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Being a White Ally: How to Have a Conversation About Race

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For over two decades, ImprovEdge has provided training to corporations on how to have difficult conversations, including specifically as they relate to diversity, race, and gender. We humbly acknowledge that we have so far to go, especially in this unparalleled time. We continue to evolve with the needs of cultures and organizations because we are improvisers.

Having conversations about race can be difficult for white

 allies who have never engaged in conversations about race. As we see allies wanting to offer support to colleagues, we offer a few tips and techniques for empathetic conversations that build relationships.

And, we’ll use the framework of improvisation to explain these concepts.

It is important to understand that improvisers lean into discomfort. If you are doing the right thing right now by having these conversations, you may be uncomfortable.

That’s good.

Discomfort signals that we are learning and growing, rather than staying where we were.
  • How do you make space for those moments of discomfort?
  • How do you make sure you are not glossing over important points?
  • How do you really “sit” in the scene, as an improviser?

Here are some tools for those uncomfortable moments:

Pause: Improvisers know that silence is an incredible tool- it saves scenes and shows every night. How are you using the pause? In conversations about race, that so many white people rarely discuss openly out of fear of saying the wrong thing, pausing and allowing your brain to process what you heard can be crucial to providing a thoughtful and empathetic response. When you pause, you are actively listening to understand instead of waiting for the moment to jump in with a response or ramble through countless apologies that don’t lead to action. It’s never been more important for white allies to pause and listen. We do not know what it’s like to live another person’s life.

Engage: Improvisers do not run from a tough scene, we run into it to help our colleagues. How can you engage in a discussion if you hear a fellow white colleague make a statement that you don’t understand? As improvisers, we use the power of questions to keep a scene going, and they can be so helpful when trying to engage in a thoughtful way. When asking these questions, you may hear some very uncomfortable answers you didn’t expect. Show up as an empathetic disruptor, and don’t wait for the perfect moment to disrupt. Improvisers have to take risks and take the leap. Again, lean into that learning. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • “Tell me more about that…”
  • “How did that make you feel…”
  • “Say more about where this is coming from…”

Act: White allies can show up and use the power of their voices for good in a myriad of ways. You can use your actions and your words to show up for black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). Donate to an organization that is advancing racial equity, show up to a protest and raise your voice, reach out to your government officials about unfair laws and practices, have conversations with your friends and family unpacking the complicated issue of race.

This is a marathon, not a sprint! This work is unending and is a process. You will not solve the racial issues in your world in one 10-minute conversation. Over time and multiple interactions, we can all learn how to be better allies, now more than ever.