How do you approach conversations about race and racism in your food system-related work/volunteerism/studies?

If you have not already seen it, or even if you have, watch the Jay Smooth TEDx Talk – “How I learned to stop worrying and love discussing race.”

Then on a scale of 0-5, rate how comfortable you are talking about race and racism:
0 = I would rather not talk about race/racism.
1 = I am very uncomfortable talking about race/racism.
2 = I am usually uncomfortable talking about race/racism.
3 = I am sometimes uncomfortable talking about race/racism.
4 = I am usually comfortable talking about race/racism.
5 = I am very comfortable talking about race/racism.

How comfortable are you talking about race with those with whom you work most closely in the food system? (If you did the Challenge last year, how does your answer this year compare with your response last year? If different, what has contributed to that difference?) What are the implications? How might you become more comfortable talking with others about race and racism?

 
Also take a look at the Courageous Conversations Compass from Glenn Singleton, which was created to help people understand how we each process and engage with information about race. It is a way to understand one another’s opinions and beliefs. According to the compass, there are 4 ways that people deal with race: Emotional, Intellectual, Moral, and Social. How do you typically deal with and enter into conversations about race and racism?

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33 thoughts on “How do you approach conversations about race and racism in your food system-related work/volunteerism/studies?”

  1. As a Dominican immigrant, my conversations about race are social and doing most of the time. Although I like to approach conversations from an intellectual scholarly point of view to see how scholars reflected on race and how racism impacts the human experience of those being affected. For example, Dominican Immigrants might consider themselves white, but in the American context they are often perceived as black (Marger).The racial factor has also affected my group since most identity themselves as “mulatto” or “black”. Dark-skinned dominicans have often encountered ethnic antagonism equal in the form and degree to that suffered by African Americans (Marger).

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    1. Vanessa, thank you for sharing this! Stepping outside of our comfort zone and into the other areas of the Compass increases our ability to stay engaged in these conversations. Yes, skin color often knows no ethnicity only shades. Continue to speak your truth in these courageous conversations. Here are the other Agreements to make with self and other that will support you through: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B4bdePXsZTaERHk1eWpoaVRFSDA Welcome to the Challenge!

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  2. On a scale of 0-5 I would put myself at a 4 when I am doing well. As an introvert it can be hard for me to bring my own internal conversation to others. I would like to learn strategies to get myself closer to being a 5 all the time.

    I think I tend to connect most closely with the Moral and Intellectual points on the Courageous Conversations Compass – again likely leaning into myself to deduct and find solutions that reflect my own beliefs and actions. I work closely within a Anti-Racist/Anti-Bias team for a local cooperatively owned grocery store and in that work I certainly dip into the feeling and doing of the Emotion and Social points. These are less natural for me and can be draining/tiring though I often feel more personally fulfilled after taking such actions.

    I’m comfortable communicating that Anti-Racist work is a priority for me personally in any food justice/food systems work and I often use the willingness of others to connect around these topics as an indicator of overall health in a working relationship. I believe building a critical mass is part of the work and those who are not ready to have conversations about how racial identity and equity play out in the food system will come along at their own pace. I try to remember that everyone is on their own journey with race and their racial identity and it may not mirror my own experience.

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    1. Randall, thank you for so openly sharing your reflections on the Compass. Acknowledging that we all have our journey to equity is such an authentic and humbling place to begin! It allows us to makes space for mistakes and missteps, expecting and accepting non-closure, even for our selves. If not 5 every time, we learn something new about ourselves and others…we stay engaged, we stay awake.

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  3. On a scale of 0-5, I am a 3 when it comes to talking about race and racism with those who I work most closely in the food system. As Jay Smooth mentioned in his TED Talk, racism isn’t black or white. People may have unconscious prejudice perceptions without even realizing it, which makes racism more of a gray area of discussion. Smooth explained how if you made a mistake or said something that may have perceived you to be racist then people automatically see you as racist, which isn’t necessarily true. Discussing racism can be difficult due to the possibility of offending someone even if what you are saying had no intention of coming off as racist. I typically enter a conversation about race and racism from a moral perspective in hopes of not offending anyone. Talking to one another more about racism and race will allow us to understand each other more and to work on our misconceptions of the topic.

