Kim and I met for coffee. We put our heads together. She wanted to sell her product within minority communities; I wanted to learn how to communicate my service. Her product helps adults learn how to get out of debt and manage money and offers churches and schools a curriculum for youth. She didn’t know how to reach people other than those of her own white middle class background. As she spoke, I was affirming about the product she offered and the enthusiasm she expressed.

I then asked, “While you know this product is a proven solution for people within your own circles, do you know for sure if it’s effective with minority folks?” She wasn’t sure. I pointed out until we ask, we won’t know. She asked how that might work.

I suggested she might, for example, reach out to a church secretary in a community near her home. Kim could ask if he or she has 15 minutes to hear about a program that might be helpful to church members. I told Kim she could point out that she is white, not of the community, and needs to learn whether or not the program is a good fit.

Kim was shocked, “I can say I’m white?” I told her we whites are usually the only ones that hesitate to point out our race. Folks of color have to think and talk about race every day so they typically aren’t shocked and may even be grateful.

I explained one of the characteristics of majority white culture in the U.S. is a problem-and-solution orientation. We perceive a problem and want to offer a solution. The intention is good; however, the impact can actually hurt.

It hurts when folks of majority white culture offer a solution and haven’t taken the time to listen. It feels like an imposition, rather than a help. And then if the solution doesn’t work, it’s disappointing for everyone. So if a person really wants to “help,” he or she needs to take the position of learner, rather than teacher. To build trust across ethnic lines, it works best if a person of majority culture is willing to listen and learn, to follow the lead of the established leadership.

Kim pointed out she’s not good at listening. I suggested she may not good at listening yet. Like me, she can learn. I told her that Pastor Sims and I are teaching skills for reconciliation, like Active Listening, at our monthly events called Courageous Conversations, and she’d be welcome to join us.

Satisfied she knew her next step, Kim changed the subject. Together we realized what I had just showed her is what I do as an Inclusion consultant, I come alongside and empower people with the skills and heart to reach a broader market, to overcome barriers and build effective relationships. We’re all learning together. -AN