Saturday, the election was called for President Elect Biden and Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris – the first women VP and first African American and Asian VP. For many it is a relief and there is a hope we can maybe advance initiatives that allow for more racial equity. While we have a lot to be hopeful for, we still need to be on the ground working and continue organizing and advancing practices that promote racial justice.
With the incoming administration there will be change, hopefully more progressive changes than during the last four year where we fought to hold onto whatever scraps we had. A friend shared the saying “change moves as fast as the people involved.” He shared this as we were advocating to support a fellow colleague who is trying to lead for change but meeting resistance.
White People and Change
I’m going to call out white people, change is hard but unless you get your shit together you’re holding others back because of your comfort level. People of color are not out to get you. It may feel that way, but this is where you can check your privilege and accept that change isn’t about you personally. It may feel like you’re giving up something, but also consider it is the system rebalancing and equalizing to be more fair to people of color.
Organizations can only move as fast as the people involved. If people are uncomfortable with the change they will do big and little things to stimize the change. My colleague who is in the organization that diversified its staff is sadly finding out the people involved in her organization weren’t ready for massive change even though they said they are. Is it fair the few, really a small handful, are holding up change for an entire organization? Do we need to cater to the few who want to maintain business as usual in the name of their comfort? The quick answers are no, but in real life we often face resistance to change in overt and covert ways.
Diversity and Resistance to Change
Earlier in the week I was on a call with several colleagues to talk through a pending amendment with a statewide organization. The white leaders of the organization tried to be cheerful about the proposed change but were clearly annoyed. Their covert and overt language, facial expressions, and general uncomfortableness made it clear they are not ready to move ahead. A few snide comments were made, most of them we allowed to pass — if we called out each one of them we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere in the conversation. This is where as a POC and as allies, we take the hits, tolerate microaggressions, and suck it up in the name of the bigger prize. It is taxing to have to sit through these conversations that are not designed for POC comfort. During one point in the conversation I got so annoyed I called out the speaker for a tone-deaf comment. It didn’t go well. Their resistance to change, even if they say they are ready, will result, in cycling through people of color and allies because they aren’t comfortable giving up their white norms.
How to Embrace Change
I don’t have a magic formula for accepting change, but here are some thoughts that may help.
- Start the conversation early with your colleagues, board, and staff, be explicit about using racialized language.
- Require all employees participate in racial equity training, make sure it is with experienced trainers. If you are on staff somewhere embrace the training and seek to learn.
- Practice listening.
- Recognize there will be uncomfortable period. Recognize the change isn’t about you and your comfort. Don’t take it personally, there are a few exceptions if you are part of a group that has been historically marginalized (e.g. POC, LGTBQ, disabled, immigrant, limited English speaker, etc.).
- Practice going through the changes, if possible – test out some of the changes through tabletop exercises and scenarios, go on site visits or interview others that have made similar shifts, work to demystify the process. The more people can see and understand the changes the easier it is to embrace it.
- Recognize the competing interest and agendas and be clear about priorities. Have people be clear about who benefits racially from the status quo or changes.
- If you are on the receiving end of change, be honest with yourself and others about your fears, questions, and what you need to move ahead. Talking can help everyone versus just being resistant and an ass in the process.
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