Communicating Race Matters

Dele Johnson

Local author and scholar Dr. Brenda J. Allen encourages us to reflect on how we relate to each other. 

According to Dr. Brenda J. Allen, “Being socialized into a racially biased society, we’re all guilty of TUI (thinking under the influence).” As humans, when we interact, we tend to draw on our expectations and assumptions — often informed by stereotypes — about the groups our counterpart represents. These assumptions, in turn, dictate our behaviors and attitudes. The human mind works so fast that we generally leap to these conclusions before any verbal communication. In some scenarios, our prejudgments may influence how we decide to communicate with one another.

This April, The Denver Foundation invited Dr. Allen to speak with donors for the issue briefing, “Communicating Race Matters.” The briefing was part of a new event series that reflects the Foundation’s commitment to facilitating courageous and thoughtful conversations around racial equity both internally and externally.

During her time with donors, Dr. Allen spoke on how we share meaning, how we communicate with people who are both similar and different from ourselves, and why the way we communicate racial (and other) identities is so important. She invited attendees to reflect and examine how each of us communicates within the context of our own and others’ race, gender, social class, age, sexuality, religion, and ability status. The University of Colorado recruited Dr. Allen from Washington, D.C., after she completed her Ph.D. in organizational communication at Howard University. Since then, she has spent three decades as a scholar and Professor of Communication at CU Boulder (until 2001) and then as the Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion on CU’s Denver and Anschutz campuses, where she explores, studies, and writes about communicating social identities.

In her widely read book “Difference Matters,” Dr. Allen provides historical overviews to show how perceptions of gender, race, social class, sexuality, ability, and age have varied across time and place. Just as in April’s issue briefing, Dr. Allen’s book encourages readers to open their hearts and minds to become more aware of how they communicate social identity. The book even provides tools in the form of “ID Checks,” a list of prompts that spark intrapersonal communication, our internal thoughts and judgments.

You can watch a recorded live stream of Dr. Allen's presentation below.


If you'd like to learn more about supporting racial equity and social identity initiatives at The Denver Foundation, please contact Sachi Ishida at 303.300.1790 or

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