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    1. Valerie, thank you for your reflection! I too seem to enter in from the moral perspective, yet can move swiftly around the Compass a bit, even in the same conversation. The Compass diagram reminds me that we must remain engaged and fully present. We may be having the moral conversation while others are having their intellectual one that need both our contributions to learn from. Speak your truth!

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  4. I am a 3 or 4 on how comfortable I am with talking about race and racism. I am usually comfortable talking about race and racism; however, being Asian, it sometimes feels awkward when someone asks or comments on my own race with a stereotypical tone—even if they do not have a negative intent.

    At the moment, I study mostly with other dietetics students who are predominantly white. I’m not necessarily uncomfortable with talking about race with them, but it does not come up very often. When it does come up, it is sometimes hard to talk about because most of the students in dietetics are not of minority races. I usually approach these conversations with moral and intellectual thinking. The more I read and talk about race and racism, the more I think this way. I feel that doing this challenge will make me more active in speaking up about “subtle hints of racism”. As Jay Smooth would say, an individual cannot be somewhat prejudice—either you are or you aren’t, and I think talking about race and racism in conversations with those around us is essential to the improvement of how society treats different races.

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  5. I am a 3-4 on the scale of how comfortable I am talking about racism. The topic of racism does not usually come up in my day to day life, however, if it does come up, I don’t shy away from it. If I am in a conversation about racism, I am very conscious about what I am saying because I do not want to say the wrong thing and accidentally offend someone. As a student at the University of New Hampshire, I am surrounded by the mostly white people, so the topic of racism does not come up often. However, this challenge has gotten me to think about what I would say if this topic of conversation did come up and I am more aware about how this topic makes people feel.

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    1. Brianna, the more you step into this, the more ways you will find to bring the conversation forward. Welcome and thank you for sharing your reflections.

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  6. I am probably a 3 in talking about race/racism, and this is mostly because I don’t think racism is as obvious to me as it is to others. I also don’t want to hurt anyone or bring up sensitive topics for some people, so it is often something that I try to avoid. I might become more comfortable talking with others about race/racism by becoming more knowledgeable about the less obvious examples of racism that exist in the world. I typically enter into racism comments through Emotional, or feeling. I think that, when we talk to people and make them understand the emotional impacts of their comments/actions on somebody else, it can make someone change their behaviors. For instance, mentioning that “comments like that can hurt someone who works as hard as the rest of us, yet still doesn’t make enough money to afford food for their children”, then it pulls at the heartstrings of the person making the racial comments. I think that racism will decrease as generations continue. Talking to a friend about racism and being able to be heard openly is much easier than talking to my grandmother.

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    1. Jessica, thank you for sharing this. Your grandmother’s memories and her lived experience have long been a strong presence for her. Remember, that listening is the humble companion to talking. Listen for what she may really be saying. I would love to hear the stories told by my grandparents about racism through their eyes. Would their conversations be moral or intellectual? Could they be courageous conversations?

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  7. Lately I am feeling compelled to talk about race more than ever before – but not knowing how to begin, and who else is interested in this discussion. My friends and colleagues are mostly white and privileged – as am I – and typically working on and worrying about things OTHER than race, unless there is a headline or crisis that captures our collective attention. The YouTube video was very helpful to me — let go of binaries, practice having the conversations, don’t be surprised when discomfort arises!

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    1. Lisa, thank you for sharing…stay engaged and expect and accept non-closure…two of the Four Agreements of Courageous Conversations!! I wonder if you start the conversation will they join in??? Sometimes, we are waiting for “the one”…

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  8. I would say that I am a 4. I feel very comfortable talking about race with people I know and trust (family, friends, colleagues) but often am not comfortable with raising it as a topic outside of them. Even as a white person I think of anyone it’s the hardest for me to talk to other white people about race if I don’t know them well – mainly out of fear that they will say something painfully racist or that we won’t have shared values and I won’t know how to begin to respond carefully and cautiously. I know I need to work on this because this is probably where my role can be the most powerful – so I need to practice the “stay engaged” and maybe other group agreements of this challenge.

