A Guide to Anti-Racist Stretch Goals: What It Means to Be Anti-Racist and How to Take Action

The anti-racist stretch goal is s a core element of the Authentic Solidarity Program that pushes us to take action. It’s about building new practices, stepping outside of routine, creating neural pathways, building new muscles, and getting out of your head. It’s about taking your equity and inclusion values and making them real

To be successful in your anti-racist stretch goal, it is important to choose a goal that is uniquely tailored to your experience, passions, skills, and platform. I will describe what the anti-racist stretch goal is and provide you with examples to support your implementation of a goal that makes ​​sense for you.

There are three core ideas that inform the anti-racist stretch goal that we must take into account before getting started.

#1:  What does it mean to be anti-racist?

#2:  How does racism show up in the world, and where can you intervene? 

#3:  What is a stretch goal?

Let’s take these, one by one.

#1:  What does it mean to be anti-racist?

The idea of being anti-racist has been around for a while, but became popularized in 2019 when Dr. Imbrim X. Kendi wrote: “How to be an Anti-racist.” In this work, Kendi quotes famous civil rights activist, Angela Davis, explaining:

“in a racist society, it’s not enough to be non-racist, one must be anti-racist.”

Below, I will describe my take on what Davis and Kendi mean by being more than just non-racist. To hear more on Dr. Kendi’s anti-racist definition, see here

Being non-racist means refraining from being racist, right? Most of us today, when we think of racism, we think of things like telling racist jokes, only hiring White people, making ill assumptions about people of color, or more serious incidents like BIPOC targeted police brutality. We think of racism as serious, overt actions that “other people” do. 

So, if I don’t do any of these things, that means I am not racist and have done my part, right?. Unfortunately, the systems of racism and inequality are so deeply rooted that simply refraining from overtly racist acts is not enough. Being anti-racist goes that step further. 

Many people are starting to see that simply being non-racist isn’t enough to create meaningful change. My favorite synonym for being anti-racist is to be “pro-active.”  Rather than waiting for something racist to happen, what can you do to get ahead of it?  Or rather than refraining from feeling judgmental towards people of color, can you make an effort to understand why you have that initial perception and then shift towards acceptance?  (Only if you really mean it though).  Rather than making sure you don’t discriminate against people of color in hiring, what if you made an extra effort to recruit qualified candidates of color?  These are all definitions of anti-racist actions vs. non-racist actions.  Being proactive, making an extra effort, and intentionally amplifying the achievements of people of color, are all part of being anti-racist.  

#2:  How does racism show up in the world? (So you can pick a focus)

Ever heard of a SMART goal? (If not, you can learn more here.)  I like to focus on what the “S” stands for, which is SPECIFIC.  The idea being, that the more specific your goal is, the more likely you are to focus your energy and actually achieve an outcome.  So, how do you get “specific” when it comes to racism?  Racism is a complex, multi-faceted, long-standing dynamic.  

To be successfully anti-racist, I don’t think you need to study the intricacies of how racism functions in society, but I do think it is key to have a general understanding of the four primary ways racism shows up in society. 

The  four primary ways racism shows up in society are:

  • Individual:  Within oneself
  • Interpersonal:  Between two or more people in a relationship
  • Cultural:  Within messages, symbols, films, books, and shared assumptions
  • Structural:  In the legal structures of organizations and institutions

And of course, these all overlap and influence each other, but let’s look at them briefly one by one.  

Individual (Within oneself):  Racism lives within each one of us that has grown up in a racist society.  It lives in our thoughts, beliefs, stories, assumptions, and unconscious associations we make about people of different races.  Research shows that every single one of us is biased as a human, along all different vectors, race certainly being one of them.  Changing our thoughts and beliefs is hard, but possible for humans.  We can become more self-aware if we are willing to try.

Interpersonal (Between two or more people in a relationship):  Racism also shows up in our communication with each other.  When you show up to your child’s first day of school – who do you choose to talk to or introduce yourself to?  During a team meeting at the office or group discussion, who gets the most air time?  These tendencies to be around and offer preferential treatment to people who look like or remind us of ourselves is called inter-personal racism.  

Within culture: Racism shows up within culture through the constant flow of information and entertainment that we all digest. Movies, streaming series, advertising, symbols, history books, music, etc.  All things which inform our collective thoughts, beliefs, and actions. And when these different forms of media reinforce racist stereotypes or assumptions, we are being influenced by racism within our culture, which can be extremely powerful in upholding a racist society.. Therefore, we can define cultural racism as the patterns of interpersonal relationships getting played out at large across society. 

Within legal structures:  While all areas of racism are important and worth attention, this fourth area is often considered the most important. However, strangely enough, it is often the most overlooked.  Note:  Many, many organizations have their take on these four levels, some use five or more.  The World Trust Educational Center uses this graphic. The National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian describes it this way.

While many of our laws have since been refined, for hundreds of years there were legal systems in place that discriminated against people of color, particularly Black people. The effects of those discriminatory laws are with us still today.  Until the 1970s, Black people were legally turned away from acquiring bank loans to buy a house as well as to attend universities they were equally or more qualified for. The way wealth works in this country is that it gets passed down and accumulates, primarily through homeownership, generation to generation. – it’s the single largest driver of wealth in the country. Therefore, through legally sanctioned discrimination, people of color have been historically locked out of access to build wealth.  Pulitzer Prize winner Nikole Hannah-Jones describes the history of legal discrimination against Black people and its relationship to building wealth in the US here.  

