The Conversation – Robert Livingston Book Summary

The Conversation – Robert Livingston | Free Book Summary

The Conversation – Robert Livingston

Racism is defined as a situation in which individuals or institutions show more favorable evaluation or treatment of an individual or group based on race or ethnicity, and it is noted that racism can manifest in the forms of “evaluation” and “treatment” and is mostly about how society operates.

The Power of Conversation


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A conversation is one of the most powerful ways to build knowledge, awareness, and empathy, and ultimately effect change. 

It is also a primal way for people to form bonds, build trust and create community. When people are given the opportunity to have a conversation after being exposed to new information they are more likely to have changes in behavior.

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We are more likely to talk, listen, influence, and be influenced through productive conversation.

The PRESS Model

The PRESS model was created by Robert Livingston, the author of this book and a public policy lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School.

This model offers corporate and organizational leaders to implement effective interventions to address racism. PRESS stands for:

  • Problem awareness
  • Root-cause analysis
  • Empathy
  • Strategies
  • Sacrifice

This model applies not only to racism but to almost any personal or social problem.

People are not entirely rational or objective … It is important to understand how emotions, needs, and desires impact the interpretation of facts, and what people accept as truth.


There are many definitions going around for “racism” however, the author wants to underscore his definition of it:

Racism occurs when individuals or institutions show more favorable evaluation or treatment of an individual or group based on race or ethnicity.

The author believes that racism can manifest in the forms of “evaluation” and “treatment.” Moreover, racism is mostly about how society operates. It doesn’t have to involve hatred toward the “other” but it is frequently motivated by an opportunistic desire to promote self-interest or group interest.

Systemic Racism

This is a term that is used to refer to a form of racism that is embedded in the laws and regulations of a society or an organization. It doesn’t have anything to do with what’s in your heart, brain, or intentions but it is all about how your actions and inactions allow the dynamics that are already in place.

The 2 Types of Privilege

The two types of privilege are: individual and institutional.

Institutional privilege refers to all the advantages of Whiteness that are inherited through baked-in foundational forces and their impact on political, economic, legal, and social structures, policies, and practices. 

Individual privilege is what individuals obtain for themselves, often called “achieved” status.

Institutional privilege is tied to individual privilege because a lack of the former constrains or restricts the latter.

The only group of people who have full privilege is the group of high-class Whites.

The Mechanisms That Maintain Social Hierarchy

Social dominance theory has identified the two primary mechanisms that help maintain social hierarchies: legitimizing myths and institutional terror.

Legitimizing myths are widely held with fictitious beliefs (meritocracy, divine right of the kings) where people accept valid explanations for social hierarchical positions, but when people stop believing in myths, institutional terror then actively maintains the hierarchy through the use of force, intimidation, violence, or oppressive legal policies or practices.

Breaking the Fall into Racism Traps

Have the people be mindful. There are people who are not aware that their feelings about their own shortcomings are directly tied to their political leanings and racial evaluations of other people.

Practice self-affirmation. Power has a palliative effect on fear. It does nothing to cure the underlying insecurities caused by fear, but it sure does make people feel better about themselves by providing the illusion of invulnerability.

Equality vs Equity

Equality simply means everyone is treated the same exact way, regardless of need or any other individual difference.

Equity, on the other hand, means everyone is provided with what they need to succeed. Thus, equity entails treating people differently but that is not the same as “special” treatment. The latter is based on pure favorites or cronyism, not need, merit, obstacles, or other criteria of commensuration.

Equal treatment in the face of unlevel playing fields and disparate barrier heights merely perpetuates systems of injustice that are already in place

How Racism Hurts People

Racism is a textbook example of harm because it hurts people of color in every sense imaginable—psychologically, physically, financially, and professionally.

It epitomizes how past events continue to produce harmful attitudes and outcomes in the present. The social, economic, political, and health disparities created by historical structures are still with us today. 

Moreover, racism persists because people allow self-interest, tribalism, and other factors to conveniently distort their conception of fairness, values, and moral foundations.

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