Diversity Blast: Calling In, Difficult Dialogues and Courageous Conversations

Difficult conversations.

Just reading those words might have caused a slight hardening or squirming in your gut. Whether it’s with a coworker, a roommate or a sibling, we have all had moments when hard truths were shared and faced. There are few topics that beget more uncomfortable/squirmy/high-stakes conversations than race, class and equity. However,  conducting these same conversations in a way that allows all participants (even if it’s just two) to learn from one another and about themselves can lead to deep understandings and moments of empathy. The theme of this blast is calling in, difficult dialogues and courageous conversations.

The title of this blast comes from a short essay by Ngọc Loan Trần,  “Calling In: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable.

  • Since reading Trần’s piece on Black Girl Dangerous, I’ve re-read at least part of it dozens of times, several times a week usually. Whenever I read “Calling In,” I’m reminded of the purpose of all these conversations: to help one another work through ugly and unproductive thinking when we all inevitably mess up. Trần calls this, “a radical unlearning of everything we have been configured to believe is normal.” Calling people in, the author posits, is a way of loving folks enough to let them mess up, help them figure out how they messed up, and then make it right. “We are what we’ve got,” Trần writes, and that’s dead on. We are the ones who showed up to this fight, and we can’t always afford to leave folks behind when they make mistakes, as they inevitably will.

Racial Microaggressions and Difficult Dialogues on Race in the Classroom from Teachers College at Columbia University

  • For many of us, some of the biggest questions and sticky situations around race came up in the classroom: how children talked to one another, how other teachers talked about children and families, the implications of your own identity in your work. This part academic, part pragmatic piece looks at what happens when race comes up in class, and what to do about it.

‘Conditioning and Racism Had Done Its Job’ — An Open Letter to White Friends and Colleagues by Paul Keys

  • Speaking to white colleagues in the education reform world, Keys takes stock of the progress of white individuals and makes suggestions for how white folks can move forward in order for everyone to move forward.

Difficult Conversations: Nine Common Mistakes by Sarah Green (from Failure to Communicate by Holly Weeks)

  • If you’ve ever caught yourself feeling like you want to “win” the discussion at hand, this might be a good article for you! Speaking for myself, I often find myself wanting to prove my point more than wanting to reach mutual understanding in heated conversations. The more you know about your own traps and pitfalls, the more you can self-monitor and keep the conversation going to a good place (even if that good place is one of difficult truth).

On Cynicism, Calling Out and Creating Movements that Don’t Leave Our People Behind by Verónica Bayetti Flores

  • From Flores’s essay: “We’ve become cynics in order to shield ourselves from hurt we can’t afford, to not waste time on folks that never included the full liberation of our people in their agenda. We’ve become cynics because, in order to survive, we’ve had to shut some folks out. The thing is, survival is not enough. We need and deserve so much more than mere survival: we deserve to thrive. And to thrive, we have to do something scary: we have to get a little (selectively) vulnerable. We have to make an effort to be a little less guarded.”

We Have to Talk: A Step-by-Step Checklist for Difficult Conversations by Judy Ringer

  • Feeling overwhelmed by or ill-equipped to handle tricky situations can sometimes cripple us from having the conversations that matter the most. Here, Ringer presents a way to prepare yourself for those conversations, and ultimately get used to having them more frequently.

 Proven Strategies for Addressing Unconscious Bias in the Workplace from Diversity Best Practices

  • We all carry unconscious biases, and these biases can significantly impact our work practices and relationships. However, through uncovering, acknowledging and discussing biases, we can actually erode their impact and become more conscious of our own thought processes.

Racism: A Difficult Dialogue from Paul G. Wright

  • What happens when conversations around race break down? Check out Wright’s strategies for working together towards mutual progress in anti-racism

Fostering Courageous Conversations in the Workplace by Ellen Cooperperson

  • Cooperperson writes, “Courageous conversations are discussions that must be held, even when those involved are uncomfortable with the subject, because critical issues must be addressed. Without the ability to discuss differences, organizations lack employee commitment, engagement, accountability and attention to results.” She also provides criteria for when you know a courageous conversation needs to happen.

Intro to Courageous Conversations by Diane Boivie

  • For the data minded out there, Boivie’s presentation features some statistics about what happens to a workplace when real conversations aren’t had.

Courageous Conversation Protocol and the Courageous Conversations Compass derived from Glenn Singleton work

  • Some common agreements and norms to start courageous conversations about racial equity and education (thank you to Jamie Jenkins and Ayana Gabriel for putting this on my radar!)

And last, but not least, Glenn Singleton on “Courageous Conversations about Race” (video)

  • If you read or explore nothing else in the blast today, please take 22 minutes to watch this keynote address. Few, if any, resources quite get to the heart and spirit of courageous conversations than Glenn’s speech. It’s full of the spirit, will and skill to have the dialogues that matter.

So think about that conversation you’ve been putting off, the one that makes you shrug, sigh or groan. Chances are, you’re long overdue to have a come-to moment with someone, or maybe you’ve messed up when talking about race, class or equity and need to put things right. Figure out what it would take to move the needle. Then do it! Hopefully this blast will help take that challenging conversation from this:

 or maybe this 

to this:


So let’s get out there, flex our tension muscles, and push one another to be the best versions of ourselves we can be.

All best,