It's not easy to start a conversation about race. The going recommendation is that one not do it unless they are fully prepared and to not do so at all in "polite company". Similar recommendations exist for politics and religion. However, when your assignment is to begin generating insights through empathy around the topic, you really don't have a choice. So, how do you start?
The fact of the matter is simple: I don't know. In fact, I have been hesitant to try other than to follow the path of a conversation that naturally heads in that direction. That's not good enough, since some of the deepest insights stand to be gained from those who do not naturally take the conversation in the direction of race. That's an assumption on my part, granted.
Often, design thinking is taught with empathy first. But that can prove difficult when your initial problem statement is incredibly broad. In this case, the problem I'm trying to address is this: how might we marry dialogue practice and design thinking to help people better identify potential racial bias and guide them to engage in ways that are more constructive and less harmful to the ongoing national conversation on race?
The problem is incredibly complex. In order to start, I've decided to focus on trying to develop a structured engagement for members of the media and the general public: a guide using design thinking and dialogue methods to help them improve potential interactions.
That's just an idea for a first prototype. Nothing is written in stone.
Why focus on this, of all problems? Stories such as the New York Times report on Serena Williams and women's body image in tennis, a recent piece in Allure magazine instructing white women on how to structure their hair into an afro, coverage of Niki Minaj and Taylor Swift's Twitter exchange, and the fact race is front and center in the early stages of the presidential race all point to the ever-growing need for a focus on how race is addressed in the media and the introduction of new ways of thinking. This includes topic, language and placement choice of coverage and analysis. My working assumption is that this starts with how the stories chronicling these events are made and, most importantly, who is making them.
Race is an incredibly difficult topic to discuss. It can be simultaneously confusing and painful as people hunt for the "right" thing to say, afraid to express what they actually feel. Those who press the issue can often be seen as combative, threatening or tone-deaf. Those who ignore or sidestep it can be seen as unfeeling, naive, enablers of bias and bigotry or called bigots themselves.
Before I work on engaging potential users, however, I need to make a team. I need a collaborator. And I think I found one. I'll have more on that in the next post. That's all for now.