframing the question to: How can I talk about race, knowing that I WILL get it wrong sometimes, and how can I stay committed to the connection instead of wallow in a self-pitying/mortified ball? Finally, I come back to this Rachel Naomi Remen quote frequently:
    “Perhaps the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.”

  52. Sarah says...

    Thank you so much for this. I’ve also been asking this question in my own life about how to “go there” with friends who are black and wanting open dialogue about race to be part of our friendship. It is complex and messy but that is what feels required to be in authentic relationship.

  53. SD says...

    Fantastic post – enlightening and very helpful! (A bit confused though as to why the byline gives Joanna’s name.) Hope to continue seeing more of this column :)

  54. Claire says...

    I feel so grateful to have found this site back in 2007 and see it grow and evolve over time. This article is such a valuable resource to me and I know it will be to all who read it.

    Christine, you write your advice in the most loving, tender way that a tricky situation feels all the more approachable. I know this isn’t an easy task and I am so grateful to you for sharing your wisdom.

    Thank you, Christine for your beautiful advice, to Rebecca for the courage to publish your letter, and for Joanna for bringing this community together. xoxo

  55. wg says...

    Whew – GREAT topic so sensitively presented and addressed.

    I would like to suggest discussing the topic by setting the stage with verbal agreement that any discussion on this topic happens within the framework of a “safe space” to facilitate mutual learning and growth. I call it a “conversation circle” and broach the topic at hand by actually stating: “I’d like to open a conversation circle about . . . ” and we both already know this means “safe space” because that was clarified the first time we did this. This way if one of us says the ‘wrong’ thing we know it is part of the process of the conversation to clarify it.

  56. Kat v says...

    What an amazing article!!! Thank you Christina.

    FYI, it’s currently crediting Joanna as the author of this article.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Sorry, fixed!

  57. Jean says...

    Thank you for this!

  58. Beautiful column. It’s an honor to consciously create a world where more black women are given the space, respect, care, and support they not only deserve but have already so generously offered the rest of the world for so long.

  59. jean says...

    Thank you for this column, it’s so meaningful for all.
    Jean

  60. Lena Cruz says...

    I continue to be so proud of this site and what you have built here, joanna.
    Its articles like this that make me (a black woman who had to develop the confidence to create safety in spaces not always intended for people who look like me) feel totally sound when I look to your site first for recommendations or thoughts on any little thing. Thank you for making me feel seen.

  61. Amanda H says...

    I love this column! Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Christina. I work with university students and was also touched by the thoughtful letter. Your advice “Ultimately: You have to go there.” rings so true. White supremacy harms not just Black people, it harms All of us. We All have a vested interest in talking about racism and white supremacy so we can work together to end it and create something better. Thanks again for your words and time.

    • Everyone in the world needs this! Racial, cultural and religious polarisation is very much a part of my childhood growing up in Malaysia. We could definitely use more kindness, empathy and sincere curiosity to build bridges.
      However this post actually resonated with me in a surprisingly different way: over the last few years, I’ve started ‘coming out’ to leave my fundamentalist Christian faith and upbringing, to explore atheism and agnosticism. But my current social network is still very deeply embedded with Christian friends from the church I attended. I often feel somewhat trapped or muzzled in conversations with them because I don’t want to offend or hurt their feelings. I feel that everything about my decision to step away from those beliefs would probably be insulting to them. I have become more withdrawn and just paddle around small talk whenever I meet these friends in various social gatherings. It can feel so suffocating often times. As I read this article, I could so relate to how Rebecca’s roommate might be feeling (even though mine is not an issue about race). I want to be brave and let my real thoughts out. I want the courage to give my friends the benefit of the doubt that they can be open and curious. I want to be brave and open to receive their kindness and empathy.