Since Election Day, we’ve been whirling in a variety of emotions, ranging from deep sorrow to anger, and landing in a place of recommitting to doing everything we can to promote equity and justice and undo institutional white supremacy. Cultures Connecting strives to be a resource for those committed to this path. Here are some of our thoughts and links to resources for you and your organizations.
Circle of Influence Activity
Each one of us has a unique sphere of people, organizations, and connections we can leverage to make a difference. Try this tool to help you plan what you can do:
Write your name in the center of a blank piece of paper and circle it. Then write the names of organizations you’re involved with, people you know, events you attend, businesses you frequent, etc. Place these in proximity to your name depending on your closeness to them, indicating your inner circle where you have the most influence, and outer circles.
Think about what you might do at different levels. For example, you can organize a letter writing campaign with the five people you’re closest with advocating for the Water Protectors at Standing Rock. Or you can ask a business you frequent to create all-gender bathrooms. It is important none of us become paralyzed in this challenging time. Once we’ve identified our circle of influence, making change can feel less overwhelming and we can see how a small step one of us takes ripples out to others in our community.
Culturally Responsive Leadership Strategies
Many organizations were struggling with how to respond to the election. Leaders themselves were reacting to the outcomes, then had to set aside their own feelings to immediately support clients and employees. This proved challenging, and some organizations opted not to say anything, rather than engage the wide range of responses.
We believe moments like this present an opportunity to model culturally responsive leadership, and it is not too late to share an organization-wide statement about the election. Here are a few tips:
- Reference your mission and vision that supports diversity, equity, and inclusion and make a statement reasserting your organization’s commitment to this mission.
- Provide a space, time, and/or person people can come to and talk about the impact of the election or report incidents of discrimination. Have agreed upon norms for effective engagement during discussions. One of our favorite strategies is to encourage people to ask questions with genuine curiosity.
- Avoid statements such as, “We need to wait and see,” or, “You don’t have any reason to be afraid…” Although intended to be reassuring, these statements can actually feel minimizing or invalidating. Instead, become curious. Ask people what concerns they have and why. Remember to explore someone else’s experience without inserting your own, trying to fix, or endorsing a political stance.
We’ve seen many other resources to continue to work collaboratively for justice. Please share your favorites in the comments.
Significant change, whether individual or within an organization can be challenging. Even when we want to change, it doesn’t happen easily. I recently heard implicit bias compared to a habit, albeit a bad one. Think about how hard it is to change a habit…
A couple of months ago, my brother in law was coming over to my house to pick up his dog after work. We’d talked earlier and he reminded me to leave the front door open for him. Then he sent me a text about 15 minutes before I was leaving as a second reminder. “Leave the door unlocked, leave the door unlocked,” I chanted in my head as I gathered my things to go. Then I went through my mental list of what I needed to bring with me, made sure I had it all, walked out, locked the door and left. His poor dog was locked inside.
Even though I wanted to change that habit and was focusing a lot of mental energy on doing something different, the moment I got distracted, I forgot and went back to what I do every day.
Now imagine there are a bunch of individuals trying to change an organization. But they’ve all learned and practiced habits of stereotypes, biases, and institutional oppression for years. Some have even gotten rewarded for this behavior by being told they’re a “good fit” at the company and getting promoted. Some are the founders of the organization or have worked there so long they see any mention of needed change as a personal affront. Others have been going along to get along, trying not to make waves by bringing up experiences of marginalization. They may even be telling themselves they imagined it or making excuses for oppressive behavior such as, “I know he didn’t mean it that way.”
When we come in to work with an organization we inform people it will be difficult and will likely bring to the surface issues that have existed for a while but never been said out loud. When we start a workshop, we tell people it is normal to experience discomfort and encourage them to lean into those feelings and wonder about what is going on at the root of the tension.
Yet when those moments happen, it is difficult to stay engaged and see this as a positive sign of change, rather than retreat to old habits. We’ve worked with organizations where after the workshop people of color are deeply concerned about stereotypes their white colleagues are talking openly about for the first time. Sometimes staff will say they feel more divided now that they’ve seen the ways white privilege and stereotypes can come between them and coworkers. The door opens for the conversation and if we’re lucky, people bring their hurt into the room. Unfortunately, we’re not automatically competent in the way we share our pain and can easily end up hurting others in the process.
People will ask for quick fixes and the “right tools”. They think somehow they can learn a strategy that is separate from having an authentic conversation with another person. When change doesn’t happen quickly, sometimes people get frustrated and disengage from conversations about the ways they’ve colluded with racism, insisting the conversation isn’t going to help. We want to protect our identities and don’t want to acknowledge our habits of bias.
This work is hard. It can feel easier to retreat, to blame the facilitator or the activity, to say, “I get it,” and shake our fists at others. In these moments, remember why we’re doing this in the first place.
Maybe it is for children, who we want to face fewer barriers in life. Maybe it is so we can bring our full selves into work and genuinely connect with other people. Maybe it is for the increased health benefits of not having to deal with the stress of racism. Maybe it is for our collective humanity. Because living with daily oppression is hard work. No, really it is. Seriously hard work.
And keep in mind, when we work collectively, it can also provide momentum for change. We can remind each other to leave the door unlocked and we’ll likely have multiple sets of keys.
The killing of Michael Brown and response from the community and police in Ferguson, Missouri, has shown us once again how far we have to go to address racism in the 21st century. We hope this pivotal moment will motivate people to have courageous conversations that result in taking action in our lives, workplaces, and institutions. Here are a few resources we’ve pulled together for you to reflect on and share with others.
Ferguson in Context
- Seattle Times article about books on race and the police
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness–book by Michelle Alexander
- This is Why We’re Mad about the Shooting of Mike Brown
- Gallup Review: Black and White Attitudes Towards the Police
- The Ferguson Syllabus–Sociological Context
Resources for Educators
- Teaching About Ferguson–Teaching for Change article
- Current Events Classroom–ADL Lesson Plans
- Do’s and Don’t’s for Teaching about Ferguson–The Root article
Arts and Inspiration
- Don’t Shoot–Powerful photo taken at Howard University
- Be Free–song by J. Cole
- Black Rage–song by Lauren Hill
- If they Gunned me Down–Black activism on Tumblr and Twitter
- Jon Stewart’s response to Fox News coverage of Ferguson
What Can I Do?
- Donate to the Michael Brown Memorial Fund
- 5 Ways You can Help
- 12 Things White People can do Now because Ferguson
- 10 Ways you can Help the People of Ferguson, Missouri
Please share other resources you’ve come across in the comments.
In Hope and Solidarity,
Ilsa and Caprice
How many of us start trying to find ways to mediate or show the commonalities in our beliefs when witnessing racial conflict between people or disagreeing with someone ourselves? How many are willing to stay engaged and understand the root of the disagreement?
How many of us have ended a conversation, only to go to someone else we knew would agree with us and talk about why the other person was wrong? How many are willing to challenge ourselves and our friends to consider we might be the one’s who need to change?
I wrote and presented the following at an Episcopal Women’s Gathering recently:
I’m going to give a brief overview of our approach to anti-racism work by explaining the norms we operate under. One of the first steps in dismantling racism is self-awareness. For me, as a White person, this means the on-going process of interrogating the dominant cultural norms I’ve taken for granted as “just the way people are” or “just how things are done”. In contrast, the norms of People of Color are often referred to as “cultural”. In redefining norms, we seek to make conversations and actions more explicitly equitable. The following are adapted from the work of Glenn Singleton’s Courageous Conversations.