    The courageous conversations compass is really interesting. I have to think more about this. I think it depends on the situation. Like when I think of police brutality, the first impulse there is emotional. In terms of demanding a community’s right to affordable and accessible food, that’s more social and moral to me – though I can imagine for those most affected by these issues emotional is more often front and center. Any recommendations on exploring the compass more in depth?

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  9. I would classify myself as a 3 when talking about racism. I do not have a problem talking about this subject when it comes up, but I do tend to feel awkward when racist comments are made. If a comment is made about one of my friends or family members who is a different race, then I most certainly stick up for them every time. But, if I hear someone say something that may be considered racist while in public, I tend to just ignore it, and that does not seem right. I have had conversations with friends of different races, and they have described to me how they just want to be treated and looked at like everyone else.

    Based on the compass, I think I enter into conversations about race emotionally. I feel very strongly about everyone being treated equally, and I definitely get very angered when I hear about a race getting attacked. Being on the emotional end of the compass is good because it stirs up passion, but it also means that I am constantly angered by the unfairness in society. I always want to make sure that I never say something that could offend someone as well.

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    1. Jessica, thank you for these reflections. You raise good points and questions about how we can all be more bold to cut off racist discourse and behavior, and to push the growing edges of our comfort zones for justice.

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  10. 5 = I am usually very comfortable talking about race/racism. Context is important: what is the setting, context of the discussion? Who is in the conversation? What are purposes for the discussions? I tend to navigate the 4 compass points, using all four places, trying to listen to, understand people’s thoughts, opinions, experiences, and questions with a moral and social approach. I understand how emotions both inform and cloud one’s immersion in such important conversations about race, and can hinder more open and evolving discussions. In school settings, these conversations involving students, lives, communities, safety, justice, and constant scrutiny of teachers, feel – are! – very critical and demanding of our time and immediate attention. Entering conversations takes many forms: initiating, joining and participating, listening, responding, asking questions. As Jay Smooth said, we continue to work on our racism, on our foibles, misperceptions, because we want to be “better” people. I know I’m not “done” or “there” yet. I tend to be inquisitive, as a history teacher will be: I want to know about people’s backgrounds, heritages, goals. I would rather ask and have someone ask me about me, rather than make assumptions about who I am, especially being a member of an ethnic/religious group that has been stereotyped for centuries. I would rather talk about it than have others lurk about, not sure “what to say.”

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  11. I am comfortable talking about race, but find that there are moments when I am really tired and exhausted from the labor that comes with discussing race and rationalizing things for folks. I do not shy away from the conversation, I embrace it. I do find that there is real energy that I have to put forward tp understand and support individuals who unknowingly perpetuate racist systems. I realize that we have to start somewhere, but know that there are moments where I am triggered.

    A framing that I offer a lot for this conversation is that discomfort is ok. Healthy tension exists and as long as we can remain clear of toxic tension we can do the world of healing, awareness, and naming.

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    1. Shari, thanks for sharing the reality of the fatigue you experience. Indeed, discomfort seems unavoidable, though certainly could and should be more equitably held and faced. Hard to get to real healing and progress otherwise.

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  12. I, like others, seem to vary in comfort level depending on the setting of the conversation. I generally am willing to call out racism with people I trust (4-5); it gets harder with strangers, casual acquaintances, non-close family members, etc (3). I also have a tendency to avoid conflict of any kind, so when I do bring things up, I try to frame it in statements like “I heard you say x, and then I felt y, because I think what you meant was z. Was that your intention?” and then it tends to less often descend into the “did you just call me racist?” sorts of conversations mentioned in Jay’s video.

    I’d be more satisfied with myself if I felt more comfortable starting these kinds of conversations with strangers and acquaintances; I suppose the only way to get more comfortable is to do more of it…

    Which leads me to thinking about the Conversations Compass… I lean mostly towards either intellectual (let’s talk about this theoretically so I can try to avoid uncomfortable feelings) or emotional (I’ll share my feelings with you so maybe you won’t feel attacked) ways of interacting with others around conversations on race, and I’d like to move more towards doing. I’d be curious to know what that could look like in my life. I’m starting a master’s program in the fall, and I have a lot of wondering about where that will take me in terms of career/vocation/life work/etc. These reflections are being a part of that, and I’m grateful I was invited to participate.

