The Conversation: How Seeking and Speaking the Truth about Racism Can Radically Transform Individuals and Organizations by Robert Livingston

(New York: Currency, 2021), 308

Dr. Robert Livingston spoke virtually at Root recently and they mailed us this book to engage in the conversation. I'm glad they did and I'm glad I read it. I find his approach to discussing racism to be honest, humble, patient, realistic, and data-driven in a way that much of the other material I have read is not. He speaks from moral and pragmatic principles in a way that is not politicized but seeks to deeply understand the issue in a way to make productive progress. One part of the book that really struck me was is the importance of having diverse images we see and heroes we look up to. We decided to make a collage at home of saints—black, white, and all shades in between—to put up in our home to emphasize what really matters.

Movies referenced

  • Green Book (36)
  • Gangs of New York (52, 193)
  • 13th directed by Ava DuVernay (62)
  • Mississippi Burning (73)
  • Blackfish (174)
  • A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness (177)
  • Dark Waters (196)
  • Erin Brockovich (196)
  • The Best of Enemies (216)
  • A Most Beautiful Thing (248)

Books referenced

  • The Rage of a Privileged Class by Ellis Cose
  • Evicted by Matthew Desmond (52)
  • White Trash by Nancy Isenberg (52)
  • The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (52)
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
  • The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein (65)
  • The Difference by Scott Page (183)
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Daniel Tatum (218)
  • What Works: Gender Equality by Design by Iris Bohnet (259)

Part I: Condition

Chapter 1: Do We All Believe That Racism Exists?

  • the "fellas"
  • Racism credence: people's beliefs about the existence of racism (6)
    • Whites believe much less racism than Blacks (8)
  • Cognitive heuristics that impact judgment of racism (11):
    • Availability heuristic: overweight information that is readily available (i.e. rich and famous blacks as representative)
    • Anchors: compare how well Black people are doing now against how well they were doing in the past, not an objective standard
  • Emotional factors (16):
    • personal failure lead to denial of White privilege
    • "belief in a just world" as a defense mechanism, but the existence of racism refutes this

Chapter 2: What Is "Racism," Anyway?

  • Implicit (unconscious) bias: race has impact on perceptions, decisions, and behaviors without conscious awareness (23)
    • racism more likely to emerge in moments of "plausible deniability" (i.e. can point to something other than race as the reason)
    • Aversive racism theory: racism has evolved from blatant to subtle acts
  • Racism occurs when individuals or institutions show more favorable evaluation and treatment of an individual or group based on race or ethnicity (30)
    • stereotype: what your believe
    • prejudice: how your feel
    • discrimination: how you act
  • Systematic Racism: the salmon and the stream, currents that push everything a certain direction
  • Instead of racist vs not racist, think complicit vs antiracist
  • "One of the absolute most impaction actions that White people can do is to dedicate a ton of time, thought, and attention to understanding, in concrete ways, exactly how their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward people of color are influenced by the current—not their values or intentions." (34)

Chapter 3: How Does Social Disadvantage Differ for Blacks and Whites

  • Institutional privilege (baked-in advantages to Whites in political, economic, legal, social structures; what happens in general) vs Individual privilege (aka "achieved" status) (38)
  • Resume example: "just being White was the equivalent of 8 additional years of work experience" (43)
  • "White people are given the benefit of the doubt, the freedom to make mistakes. Black people are not." (45)

Chapter 4: What Are the Structural Origins of Racism?

  • Social dominance theory: in which legitimizing myths and institutional terror maintain the social hierarchy (56)

Chapter 5: How Does "Threat" Perpetuate Racial Inequality?

  • "Blacks in America live in a complex and maddening catch-22 where you're damned if you do, damned if you don't" (77)
  • discussion of right-wing authoritarianism (RWA): desire for order, reverence for strong legitimate authority, affinity for traditional values, and belief that ther eis a right and a wrong way to live, with the right way being the old-fashioned way (81)
  • "the heart of racism is power and the soul of racism is fear" (86)

Chapter 6: What Are the Psychological and Evolutionary Origins of All Intergroup Biases?

