Tips for Talking About Identity

During these conversations, remember that we may not always get things completely right. Among the tips in “What if I Say the Wrong Thing?”, Vernā Myers urges readers to welcome correction as an opportunity for learning, engage, rather than disengage, and learn to apologize. 

During group discussions, keep in mind the following:

Understand the purpose of the conversation. Acknowledge fears and concerns up front. Most of us are not well practiced in engaging thoughtfully across difference. Be mindful of your emotions and what makes you uncomfortable. If the conversations gets awkward, hang in there. Breathe. Apologize and seek to understand. Keep the conversation going, don’t let fear or awkwardness keep you from an opportunity for real engagement across difference.

Don’t assume. Admit what you don’t know, and ask questions. But don’t expect any single individual to be a personal resource on understanding their identity. Identity groups are not monolithic and all individuals do not share the same experience.

Understand how identity impacts experiences and points of view. In conversations about identity, the same experiences and interactions may be perceived very differently. Be sensitive and aware of that in the moment. Seek first to understand.

Be open to learning about others’ viewpoints. The goal of engaging isn’t to score a point but to learn about someone else’s viewpoint and better understand your own. Practice active listening, which is listening focused on understanding versus planning your response. The measure of success is what you learned as a result of the exchange.