Race Matters

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A guide to assist leaders in supporting and engaging with their staff on matters of race.

With the spotlight on race matters, managers and supervisors can no longer assume their employees will just “keep working” without being impacted by this sea-change that is happening around us all.

Because many managers and supervisors feel ill-equipped and some even fearful of launching into what were previously mostly taboo topics of conversation, People & Culture has prepared this guide to assist leaders in supporting and engaging with their staff on matters of race.

Racial literacy in education is the ability to understand what race is, why it is, and how it is used to reproduce inequality and oppression.
Sonya Douglass Horsford, When Race Enters the Room: Improving Leadership and Learning Through Racial Literacy

DOs and DON'Ts for Discussing Race with your Staff



Ask how you can help.
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Don't be afraid to talk about racism, injustice and what’s going on - if your employees want to talk.

Understand that conversations about race will be uncomfortable.
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Don't insist that your staff talk about issues.  Create a safe forum and opportunity for discussions, but don’t force it.

Expect that you may have missteps and do or say the “wrong” thing.  When that happens, apologize and move on.
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Don't be defensive if your staff share experiences with microaggressions.  Doing so will fail to recognize their experience and will be a wasted opportunity to improve your work setting.  

Approve vacation or PTO requests if your operations allow you to do so.
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Don't expect your staff to ignore what they are feeling and how it impacts their work performance. 

Demonstrate compassion and empathy. 
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Don't be offended if your staff don’t want to talk to you about recent events, protests, or their experience with racism. 

Be an upstander and ally. Don't ignore insensitive or racist “jokes” by other staff.

Write a note of encouragement if your staff seems to be sad or dejected.  Keep it open-ended - don't presume to know how they're feeling or why.

Don't disregard signs of distress in your employees.

Apologize if you have been inconsiderate about race matters in the past.

Don't apologize if it’s insincere.


Don't ask insensitive questions or make insensitive statements.  Some examples from real experience include: “Why are they looting?”; "Is that your real hair?";  "You talk white.".  (More on microagressions.)

Research about racism in America.  There are reading lists and resources linked on this web page. 

Don't expect Black employees or employees of color to “educate you”.  


Don't put this at the bottom of your to-do list.

Develop cultural competency and work to uncover your own unconscious bias on an ongoing basis.

Don't delay educating yourself - block time in your calendar.  Continue to make this a priority even when the headlines aren't focusing on issues of racism and racial inequity.

Recognize that your staff and colleagues are in different phases of understanding and advocacy. Don't shame people who have more to learn; instead offer opportunities for education and respectful dialogue.

Critical Voices in DEIB Spring 2021

The Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) presents the Critical Voices in DEIB series. Critical Voices in DEIB frames key race and equity issues, how they impact our community, and offers resources for how to advance racial equity and promote social justice at UC Berkeley. 

In 2021 we hosted American Reckoning: A Conversation on Anti-Blackness in Post George Floyd America, a panel discussion featuring guest speakers, Rosa Clemente, Jeff Chang, Keisha Blain, and Tim Wise. This discussion was moderated by Dr. Ula Taylor, faculty in the African American Studies department at UC Berkeley. Watch on-demand below.

American Reckoning FINAL

Sponsored Event

On April 19th, 2021- Disrupting the Model Minority Myth: A Conversation on Anti-Asian Racism in the Global Pandemic featured guest speaker, Dr. Dawn Lee, Equity and Social Justice Strategist and Faculty Director for Professional Development at DeAnza College. Watch on-demand below.

Disrupting the Model Minority Myth: A Conversation on Anti-Asian Racism in the Global Pandemic

Employee Assistance

If you or an adult family member in your household is feeling overwhelmed with emotions such as sadness, depression, or anxiety, please contact Employee Assistancefor support and consultation.