OFFICE HOURS: Let's Talk about Race - Before We Can't

By Santo D. Marabella, The Practical Prof®

This column was first published in the Reading Eagle on April 4, 2023

First, reader feedback from last month. Then, let’s talk about race at work.

February’s ProfPoll

I asked readers what drives their career: Passion, effort or a blend of the two. Thirteen readers responded with careers in healthcare, real estate, social work, education:

• Passion 62%

• Blended 31%

• Effort 8%

Interestingly, more readers sided with Warren Buffet than Mark Cuban; many related to the blended approach.

More interesting is comments about the impact of their preferred career driver:  “My passion plus effort equals results.” “What I’m passionate about is where I put my effort.” We see from these perspectives the beauty of the blended perspective — where passion and effort go hand-in-hand. “As a leader, I motivate my teams by demonstrating the tangible and intangible rewards of consistent effort paired with an understanding of why the results of that effort matter to the organization.” Rewarding effort and explaining the importance of that effort worked well for this respondent.

My summary: Passion is a powerful driver — infectious in a positive, satisfying, happy way. Often, it is passion for making a difference for people, not necessarily passion for the job or position. And, without limits and boundaries, it can lead to burn-out and significant mental health costs for the person driven by passion, especially when set in an unhealthy work environment.

Thanks to the responders.

Why talk about race at work?

I consider myself a fairly open and supportive ally for people of color. But, when police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd on May 25, 2020, that’s when I became woke. What is woke? Let’s ask Merriam. “Aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues, especially issues of racial and social justice.”

This is when I ramped up my own talk about race. I created videos on my YouTube channel (Marabella Enterprises) that talked about history from the black male perspective, microaggressions and unconscious bias. Many do our best to keep the conversation going, but ultra-conservative lawmakers and politicians want to stop the conversation.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the anti-anti-racism mascot, and his compatriot racism deniers, believe that systemic injustices against people of color are, in DeSantis’ words, “a bunch of horse manure.” In 2021, DeSantis announced the Stop the W.O.K.E. Act, to give businesses, employees, children and families tools to fight back against woke indoctrination. In other words, it prohibits free speech that presents factual information about the U.S. history of racism and discrimination, that is still embedded in our institutions today. The law passed in 2022, but a District Judge issued a temporary injunction (still currently in force) preventing the law from being enforced in businesses and universities. It remains intact at the K-12 level.

This is not just Florida. According to Yes Magazine, “In at least 15 states, GOP officials have passed ‘educational gag orders’ to chill classroom conversations about race, racism, and related topics.” These laws are impacting about 35% of America’s K-12 students.

Most people today do not actively treat people of color poorly or unfairly; however, institutions like education, employment, housing, healthcare, for example, continue to perpetuate mistreatment of people of color and minorities. So, instead of fixing the broken parts of the systems, the DeSantis cult dismisses the facts in favor of their delusional (and false) narrative.

As long as they do, our co-workers of color, and other disenfranchised folks, will continue to suffer discrimination, exclusion, and being marginalized. And, if we stand by and do nothing, we are complicit, even if we aren’t directly mistreating others.

This is why we need to talk about race… now.

How to talk about race at work

Admittedly, it’s not an easy conversation to have. Fraught with awkwardness and the potential to do more harm, it requires thoughtful and deliberate preparation and action.

But, talking about race can be eye-opening and helpful, sometimes more so than training, as PPG, a painting and coating manufacturing company, learned, according to a 2020 article in HR News. Facing the reality others live in, gives us access to empathy and builds bridges for change.

These conversations can dredge up trauma and unpleasant memories for our colleagues of color. To minimize that possibility, start with what a 2022 FastCompany article by Y-vonne Hutchinson refers to as “how you show up” — a self-reflection where we are “real with yourself about yourself.”

It’s not the job of our colleagues of color to teach us — we do the work. A 2020 article in Greater Good warns us to avoid placing the burden of change on employees of color by asking them to recount traumatic experiences with racism. Rather, start with the organization itself. How does our structure and culture impact the experience of employees of color, especially in covert ways? Then, look for signs of trauma and withdrawal among individual employees of color, and support them.

Move forward with any conversation about race with a skilled facilitator who can create a safe and respectful place for everyone. It’s okay not to know how to do this ourselves. And, the conversations are too important to dismiss.

Eboni K. Williams, in a 2020 Forbes article, offers three steps for the conversation. First, state your intention, why you want to have the conversation. Williams believes that being this transparent and vulnerable can “yield a very positive, and even transformative result.”

Next, do some prep. We don’t have to be experts. Williams believes that, “Coming to the convo with a basic understanding of history and the modern day impact of racial dynamics in our country, will help your colleagues to trust you, and maybe bring some guards down.”

Third, Williams recommends acknowledging not having all the answers — this applies to everyone. She says, “none of us is above asking questions and learning as our understanding of these issues and each other continues to grow.” That’s what makes this a conversation.

Share your experiences of being woke and conversations about race in a brief, three-question ProfPoll: ProfPoll Link:

Poll Closes: 9 p.m., Thursday, April 20, 2023

Next Column:  How are you… Really?

Dr. Santo D. Marabella, The Practical Prof, is a professor emeritus of management at Moravian University and hosts the podcast “Office Hours with The Practical Prof … and Friends.” His latest book, “The Lessons of Caring” is written to inspire and support caregivers (available in paperback and eBook). Website:; Twitter: @PracticalProf; Facebook: ThePracticalProf.


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