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    1. Thanks for these reflections, Rachel. Much to consider around changing comfort levels in different contexts, what can support boldness in less familiar settings, and how to grow into the real and necessary “doing” of this work. Grateful you are leaning in.

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  13. I am generally pretty comfortable talking about race (having worked in educational settings where conversations about race happened frequently). I really appreciated the Jay Smooth video, as the times that I shy away from the conversation are when I fear (or know from experience with particular people) that the “what you said” conversation will turn into the unproductive “what you are” conversation that Jay describes. I love the shifting from the tonsils paradigm to the dental hygiene paradigm and wonder if I would have been able to articulate that idea (even if without the fabulous metaphor that Jay provides) to the people with whom I’ve been stuck in that downward spiral of defensiveness, it would have gone better. I’ve attempted the “but we’re ALL racist” approach and owning my own racist tendencies to try to alleviate the defensiveness, but that doesn’t always work. Thanks for a new tool/perspective/approach.

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  14. Trying to play catch up again, but also committing to sticking with this even if I can’t quite do one a day. I’m a 2 or 3 on the scale – I will call out blatant racism but really struggle with knowing how to talk about race in general. I was brought up with a left leaning mindset of color blindness and although I accept that we need to talk about race and the realities of how race impacts our society I don’t have the words to do that. I also live in a mostly white bubble (which I’m trying to change) and it’s a challenge to break out of that without appearing condescending or as if I’m asking people of color to show me how to be – that’s not their responsibility. The Jay Smooth talk is great – getting away from the binary and working on our unconscious biases is an ongoing challenge. Thanks again for this program.

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  15. I’m a 3-4 on the scale. I would say it would definitely depend on the situation/circumstance that I am in. I would say that I have progressed in my comfort level to talk about race a lot in the past several years which has been a really neat growing experience for me. I think partly because it is of utmost importance to talk about race in my work in food systems, education, and children especially as a white woman of privilege. I feel that it is my role to bring up these discussions especially with other white folk and challenge ourselves on how we can be okay with the uncomfortable conversations at times and push forward to make change. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t talk/think about it.

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  16. I so wanted to so be able to say I was comfortable talking about racism…but I think I am at at #2(and sometimes a #3 maybe because I want to talk about it even though it feels hard).

    Jay Smooth’s talk(my second time seeing it)and the Courageous Conversations Compass were great tools to think more about my discomfort and where I come from in trying to have these conversations in my life and in the part of the food system I am involved in. His comment on how most of the time when we make a mistake we are able to take a breath, know we’re only human and in doing or saying something that sounds racist makes us feel terrible and so defensive was really interesting to hear and yes, I agree. I am very careful of what I say and thinking how to say things so I don’t make that mistake. But making mistakes is how we learn….(remembering the People of Color documentaries talking about race, having the words and talking while so many people White people in the video just seemed so scared, stalled and unable to speak/verbalize).

    I realized that often when I am trying to start a conversation I am coming from a moral and emotional point of view, feeling guarded and waiting for the other person to perhaps not get “it” or say something that I may think of as racist and then the conversation is stalled because I don’t know what to say next, or connect, but instead am judging(you know the, well, I wouldn’t think or say that so I must be less racist..or better than you). Which brings me to Jay Smooth’s talk again and the realization here that I am still seeing racism, saying something racist, being a racist as a good/bad person thing(all or nothing). And of course, if I bring it up, if I think I am saying the right thing I am right and you, well, probably wrong. And as Jay Smooth says, we aren’t perfect but if we think we have to be perfect to be good to have these conversations that’s a problem. I really loved how he said having these conversations and talking to each other and sometimes having to really hear you said something racist is a gesture of respect and an act of kindness.

