What follows a commitment to ending racism?
Since the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer - amplifying the Black Lives Matter movement - there have been numerous statements from civic leaders, celebrities, major corporations, educational institutions, health organizations, and others asserting their (rightful/overdue) commitment to anti-racism. With so many different companies and organizations now standing in explicit solidarity with Black people, the myth of the “post-racial” America has come to an end.
The gravity of this moment has been felt by many and the world now understands neutrality is no longer an option.
Organizational leaders, newly invigorated by their commitments to defeat systems of racism that have become too gratuitous to ignore, must now ask themselves how they will operationalize these public commitments into policy and sustainable change? What is their commitment to undo centuries of systemic racial hatred and oppression? How do they begin to undo cultural norms that influence how societal problems are interpreted? How do we coalesce to do this necessary work?
The answers to these questions should signal that change is imminent and undeniable. We now understand that we cannot revert to old behaviors of inaction because it does not lead us to inclusion. We must refuse returning to “business as usual”, clinging to the hope that folks will simply do better because it’s the “moral” right thing to do. Anti-racism has to live in systems but where do you start first?
In part, it’ll have to do with your context and understanding of anti-racism. While there are answers for each question posed, there is but one “mindset”. Anti-racism is more than an “identity.” It is “being.” It is behavior. It is work.
Moving toward racial equity means engaging in anti-racism work. We understand that this is not easy. Nothing that repairs generational oppression will come easy. It requires you to use an uncomfortable amount of emotional energy and that can be challenging and scary. It is a true testament of faith. Most of us do not know what it looks like or feels like to actively engage in and to sustain anti-racist work. Like everyone else, we feel a sense of urgency, but anti-racism work is bigger than individual-solutions. It is bigger than any training, workshop or webinar. It requires a collective investment of trust and mutual understanding. It is unrealistic to move fast hoping for immediate results. It is a slow but intentional process that requires people to connect their emotional experiences caused by racial injustice to the necessary action of anti-racism. In other words, it requires moments of discomfort, in-congruence and pain. Here's the reality:
If you are holding on to power, you will not be able to do this work.
If you are holding on to privilege, you will not be able to do this work.
If you are holding on to shame or guilt, you will not be able to do this work.
If you are holding on to fear, you will not be able to do this work.
Much of what can be gained from this work is intangible. To truly engage in anti-racism work your eyes, ears, and most importantly your heart must be open. You must be ready to receive just as much, if not more, than you give.
Full Circle Strategies has begun the groundwork in supporting organizations, agencies and community leaders who are committed to engaging in anti-racism work with open eyes, ears, hands, and hearts. Now more than ever, we need to confront and remove the barriers that impede racial equity in our own organizations. We recognize your commitment to social justice and we want to support your shift. As you continue to process and think about what the “next steps” look like for your organization or community, understand that we are here as a resource and we are standing with you in solidarity.
FAQs (frequently asked questions) about anti-racism organizational change work
Who in my organization should lead the work?
No single person can lead this work; however, the leadership within any organization must model the change they want to see. If you are a leader wanting to lead an anti-racist organization, you have to both speak and show that commitment to your staff. This happens in different ways, such as entrusting your staff to hold you accountable to your commitment to change. Also, this is a collective process so that the focus is on undoing systems, while forming new practices.
Aren't people of color best at leading racial equity work? There are many talented and thoughtful people of color (POC)working in organizations and communities. This does not make us automatic experts in leading anti-racism work. We have internalized the same culture of White Supremacy and in many ways it has impacted how we "show up" and engage in our work. As POC we also have to be willing to explore how our identities have been shaped by systemic racism and build up our comfort level to be our authentic selves while holding accountable those who continue to perpetuate these systems. There is nuance to how we approach the work. Predominantly White organizations must also make space for people of color to do this. This could mean creating co-leadership opportunities. Finally, we ALL have to do some heavy lifting. We cannot expect POC to lead the work by themselves. Making and sustaining the cultural shifts that undo systemic racism will also require White people to directly engage even when they are the only ones in the space.
Do we need to offer regular trainings? Opportunities for professional development that support an organization's effort in pushing anti-racism work forward is a necessary element for change. The types of training and amount of time spent will depend upon the growth stage of your organization in its anti-racism work. It is realistic that your training needs change as your organization moves forward in their anti-racism work. There are many effective and dynamic trainers of this work. It is important to assess your current needs and identify facilitators who are a best fit for your organization.
How does implicit bias training fit into anti-racism work? It is useful for individuals to become aware of their biases and how they manifest at the intersection of race, gender, and class (and others). We believe that this awareness alone does not address systemic racism or inequities present in an organization's culture. People should be pushed to recognize bias but also understand that an effective strategy is to talk about it in the context of systemic racism.
How long does it take for an organization to become anti-racist? As of this moment there is not a definitive answer to this question. It is also important to state that this is a journey not a destination. People and organizations do not arrive at a tangible place where they "become" anti-racist. It is a journey that will consist of individual walks and collective action.
What happens if I (or others) make mistakes? Again, this is a journey. Mistakes are a part of this process. Trying to avoid making mistakes will only create anxiety and fear, both of which are not conducive to growth. We also see mistakes as teachable moments. Changing your communication systems (or how you speak about race) to support authentic dialogue will take you further than trying to appear "anti-racist".
What if people in my organization disengage or leave? There are many reasons people may choose to leave an organization. It is especially difficult to make sense of people's motives during times of transition. As a leader, it is important to think about your own behaviors and your commitment to engaging in this work even through challenging times. This can be a model for others to follow. Finally, organizational change that reflects undoing systemic racism will not happen without some abrupt disruption. Be prepared for people to leave and see it as an opportunity to move forward with those who are ready to continue the journey.
What if I get tired? Compassion fatigue is a real phenomenon in this work. No one should be able to engage in anti-racism work without experiencing mental and emotional exhaustion. This is yet another area where modeling healthy behavior is crucial to shifting the culture. Be forthcoming about your personal struggle with shifting your mindset. Recognize when you need to step back and take a break. Do not see this as failure, but growth. Also, assume that others might be experiencing exhaustion. Encourage your staff or colleagues to take breaks and step back from the work. Also be committed to supporting self-care through policy and practice.