Promoting the use of racialized collaborative conversations
Baylor ISR / Program for Collaborative Conversation & Race
About The Program


What is racism?

Racism is an ideology that links our ideas about physical differences between groups to different ways we treat members of those groups. The fact that race is socially constructed, meaning that our ideas about these differences are created by social norms and not biological differences, does not lessen the effects of this differential treatment. Furthermore, the effects of racism can be felt even if individuals do not intend to be racist.

What is institutional racism?

Sometimes racial discrimination is a part of the structures of our society. When that occurs we can have institutional racism. Historically much of this institutional racism was deliberate. For example, Jim Crow laws did not allow African-Americans to live, work or eat where they wanted. The intention of those laws was to discriminate against African-Americans. Sometimes institutional racism occurs when it is not clear if discrimination is the intention of those laws. Thus sentencing disparities between users of crack and powder cocaine wind up punishing African-Americans more than European-Americans regardless of whether that was the intention of such disparities. Because institutional racism is based upon social and institutional structures, it does not matter if individuals participating in those structures are personally racist. People of color will still feel the effects of that racism.

What is color blind racism?

Some scholars have talked about a color blind racism. This is seen as a modern form of racism whereby individuals ignore the impact of racism in the lives of people of color. Color blind racism should not be confused with traditional beliefs of racial superiority. Instead, it can be argued that individuals who participate in color blind racism tend to ignore the impact of racism and are negligent in supporting efforts to confront anything but overt manifestations of racism. Thus individuals who participate in color blind racism are accused of contributing more to the problems of racism by their ignorance and apathy than by their commission of overt racial discrimination.

Why not just ignore racism?

The desire to ignore racism is understandable. If the problem of racism has been one of treating others differently, then perhaps the solution is merely to attempt to treat everyone the same. The problem with such an approach is that it does not take into consideration the way racism has been institutionalized into our social structures. While overt supremacist groups have greatly declined over the past few decades, the damage done in our society by centuries of racial abuse has not gone away. Only a proactive attempt to address institutional racism will allow us to remove that damage from our social fabric.

What is antiracism?

Antiracism is a proactive effort to remove racism from society. The philosophy of antiracism works towards removing racism in all of its manifestations in society. Thus antiracism is not merely concerned with overt racism but also institutional racism. Modern antiracism prioritizes a strong commitment to the removal of racism and the prioritizing of voices of people of color over the voices of whites in society. Thus solutions that emerge from antiracism tend to be those constructed by people of color with whites expected to provide full support for those solutions.

Is antiracism training effective?

Research has failed to indicate that antiracism training is effective in the shaping of positive racial attitudes. Indeed, some research has shown that discussions of white privilege does not reduce animosity towards African-Americans but does increase animosity towards European-Americans. Other research shows that diversity programs justified by a need for redistribution of resources from whites to nonwhites tend to engender a backlash. Finally, other research suggests that efforts to include, rather than exclude, whites from decision making lead to higher rates of hiring managers of color. There is little evidence that antiracism techniques accomplish the outcomes desired by its proponents.

How to deal with racism

Because humans have a strong capacity to seek out solutions that serve them and their group, the best way to move forward in dealing with racism is in conversation with each other. To this end, there is great value in learning how to listen to those in other races and devising solutions that meet the needs of as many racial groups as possible. Such solutions are more sustainable than solutions that concentrate on only the voices of selected racial groups since they can gather support across racial and political dimensions. This program is focused on facilitating such conversations and finding sustainable solutions.

Can whites be victims of racism?

If racism is tied to the mistreatment of groups based on assumed physical differences, then in theory there is no reason why whites cannot also be the victims of racism. Anyone can be mistreated due to their racial identity. Having said that, our society has been set up in ways that tend to benefit European-Americans. So while they can be the victims of racism, it is less likely to occur than to people of color. Furthermore, institutional racism generally is due to racialized structures that either intentionally or unintentionally benefited European-Americans. So once again while it is possible for social structures to work against the interest of European-Americans, this is unlikely in light of the effects of historical racism. The best approach appears to be to look at each potential circumstance carefully and evaluate it with the best evidence possible but to also acknowledge that it is less likely for whites to face racism than people of color.

