Racial Dialogue Guidelines

Racial Dialogue Guidelines


Introduction: This is written for participants in mixed-race dialogue groups. What is intended is for the participants to reflect on the intent and spirit necessary for effective dialogue across various racial interfaces. Authenticity, listening for understanding, and personal integrity are essential for bridging cultural differences through dialogue.


Let us dedicate this work …

For the wisdom to always listen with compassion and for understanding.

For the strength to be demanding in a growthful and kind way.

For the patience to allow for maximum self-discovery so that individuals own their own stuff and truly learn to care about each other.

That we may make the most of teachable moments but not at the expense of one’s dignity and integrity.

That we pick up the clues and signals whereby we can genuinely praise strengths and insights while gently challenging the unjustified or self-serving.

Thomas W. Cummins July 5, 1997


For the wisdom to always listen with compassion and for understanding.

Each of us is a product of all the people and events experienced throughout our lifetime. Some have had adverse circumstances or misinformation which can give a biased view of individuals, places, incidents. Others seem to have had a life of privilege and opportunity with the result being limited knowledge of the diverse realities of others.

In the extremes, one can engage in dialogue with persons who may be bitter and with little expressed hope or optimism, with persons with profound bigotry, or with those who are seemingly clueless or oblivious to what goes on in the daily lives of many of their fellow beings.

As we talk about issues of race, we need to make room at the table for everyone. Being aware of the spectrum of backgrounds; being aware of the incredible range of knowledge and personal awareness; being aware that most people haven’t put two sentences together in a serious discussion on racial or ethnic difference should moderate the depth and pace of our discussions. All positions and opinions need to be listened to and understood, for all are real and part of the dilemma we face.


For the strength to be demanding in a growthful and kind way.

It isn’t easy talking about issues of race. Race is something we haven’t discussed; something we aren’t comfortable discussing; something we really don’t know how to discuss – particularly across racial interfaces. Discussions of any real depth don’t occur without some effort.

There may be times when we need to push each other to seek clarification of what has been said and to help each other understand the ways we have been socialized to think and behave; to help understand how we come across to others because of that socialization.

But the key here is growth, not transformation. We have an obligation to help and accompany each other on our respective journeys – not to sidetrack, embarrass or humiliate those who are seeking to redefine themselves and their behaviors around the issue of race.


For the patience to allow for maximum self-discovery so that individuals own their own stuff and truly learn to care about each other.

No one can change the beliefs and attitudes of another. What we believe and how we perceive people and situations are shaped by information presented to us and how we have been influenced in the past.

Convictions and opinions we hold are precious to us and play a significant role in the kind of people we are trying to become. Intellectual pride affects how readily we take in new information which may be at odds with our own beliefs or may reinforce a long held opinion or attitude. In either instance, we are much more receptive to taking action on issues we discover “on our own.” We are less inclined to be defensive if we don’t have errors in our judgment and values pointed out to us. There is a greater chance of our embracing new ways of viewing others if we’re the ones who light our own candles against the darkness.

When each person has an opportunity to tell his or her story, new paths for becoming acquainted are opened up; new opportunities to understand each others’ realities are presented; interpersonal sharing establishes a greater appreciation of how each of us got to be who we are.


That we may make the most of teachable moments but not at the expense of one’s dignity and integrity.

Teachable moments are just what the name implies – moments during a discussion where an action, comment or an exchange of comments serves to demonstrate a difficulty or barrier in interpersonal relationships. Anyone present can build upon the lesson to be learned. The goal is to have the group gain additional insights from a real and witnessed example. It is, however, counterproductive to attack or belittle the party, or parties, involved. An ongoing challenge is to accept people where they are and move forward. There is little to be gained by “beating up” on people who are trying to grow. We must always be alert to the somewhat natural tendency to model intolerance of the behaviors and opinions of others.


That we pick up the clues and signals whereby we can genuinely praise strengths and insights while gently challenging the unjustified or self-serving.

Having good behaviors drive out the bad is a very efficient approach to improving interactions and dialogue between races. Reward, recognition and praise all have their place in reinforcing positive and effective behaviors. We all learn when someone demonstrates how to truly value and respect others. But we must also challenge comments which are not constructive or are based upon unsubstantiated anecdotes, rumors, stereotypes or opinions.

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