7 Harmful Racial Discourse Practices to Avoid


This resource identifies and describes seven harmful racial discourse practices that are found not only in mainstream media, but also more broadly throughout our society. They are used by public officials and their staff, by lawyers and judges, and by advocates of various political backgrounds, by cultural and entertainment figures, and by others with power and influence over public perception and behavior.

We provide definitions for the practices and describe the specific negative effects these practices have on racial discourse. Each practice discussion also contains an example or two of its use from recent events—some carried out by news media and others carried out by public officials and their staffs, by lawyers and judges, and by advocates of various political backgrounds, by cultural and entertainment figures, and by others with power and influence over public perception and behavior.


Taken as a whole, we argue that:

  • When these harmful racial discourse practices succeed, either individually or acting collectively within a single narrative, they stifle the general public’s understanding of systemic racism.
  • The seven harmful racial discourse practices reinforce the common misconception that racism is simply a problem of rare, isolated, individual attitudes and actions, and most damagingly, that as a significant barrier to the success of people of color, racism is a thing of the past .
  • Taken together, these harmful discourse practices often ostentatiously promote a blanket standard of “colorblindness,” while simultaneously promoting so-called “race-neutral” policies and practices that reinforce the power of white anxiety and fear in policymaking and decision-making.

Everyday recommendations for how readers can help overcome these harmful racial discourse practices follow this section of the report.

IBM Defining Global Education Market Beyond Traditional Borders

Traditions pair well with educational models around the world. For better or worse, the industry has leaned into legacy data and practices to support ongoing relationships between schools and their local communities. Contribution to the local, state and national economies calls for integrative approaches that boast substantive relationships between public and private entities. Tradition, though, has taken a significant blow in the form of Covid-19 forcing many in education to rewrite approaches and practices in the spirit of continuity.

As vaccines enter the market, the question is whether or not the education market should begin to act and think, as an industry, like we did before Covid-19 or reframe our approach? If we drill deeper, will we discover hidden gems that have been percolating unknown to the general population?

IBMers like Grace Suh believe they have cracked the proven code unlocking new opportunities while breaking old assumptions and traditions. Suh, IBM’s vice-president of Global Education and Corporate Citizenship, stewards an integrative model consisting of high schools, community colleges and local and state industries to activate new routes along the student-to-professional pathway.

IBM has announced that the P-TECH model, which aims to provide young people with a stable foundation for future employment has expanded to China and can now be found in 28 countries and territories, 11 US states, and 241 schools with hundreds of community colleges and industry partners.

I spent time with Suh to learn more about the connective tissue inherent in the P-TECH model deployed around the world.

I initially wanted to understand if Covid-19 revealed a silver lining for P-TECH and whether or not partnerships and participation had been impacted by the pandemic.

Suh is quick to say that they IBM has been right in front of us the whole time.

Suh suggests, “Why did it take so long for high schools, community colleges and industries to partner together and integrate their respective expertise to help students build skills for future jobs? P-TECH’s brick-and-mortar schools are now experiencing hybrid and completely remote realities. P-TECH has historically integrated local industry and IBMers provide hands-on experiences in the form of hackathons, project days, internships and in-person mentoring activities.”

IBM has been forced to pivot its model from in-person learning to webinar offerings and virtual internships to maintain a consistent offering to local markets. Teacher resources are included to support new delivery and remote models of engagement.

P-TECH resides under IBM’s new-collar jobs umbrella underscoring the programs edict to prop up higher order skills that require associate-level degrees. Suh states, “P-TECH is focused on skills and not just degrees and targeted to emerging IT fields like cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, healthcare, finance and advanced manufacturing.”

Open P-TECH is IBM’s free professional skills platform providing students real-world recognition in the form of earned, badge credentials commensurate with industry professional badging standards. Suh continues, “Credentials provide students with professional cache and documented learning for future endeavors.”

States that participate with IBM designate where P-TECH will be integrated. Suh shares that P-TECH collaborates with states to provide the funding and necessary policy changes with an eye towards mitigating obstacles to support a reconfigured system open to and prime for sustainable outcomes.

“We are working with states to provide funding for the program. Asking states to recognize that high school can be six-year experiences (grades 9-14) with students earning their high school diploma and their two-year Associate’s degree at the same time requires a change in thinking and approaches to funding,” states Suh .

Suh notes that once funding hurdles are solved and positioned for sustainable change, there is no absence of interest from the business and education sectors, respectively. “Educators and business leaders want to participate [with P-TECH] because the model brings a lot to their communities and their young people. We have found success with states that have robust early-college models because they often have established policies and funding models, like dual enrollment, to more quickly embrace our program.”

The commitment for industry partners is a program titled first-in-line for jobs that guarantees interviews for P-TECH graduates. “We want to impact how industries are thinking about who can lead and who can work in our evolving economy. When students graduate, our hope is that industry partners focus more deliberately, rethinking their hiring practices with a comprehensive lens towards diversity and inclusion.”

Through December 21, 2020, IBM and P-TECH are offering over 1,000 internships. There are currently over 600 businesses involved.

P-TECH is ultimately about local economic reinvigoration. Suh elaborates, “When states determine where P-TECH schools will be placed, they will identify partnerships on the ground because of proximity matters in our model. To have students near the community college and close to the industry partner for mentoring and internship opportunities increases the odds that job placement will occur within that local region.”

Suh continues, “This is about building home-grown talent through non-traditional academic and real-world experiences ultimately supporting both the local economy and the early-career professionals who graduate from our P-TECH schools.”

She acknowledges that the model is applicable to the education industry. “We are in this together in an effort to collectively address the skills and opportunity gaps. It is very apparent that if we fail, we lose out on diverse talent to support industry and local and state economies.”

High schools, community colleges and industries have historically played siloed roles in the handoff from classroom to career, often lacking a collective ability to intentionally communicate the relationship between opportunities and need.

These shared challenges associated with gaps in attained skillsets and subsequent academic and career opportunities may or may not reveal themselves in respective communities when P-TECH arrives. “I remember being at a meeting in Mexico and thinking; this is the same discussion we just had in New York,” says Suh. “This idea that we’re serving young people where opportunity seems incredibly inaccessible appears to exist regardless of formal borders. The challenges across the world are very much the same.”

Suh continues, “Even in South Korea and Singapore where the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are historically high, there remain students and educational systems grappling with skills gaps and inequities in education.”

Covid-19 has challenged our greater sense of tradition. Can corporations like IBM and programs as forward-thinking and progressive as P-TECH change the outcomes for students and industry alike? Suh contends that assumptions will need to make way for updated approaches if local and national economies are to realize a new tomorrow, and produce a blueprint for new traditions.

“Rethinking our assumptions about the systems that make up education, establishing more champions at every level of the system and addressing deep inequities in education would greatly assist us in our efforts to deliver P-TECH to more young people, and create sustainable change.”

Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.