Dr. Derald Wing Sue on Difficult Race Conversations


(Left to right)Vilma Y. Chan, Diversity Leader: Greater Chicago Market, PwC, Dr. Derald Wing Sue, Professor of Psychology and Education, Columbia University, Gloria Castillo, President and CEO, Chicago United, and Jim Kolar, Greater Chicago Market Managing Partner, PwC.

On Wednesday, May 18, Chicago United held a thought-provoking Transformative Inclusion Member Forum featuring, professor of psychology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, Dr. Derald Wing Sue on the subject of race and productive dialogue, which was hosted by PwC at the Metropolitan Club in Chicago.

Dr. Sue opened his presentation with one of his main areas of research and discussion: microaggressions. According to Dr. Sue, microaggressions are the veiled, almost imperceptible biases that take place against minorities on a daily basis in the form of comments or perspectives that unconsciously devalue the voices of those in marginalized positions. Likewise, Dr. Sue deconstructed how expressions like “racism is a thing of the past” or “I’m colorblind” invalidate the cultural experiences of minorities and further dissimulate the realities of white privilege and prevent us from engaging in meaningful discussions professionally and personally.

To this point, Dr. Sue presented his concept of Race Talk, which he further defined:

  • White Talk: The narrative shared by white, western European descendants that knowingly or unconsciously perpetuates inequities and justifies inaction, and

  • Black Talk: A counter-narrative with the potential to decode racist assumptions and expose clashing racial realities.

Dr. Sue introduces the concept of microaggressions as illustrated by Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise.”

It is at the crux of these two perspectives where Dr. Sue believes the most meaningful dialogues can take place both in the workplace and in societies. Dr. Sue emphasized a few points to help guide these discussions:

  • It is important to acknowledge we are all cultural and racial beings: Dr. Sue insists we must accept we are the conditioned by society and culture, and therefore, we are subject to our own views and biases. By coming to this realization, we can begin to engage in conversations that acknowledge ourselves and others.

  • Do not assume a defensive position: Race conversations may push buttons, so it is always important to acknowledge strong emotions and remain open to share our own biases. In situations where micro aggressions are detected or racist dialogue begins one can take responsible action., Dr. Sue recommends using phrases like “let’s not go there” or “I know you mean well, but that hurt” as bridges to ensure dialogue stays constructive.

  • Understand the difference between process and content: During race talks, it is crucial to be able to filter hostile, problematic responses or blanket statements about minorities (content) from what an individual is thinking, feeling, or being made uncomfortable by (process). By acknowledging this difference we may be able to achieve a constructive conversation.

Dr. Sue’s thought-provoking presentation was followed by an exclusive Chicago United CEO Council Luncheon, in which he further stressed the importance of acknowledging oneself as a cultural and social being, and elaborated on the impact and operational applications this can have on business organizations and communities.

Members come to Chicago United for unparalleled, honest, and candid discussions of race and ethnicity in business. Some have earned national accolades for their efforts to promote multiracial leadership by leveraging best-in-class diversity and inclusion practices. Others may be implementing first-time programs and processes. Regardless of where they are on the curve, every member contributes to the environment and learns ways to optimize their businesses through their participation.

If you want to take part in these courageous discussions, then your company should become a member of Chicago United. Call 312-977-3060 or visit www.chicago-united.org for more information.


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