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  17. Finally posting (i’ve been following but didn’t get to post the first 2 days). I think I am a 4 most of the time, but honestly can be between a 3-5 depending on the audience. I wish that weren’t the case. With people I know are also working on things from a social justice perspective, I am closer to a 4; in my personal conversations with people I know very well, I am not shy about discussing issues of race and privilege even if I know they aren’t in a similar mindset. However, with people/organizations where it is not at the forefront of their basic work, I fall short, often weighing whether it is the right “time and place” to raise what are difficult questions, comments, and conversations. The truth is that many people do not have the luxury of considering whether it is the right time and place to consider race; and the absence of that conversation is significant.

    In terms of the Compass, I engage in a bit of them all, but if I have to pick one, I’d say intellectual. If I am entering into conversations with someone I know may not agree that race is or should be a concern, or “does not affect me,” I tend toward with intellectual, facts, concrete examples. To use a cliche, knowledge is power. In learning from others, I want to hear their stories, as really listening and being open to hearing their experiences is essential.
    That said, there is quite a bit of evidence that “Doing,” working towards a mutual goal (whether focused on race or not) is one of the most effective ways to start to build understanding, trust, and awareness of one another’s experiences.

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  18. I find myself at a 2-3 on the scale of comfortabiliy. I’ve attended cultural competency trainings and anti-racism traings, and train-the-trainer workshops to lead conversations around race. However, I’ve found all of this has made it even more complicated for me as I find like Jay said it’s a very gray discussion. There are many ways I may or may not offend someone. Further, these trainings have opened my up to experiences of POC in my community and make me worry that I may not fully understand or see how my upbringing in a predomintantly all white rural community shapes my views subconsciously. With this being said, I really enjoyed Jay’s analogy to cleaning teeth and that connecting with our imperfections is what allows us to be a good person.

    I approach these conversations from a believing and feeling spectrum I think. Yet sometimes I wonder about the validity of these when I was raised in an almost exclusively all white community, even though now I work and live in a very different community. Based on this, can I always trust what I believe and feel to be right even though I consider myself very aware of race issues?

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  19. 3 = I am sometimes uncomfortable talking about race/racism.
    I don’t talk too much about race with people regarding food. I don’t have a big role in working within the food system, but am a consumer. I get my food from my farmer much of the time, and they have interns during the summer. I do understand that many farms use migrant help as well, and I think that has entered the conversation more as the conversation in the country has changed in the last few months, and deporting many people can and likely will have an impact on our food system and in effect, prices. The turkey farm in Barron has attracted many Somalis, so that is also a food system area related to race.

    I think that I engage in the courageous compass in all of the ways. I believe it is a moral thing to care about others, and feel the need to have intellectual backup to defend why diversity is important (or any other number of topics). I want to be part of the solution (social) and have a lot of emotions regarding the topic.

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  20. That video was so refreshing! I’m a solid 3, and am reminded of the NYT video on White People Talking About Race…most of my discomfort comes from not wanting to say anything that could be perceived as offensive, to sound in any way, shape or form racist, to not be 100% enlightened and liberated. This Smooth talk is exactly what I needed hear, probably several more times and then a few more after that, to find the courage, vulnerability, and self-compassion to step into the conversation, knowing that I won’t get it perfect but the only way to improve is to practice.

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  21. When I was younger, I admit that I was not very comfortable with discussing my own race and my unique background. As I have gotten older, I have realized that talking about race with others is very important in many aspects. Discussing race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status is crucial in contributing to how our food system runs. As the CDC reported, what is now considered the minority will soon become the majority. This finding illustrates how important it is that everyone in our country and the world respect, and if able to, appreciate diverse cultures. In addition, the CDC also reported that health inequities/disparities are differences in health that are considered to be avoidable, unfair, and unjust, so by being able to talk about race especially with those in this particular field, I feel that we can ameliorate these disparities.

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    1. Because the damn phone is slow and I’ll bet that they are running into roadblocks testing the new 2.1 on these slow processors. I love my Hero until I try to run it for a few days without rebooting. The available memory sucks. This damn this is slow at times until I clear the memory. It doesnt take a genius to figure out that they are having big problems as with the other phones with similar processor. I’m tired of seeing those snappy iphone vids where going from one thing to the other is a breeze. I’m just waiting on the next delay for 2.1. I cant wait.

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