What is collaborative conversation?

Collaborative conversation has been defined as “a purposeful, outcome-driven conversation aimed at building on each other’s ideas.” The key to those conversations is that everyone is allowed to participate, and everyone’s ideas are taken seriously. Everyone has a say in the final outcome. A willingness to participate in the conversation and to make room for the contributions of others is expected. To this end in collaborative conversations there is an emphasis in the engagement of active listening and being a productive communicator. The aim is the development of win-win solutions rather than win-lose outcomes.

Is there any evidence that collaborative conversation works?

To date there is no research on how a collaborative conversations approach may impact racial bias or prejudice. However, this style of communication has been shown to be effective in producing goal-oriented beneficial outcomes and in creating an atmosphere of volitional compliance. Furthermore, the ideas of collaborative conversation are very compatible with the use of moral suasion to persuade others of a better path. Research on persuasion indicates identifying agreement with others, admitting when others are right, building rapport and accurately understanding the ideas of others to help us find allies and promote ideas. This type of communication style is more likely to build community rather than deepen the polarization in our society. In time, we plan on doing research testing the potential of collaborative conversations in race relations. But given the research so far on this topic we have little reason to believe that it will not be effective in reducing racial tension.

How is collaborative conversation different from antiracism and colorblindness?

The focus of collaborative conversations is finding a workable consensus. This differs from both antiracism and colorblindness which are ideologies that have already provided answers to racialized problems. But ready made solutions tend to generate resistance from those who are not already predisposed to accept those solutions. Furthermore, people of color do not tend to accept solutions totally based in colorblindness out of concerns about justice. Whites do not tend to accept solutions totally based on antiracism out of concerns about equality. So neither colorblindness nor antiracism is likely to gather enough support to find sustainable solutions. Those solutions will only arise out of the collaborative conversations advocated in this program.

What do we know empirically about the effects of collaborative conversations in comparison to antiracism?

The best comparison of the effects of collaborative conversations to the effects of antiracism can be seen in the research by Dobbins and Kalev. Antiracism indicates a distrust of whites and a need to convince whites to be proactive in fighting racism. Yet Dobbins and Kalev found that techniques such as mandatory training programs, and grievance procedures did not create an atmosphere that led to a higher rate of hiring people of color as managers. However, including mostly white managers in recruiting managers of color, having them head up diversity task teams, conduct mentoring and provide voluntary diversity programs did lead to a higher rate of hiring managers of color. The moral of this research may be that to hire more managers of color we need to bring white managers into the conversation of how to accomplish that task. Such an emphasis is more in keeping with the techniques of collaborative conversations than antiracism.

What good is collaborative conversation if we cannot find agreement?

It is true that even with the best techniques of collaborative conversation that agreement is not always possible. There are hard cases that are not easily resolved. But there is still value in understanding why others disagree with us. There is value in seeing that usually disagreement does not come from a place of dehumanization but rather of misunderstanding. Furthermore even if we cannot always find a final solution whereby we agree with each other, the conversations can produce solutions that are less polarizing and reduce the level of overall anger in our society.

Why don’t you talk more about critical race theory?

As a social scientist, I am better equipped to look at evidence surrounding the effects of programs such as antiracism rather than evaluating the fitness of a philosophy of critical race theory. To the degree that antiracism naturally arises from the implications of critical race theory, then this work may be used to critqued that theory. Beyond that observation I prefer to leave argument about critical race theory to philosophers.

Why don’t you focus on political activism?

Affirmation of a collaborative conversation models comports with a belief that answers to our racial problems will only come out as we consult each other to figure out solutions that work for us all. The art of politics requires individuals to promote ideas that will lead to laws and policies. Promotion of ideas as final solutions as part of political activism. It is easy to use conservative political activism to push the idea that colorblindness should be enfranchised into our law and policies or to use progressive political activism to push the idea that antiracism should be enfranchised into our law and policies. This sort of political clarity is not immediately evident from using collaborative conversations. This does not mean that there is not a place for political activism under a collaborative conversation model. But I do not anticipate taking to the streets to make political demands.