  • optimal distinctiveness theory: humans are drawn to social groups that fulfill two conflicting needs—a need for assimilation and social connection, and a need for differentiation or the need to be unique (88)
    • there will always be an "other"
  • we are wired for tribalism
  • illusory correlation: an erroneous assumption about the relationship between two things based on the extent to which they are distinctive or stand out (i.e. notice Black people asking for money) (95)

Chapter 7: Is Inequality Due to Racism or Race?

  • every single human being alive today can trace their lineage back to the same ancient female ancestor (104)
  • the range of genetic differences among individuals of the same race are far greater than the average differences between any two racial groups (104)
  • stereotype threat where cultural expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies (113)
  • argues that race is an illusion due to us having vastly more similarities than differences (117)

How to Talk About the Problem

  • PRESS model:

  • Rule 1: Gather the facts...and Make Space for the Feelings

  • Rule 2: Make People Feel Affirmed When Possible
  • Rule 3: Focus on the Problem, Not the Person
  • Rule 4: Show Curiosity, Not Animosity

Part II: The Conversation

Chapter 8: How Much Doe White People Care About Racism?

  • relative prioritization of human values (158)

Chapter 9: The Moral Cost of Condoning Racism

  • Equality: everyone gets the same thing
  • Equity: treat people differently in a way that makes sense
  • being moral means doing no harm, racism hurts people, therefore racism is immoral (169)
  • discussion of distal impact: slavery was a long time ago so minimize racism today (171)
  • Five Foundations Model of Morality: harm, fairness, loyalty, authority, purity (177+)
    • compare chart on 178 with discussion of Jesus on 179

Chapter 10: The Practical Importance of Redressing Racism

  • superadditivity: with diverse components, the whole of a set is greater than the sum of the parts (183)
  • Not sufficient to have diverse people on teams, also need to recognize and utilize the unique capabilities they bring (185)
  • business case and moral case for diversity go together (188)
  • integration-and-learning model: diversity is an asset unto itself (190)
  • "When the social justice tide comes in, all boats rise" (196)

Part III: Correction

Chapter 11: What Everyone Can Do to Promote Racial Equity

  • Racism is a solvable problem (210)
  • prejudice without discrimination: we don't necessarily have control over our prejudices (how we feel), but we do have control over our acts of discrimination (act) (212)
  • contact hypothesis: seek repetitive contact with out-groups (213)
    • requires equal status, friendship potential, institutional sanction, and common goals
  • Power asymmetries: Black people don't have a choice about interracial interaction, whereas White people do (218)
  • Needing to "code switch" makes authenticity challenging (218)
  • Advice:
    • be mindful of societal-level power differences (systematic racism) without perpetuating them yourself (219)
    • be respectful (not always the same as being polite)
  • decategorization and recategorization as means of emphasizing aspects other than race (221)
    • add other categories to people
    • use implementation intentions like "If X,...then Y" (cf Atomic Habits)
  • be mindful of the images that surround you, the heroes in your stories, etc. (226)
  • hypocrisy induction: pointing out the discrepancy between what people practice and what they preach
  • a more secure and happy person is a more tolerant person: practice self-affirmation (229)
    • Summary strategies for reducing implicit bias and discriminatory behavior:
    • seek intergroup contact
    • decategorization
    • recategorization
    • implementation intentions
    • vivid counterstereotypicality
    • hypocrisy induction
    • self-affirmation
    • confront bias
    • choose 3-4 antiracist behaviors and practice them regularly

Chapter 12: How Leaders and Organizations Can Create Grater Racial Equity

  • requires the support of top leaders (247)
  • know why this is important (247)
  • to tell how inclusive a culture is, look what happens when people make mistakes (253)
  • art and science of measurement (255+):
    • convergent validity: consistent results from different measures
    • predictive validity: extent to which a measure correlates with the outcome of interest
    • statistical banding: scores within a range do not differ materially from one another so don't rank them
  • measurement summary (260):
    1. All measures have flaws
    2. Multiple measures are better than one
    3. Measures do not perfectly predict outcomes of interest
    4. Strict rank ordering of scores capitalizes on noise: use bands instead
    5. Diversity is not incompatible with quality
    6. Outcomes are often determined by variables that are unrelated to talent (i.e. birth month)