Why Relationships Matter When Addressing Racial Equity

By Toya Barnes-Teamer -

The previous blog in this series, “Reflecting on Racial Equity,” explains that without  true, open and honest dialogue about race, it will be impossible to ever bring about a state of racial equity in which educational attainment gaps are closed,  state attainment goals are met and poverty and other social ills are eradicated in underserved communities.

But how do we have open and honest dialogue? In breaking down barriers in any situation, forming positive and trusting relationships is essential to engaging in transformative dialogue. So, when grappling with issues of trust, it is important to determine whether the mistrust was a pre-existing condition or something that developed over time. In addressing racial equity, it is imperative to examine these trust issues. Reflect on the experiences that caused the distrust of a person or community. Is it someone else’s experiences that caused the distrust? How do you get beyond this distrust in order to develop a positive relationship, which allows racial equity issues to be addressed?

Here are some tips to build trust and work towards relationships on more solid footing when addressing racial equity:

Communicate effectively. The foundation of every good relationship is solid communication. Be transparent and clear on your delivery. Actively listen to understand and not simply to respond.[1]

Appreciate diversity. It is important to remember that everyone is different. Varying experiences and views can still be leveraged towards a common goal.[2]

Develop mutual respect. Mutual respect means that you exhibit respect for others and they reciprocate.[3]

Have empathy. Empathy is different from sympathy. It is one of the most important aspects when it comes to building trust in relationships. When you can empathize with others, it will be possible for you to build emotional connections, which will lead to increased trust in the relationship.[4]

Foster growth. Stagnant relationships often gravitate quickly into situations of mistrust. By creating consistent interactions such as standing meetings to discuss and act on issues of racial equity, it will not only give you more to talk about, but it will be easier to understand the challenges and opportunities of others thus developing more trust.[4]

Don’t stress when the boundaries are tested. This is really crucial when addressing issues of racial equity. You cannot expect it to be smooth-sailing all the way. Without going through all those rocky terrains, it will be impossible to see how much strain the relationship can sustain before you reach a greater sense of understanding in moving the equity agenda forward.[4]

Building any relationship is a leap of faith and it is therefore important to approach issues such as racial equity from the perspective of understanding.[4]


[1] “Building Great Work Relationships,” Mindtools, https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/good-relationships.htm
[2] Amanda Haddaway., “Quality of Life and Depression,” Work It Daily (December 19, 2016), https://www.workitdaily.com/workplace-relationships
 [3]  Lorri Freifeld., “8 Tips For Developing Positive Relationships,” Training Magazine (March 21, 2013),  https://trainingmag.com/content/8-tips-developing-positive-relationships
[4] ] “How to Build Trust in a Relationship: 6 Important Tips,” The Fusion Model, https://www.thefusionmodel.com/how-to-build-trust-in-a-relationship
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