Today is Veteran’s Day. Thank you to our servicemembers and Veterans.
Earlier this week a colleague joined my organization’s advocacy and policy cohort to talk about her advocacy and community organizing journey. It was a rich hour-and-a-half conversation and we easily could have spent all day listening to her stories and wisdom. In my notes from the meeting I wrote: “know yourself, like really know yourself.” While this is easy to understand and theorize this line, it is harder to live and practice. Along with this premise, another friend suggested as a blog topic to talk about people who use equity as a way for self-promotion because it is trendy or they can be the expert in it. These two topics go together in a strange mashup.
Believing and understanding racial equity is a personal journey. It takes a lot of introspection, grappling with personal privileges — we all have some form of privilege, and understanding your personal why is part of the journey. Equity is the in-thing and conversations around race are at the forefront of many organization, the reasons for wanting to practice equity can’t be trendy or be used for self-advancement without understanding your personal reason for practicing equity.
Equitrend = Equity+Trendy
Equity is trendy. Organizations have equity teams, big organizations have departments on org charts charged with paying attention to equity, and people throw the word out at meetings all the time. Maybe the next phase of popularity will be Woke-departments.
If you have colleagues who want to jump on the equity trend but you are skeptical is ask them if they have a personal definition and a personal reason for wanting to engage in the work. This is a simple but loaded question since you’re asking about their value systems. I remember being at a luncheon with an ethnic business association and the presenter used the word equity. One of the audience members earnestly asked what does equity mean, because she came from the financial sector and thought of financial equity. The presenter couldn’t answer the question succinctly and stumbled his way through it. My colleague kept hitting my leg in disbelief during the answer, the presenters desire to be on the equity-bandwagon was falling apart as we ate our delicious dumpling soup.
Fail Specatarily with Others
We need to be willing to fail at race and equity conversations, maybe not as publicly as I just wrote about, but we need to be willing to fail and be willing to reflect on our failures. I’m borrowing a concept from Ray a friend who is an art teacher. He blogged about creating a culture of failing spectacularly. Very few people want to fail at race conversations and as a result, we have a culture that refuses to confront the impact race has on our country. Instead, we need to find people and create spaces where we can fail at the conversations and be honest and let go of conceptions about how to be ‘right’ at race conversations. I have multiple people who keep me in check and humble me when it comes to talking about race and other forms of identity that I can never authentically live. I ask them to invest in my learning and in return, I hope they know I am part of their squad-care too.
What to do
My friend asked for strategies for helping people understand that equity isn’t about them. There are times when I’m losing my patience and want to say “yo, you’ve been talking a lot and your equitrend analysis don’t make sense,” or what I really want to say is “you’re all spun up like a tighty whitey, let go of some of that white supremacy bullshit.” I can’t really say these things and expect to be effective instead, I try what a colleague calls “call in and call out” strategies to re-direct the conversation. I’ll also admit at times I just give up and sit back and watch to see how things play out.
A more positive strategy is to take people out of their normal environments and to tell them to shut up and listen to others. Take people to visit a school in a different neighborhood, take them with you on a site visit to a youth or senior program, take them to lunch with you with more woke people and tell them their job is to just listen. When you take them out point out the subtle differences they may not notice – such as at a youth program point out who is doing the talking in the classroom, talk about the history of the neighborhood and who currently lives there. When we confront the differences, we begin to see things differently.
If a site visit isn’t possible create spaces for deeper conversation. Talk about a TED-Talk related to something you’re working on and ask some probing questions about race. Ask what is the last book or article they read by an author of color and how it informed their thinking, if they can’t recall reading anything by an author of color explore why that is (hint talk about systemic racism and how whiteness is not normal).
Take time to engage and reflect. This will help you understand your personal why.
Posted by Erin Okuno