How to Talk About Race at Work

by Alexis James on June 19, 2020

in Diversity & Inclusion


Today is Juneteenth, a holiday celebrated within the Black community to commemorate the ending of slavery in the U.S. Celebrations vary by community and culture but often times mimic a 4th of July type gathering minus fireworks. My family typically celebrates with a potluck and sharing stories from family members about their experience moving to the northwest during the “Great Migration”.

As you return to work next week, we urge you to keep focus on current events and the killings of several Black men and women. One action we all can take is to normalize having these conversations at work. Cascade is committed to equity and centers it in our work, which means that we have to start by acknowledging that white supremacy and racism exist, and that they are deeply intertwined with work in all sectors.

If you have never had these discussions at work before, you may be nervous about how to approach them. Here are three steps we are taking, that you can consider as well:

  1. Acknowledge what happened. Moments like this impact people on an emotional level, and often we are trained to hide those emotions at work. Acknowledge the horror and trauma people may be experiencing. This may include sending an email to your staff, discussing it during a team meeting, and making time for one-on-one conversations. Acknowledge and create space, but don’t place a burden on people to deeply engage.
  2. Recognize that people’s reactions may be informed by their race. Often times, white people are less aware of the different types of racism and may be more shocked by violent acts of racism. People of color may be horrified, but not surprised, by overt acts of racism. Recognize that your worldview is largely shaped by your experiences, and don’t expect other people to explain their worldview.
  3. Commit to doing internal work to understand race and racism in our country. The overt acts of white supremacy from the past weeks can be an opening to better understand overt and covert white supremacy. This diagram highlights actions that people may easily identify as unacceptable (like Nazi rallies), and others that people may not even recognize (like white privilege). Racial Equity Tools provides resources to help you understand how race is constructed, how racism works, how privilege is embedded in our systems, and how internalized racism and superiority are created and maintained.

At Cascade we are compiling additional resources that will be available on our website soon. We also offer public and onsite training for your staff. If you have questions or need support contact our training team at

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