No single one of these areas alone will eradicate racism, yet all of them are crucial.  As my participants draft their stretch goals, I recommend focusing on one area deeply.   Are you going to work on deepening your own self-awareness of your racist thoughts and attitudes?  Are you going to work towards speaking up more about racism that you witness or are a part of in relationships?  Are you going to contribute to cultural change through writing or producing art?  Are you going to organize to change laws and policies, either in government or in your company/organization? Know that being an anti-racist is a lifelong journey, you can devote a year or more to one area and then move on to another. 

#3: What is a Stretch Goal?  

The “stretch goal” is a common idea in leadership development and behavior change. The basic idea is the following: Choose a goal that is not so outside your comfort zone or what you are used to that you panic or freeze, (The Red Zone) but also not something so close or familiar that you aren’t challenged at all, (The Comfort Zone).  The idea is to be just uncomfortable enough that you are learning and growing, (The Green Zone).

Let’s look at this idea of a “stretch” with a racial equity lens. For many people, taking any action at all around race is intimidating.  Immediately, many people feel like they are in the panic zone.  

So, if that’s the case, be real with yourself;

What can you do that isn’t so scary but is a bit more than you are doing now?  

Here’s another thing.  I can hear my colleagues of color taking deep breaths as they read this, trying to manage their frustration with White people who are “so scared” of taking any action.  Let’s look at this, fellow White people. What are we actually scared of when confronted with the prospect of examining our internal racism, speaking up around race, putting some anti-racist art or messaging out there, or organizing with others for more anti-racist policies?  Damaging our reputation? Losing credibility?  Rupturing important relationships?  Probably some combination of these fears is coming up for you.  And these are legitimate fears! The stakes are pretty high professionally and personally for getting it right when having conversations about race. We don’t live in a culture that allows for a lot of mistakes.  It does seem sometimes like one slip of the tongue, and you could be “canceled.”  This is the reality we live in, and it does need to be taken into account when considering your stretch goal.  

While these fears are real, let’s look at what our colleagues of color face in the workplace, what they might be scared of, and what’s at stake for them.  Every day the challenge of re-training people to think of them as competent, qualified, “easy to work with”, and not a threat is present, if not in the foreground, in the background of everyone’s consciousness, including their own. Every day the prospect of being stopped by the police, or someone they love being stopped by police and being mistreated either verbally or physically is in the background.  Every day, navigating the question of the impact their race has on interpersonal and professional dynamics; did I get that promotion because of my race?  Did I get passed over for that promotion because of my race? Can I give my supervisor feedback, or will I be perceived as a problematic employee because of my race?  Every “risky” moment that we all face in navigating power dynamics, is that much riskier if you are Black or a person of color.  

So, when thinking about risk-taking (which is basically what a stretch is), I suggest to my White clients and partners, what if you thought about what could be gained from this risk, rather than what could be lost?  What if by talking more openly, honestly, and bravely about race in the office; you gained more trust among a broader, more diverse group of staff?  What if your risk-taking added to your credibility?Because even when you made a mistake, you owned it, apologized, and then were able to move on. What if Black employees, peers, and colleagues felt more seen and appreciated – felt the effort to really see and appreciate them. What if that could lighten their daily stress load and allow for more creativity and calm throughout the office?  If all of that were possible, wouldn’t it be worth it? That’s the thing about learning and growth, you can’t really get the rewards without the risk. And usually the greater the risk, the greater the reward. 

If equity and inclusion are something you truly care about and genuinely want to experience, you aren’t going to have that experience without taking the risk.  

Let’s look at some examples of anti-racist stretch goals:

  • Call-in my colleagues to anti-racism by naming and noticing unconscious racism when I see it. (Inter-personal)
  • Add IDE (i.e., equity and belonging) as a standing topic to the monthly meeting with the expectation that leadership will cascade topics and conversations to their teams. (Inter-personal and Cultural)
  • Increase racial diversity by 20% on the Executive Team via proactive recruitment. (Inter-personal and Legal/Policy-oriented)
  • Build a social & racial justice lens to our innovation launches, bringing tangible new products to market as a clear and bold commitment and point of differentiation. (Cultural)
  • Ensure that an inclusive process, across race and other historically marginalized identities, exists for assigning task force project opportunities for career development, by end of Q1. (Inter-personal and Legal/Policy-oriented).

Notice that the goals span interpersonal, cultural, and legal realms. They are also specific and measurable, with many including specific time frames. The degree of risk must be determined by each person, leader, and team.  

What is your anti-racist stretch goal? How will you challenge yourself to go beyond being non-racist and be more pro-actively anti-racist, or pro-actively and intentionally inclusive across race? What feels like a do-able stretch for you? How can you step outside your comfort zone without panicking and stick with it?  What is a small but significant change you can make consistently over time? And finally, who can support you? Choose a friend or colleague that you can share your goal with and talk about how it’s going in order to help you stay accountable. I’d love to hear more about your stretch goals here. The more transparently and openly we all talk about how to make our values of inclusion real, actionable, and measurable, the closer we get to moving towards justice.