The public outrage over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmuad Aubrey, and the reckless behavior of Amy Cooper are catalyzing all kinds of action. While the violence at protests is getting the most media attention, individuals and organizations are expressing solidarity in a myriad of ways. I am finding even White leaders who haven’t necessarily been at the forefront of racial equity movements are seeking out information and guidance about how to step up for and stand by People of Color. As you move up your allyship, here are five tips for organizational leaders (particularly but not exclusively White leaders) to consider when responding to systemic racism.
#1. Refer to the Individuals Who Were Killed by Police BY NAME.
I have recently observed my colleagues of color have to do the work of asking well-meaning White leaders who refer to “the recent tragedies” “these difficult times” or “our current context” to honor the dead by speaking their names. Refer to those who were killed by the police by name; George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmuad Aubrey (and the list goes on). If you want to up your game as an ally, feel free to request your White colleagues do this as well. Racism is sneaky, it thrives in vagueness and gets torn down by explicitness.
#2. Take a Stand and Make it Known.
By taking a stand, I mean consider; what is your position on systemic racism? Identify what you believe in and then share it publicly. Your critical race analysis may be new, you may have lots of questions, and you don’t need to have it all figured out. Your staff, colleagues and partners need to hear you say that you are taking a stand against race-based brutality. For example; “We at (name of organization) condemn the violence against Black and Brown communities and are committed to doing our part to bring an end to this brutality.”
#3. Contribute Financially to a People of Color Led Effort.
Money isn’t the only way to contribute, but it is an important one. The wealth of our nation is based on stolen land and racially biased lending practices. Making a financial contribution that acknowledges and recognizes this, is part of a personal and collective healing practice. Consider giving to an organization led by People of Color that interrupts the systems of racism, not just now but as part of an overall practice annually. Giving your staff a short list of choices that allows everyone to unite around taking action for a cause is a great mobilizer. Here is a great place to start and stay tuned for a more on this topic from me.
#4. Act Today, but Commit to the Long Road.
Yes, it is important to take action today and know that this work is life-long. There is no arrival or expertise. If you missed a chance to act today, you can act tomorrow. Signing a petition, making a call to an elected official, or contributing financially all matter, especially when we all participate. AND consider; what kind of daily or weekly practice can you commit to? Can you commit to initiating a conversation with your White friends about race? Can you commit to shorten the time you need to process your observation of a micro-aggression and speak out more quickly? Can you choose at least one book a month written by a Person of Color to read and share what you learn? Here’s a great article that outlines 75 things White people can do to combat racism.
#5. Make Space to Process, but Don’t Center Whiteness or White Guilt.
The work of anti-racism is emotional as well as strategic. As a leader, you may intuitively want to make space for people to share their feelings at work. This is a great instinct, and it is tricky. If your team is diverse, consider having a brief check-in as an entire team (like 1 minute each timed) and then breaking up into racial caucuses for further processing and support. What will only exasperate the harm for your staff of color is is asking them to listen to White staff process their guilt, confusion and paralysis. Support your White staff to do this work on their own time. Here is a helpful article on breaking up into race specific caucuses.
The work of becoming explicitly anti-racist can be a joyful one. Mistakes will happen and when they do, you have the opportunity to acknowledge you made a mistake, take in the feedback non-defensively, and shift. This builds the foundation for long term relationships across power and difference. Its going to take a collective of deep and caring relationships to tear down and rebuild the systems that divide and harm us.
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