Talking About Race Toolkit

Affirm Counter Transform

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What is the Talking About Race Toolkit?

To advance racial equity, it is critical that we are able to talk about race. Too frequently, race is a topic that is avoided, which means that we perpetuate inequitable outcomes. Other times, when race is talked about, but without an equity strategy, implicit bias is triggered and inequities exacerbated. How we talk about race matters. The good news is that there is a useful field of practice to inform effective communications about race. This toolkit is a collection of the key strategies that we have found are necessary in combating the race wedge and advancing racial equity. Effectively talking about race is an essential skill for advancing racial equity. We believe that this approach can help a variety of stakeholders to effectively talk about race and policy.

How should this toolkit be used?

This toolkit should be used as a guide for your own strategic messaging. Please use the worksheet as a medium to try out your own messaging ideas. Please refer to the glossary at end of this toolkit for definitions. This toolkit contains critical strategies that advocates can use to fight the race wedge frame—but with a caveat that each of these messages must be customized based on issue, audience, and the intention of the message.

When should this toolkit be used?

This toolkit should be used not only for winning critical policy fights, but also for the bigger goal of changing our narrative on race. We have tested on issues of healthcare, subprime lending, immigration, and fiscal policies and firmly believe that the following strategies can apply to a broad variety of issues. Using our strategies together with multiple research-based messages can help bring about more racially equitable results. It’s not enough to talk about race; we must act on new solutions.

This toolkit is based on over five years of research, and collaboration with leading experts in the fields of messaging, framing, and implicit bias. To learn more about work, visit


Affirm– Start off the dialogue by mentioning phrases and images that speaks to audience’s values. The key is to hook and engage your audience.

  1. Start with the heart
    • Start your message with an emotional connector to engage your  audience in the message (e.g., We work hard to support our families and all our contributions help make America great)
  2. Explain why we are all in this together
    • Explain “shared fate” in racially-explicit terms (e.g., It hurts the same to lose a home or job, whether we are White or Black, male or female, a single parent or a two-parent family…)


Counter– Lead the audience into the discussion of race with a brief snapshot of the historical context. The key is to open audience’s minds to deeper explanations about racial inequities.

  1. Explain why we have the problem
    • Give a very brief explanation of what has happened in the past and explain why we have a problem today. (e.g., Public dollars for schools, bus service, health care and a hundred more things we need, helped create jobs in the past. Cutting them now is not the answer to our problems, it will be the cause of more pain and misery.)
  2. Take on race directly
    • Take on the race wedge by declaring it and dismissing it by naming institutional opportunities and actions (e.g., This is not about immigrants or welfare. This is about whether Americans will see their children off to college…)


Transform– Leave the audience with an engaging solution. The key is to present a solution so that the audience feels committed and feel as though they are progressing forward.

  1. Reframe “makers” and “takers”
    • Change and define who the real good guys and bad guys are in this fight (e.g., And while oil company and bank CEOs are getting richer, some are laying off workers and fighting for tax loop holes to avoid paying taxes, instead of investing in our nation’s future…)
  2. End with heart and solution
    • Present solution in emotional terms (e.g., They [corporations ] can and should do their fair share so we the people can invest in schools, health care, transit and services that help us all make a bright future for our country.)


Download the toolkit 

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