Talking About Race - A Summary Of Findings



In this report, we discuss the best strategies for talking about race that will lead us to racially equitable policy solutions.

By 2042, the United States will be a nation comprised primarily of people of color. Even sooner, by 2032, the majority of Americans less than 30 years of age will be Latino, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Native American. If persistent racial disparities and growing racial tensions accompany this demographic shift, we should all be concerned about the nation’s future well-being. Now more than ever, we have a collective responsibility to discuss race in the context of solutions that work for all of us. 


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In the report, we:

Discuss the results of our recent communications testing to elevate the importance of talking about race. CSI has been bringing the lessons of our communications testing to the field through workshops, in-depth trainings, a webinar, and publications like this. We are equipping grassroots advocates to develop their own effective messages and strategies to take on the race wedge and build support for progressive policies benefiting communities of color.

The purpose of our message testing was to answer these questions with empirical evidence:

Should policy advocates address race when developing messages on key social issues, such as the economy and health care, or should they avoid any overt references to race?What messages might best neutralize the race wedge and begin to raise a “linked-fate” frame across racial groups?Does support or openness to government programs or interventions change when messages address race explicitly, implicitly or not at all?What messages were most likely to appeal to independent “swing” White voters?

People rely on symbols, images, and metaphors to process information and form an opinion. We call these cognitive frames or “networks”—interconnected thoughts, feelings, images, and emotions that essentially set the stage for the way anything is seen or heard.


Based on the evidence from our message testing research, we offer key findings about how to communicate effectively about race:

  • We must describe problems and present messages in emotional terms (e.g. “We’re all one tumor away from financial disaster.”).
  • We must explain what “shared fate” is in racially-explicit, concrete terms that foster identification, rather than using shorthand terms such as “shared fate” so that White voters in the center come to see that they do in fact have a shared fate with people they begin by defining as “other.”
  • We must take on the “race wedge”(e.g. “This isn’t about illegal immigrants, it’s about American citizens. It isn’t about welfare, it’s about people who work for a living and still can’t afford insurance—or who lost their insurance when they lost their job.”.
  • We must reframe victims and enemies (e.g. "The Health problem in America can affect any of us at any time. A heart attack, a child with asthma, a bad back—to insurance companies, they’re all just another pre-existing condition.")
  • Always end with a solution. (e.g. “We need tough new regulations to prevent the subprime crisis from ever happening again. If banks and credit card companies have something to say, they shouldn’t be allowed to say it in fine print or to triple our interest rates without notice.”)


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