Photo of black and white dog looking up at camera with buggy eyes, a wet nose, and a tongue showing. Photo by Kat Smith on Pexels.com

No blog post next week. I’ll be soaking in the final weeks of summer.

I’m not a morning person – everyone who knows me knows this is an engrained truth. Yet earlier this week I woke up early and ‘commuted’ to my kitchen table to join a panel presentation talking about allyship. It was for a global audience thanks to the magic of Zoom-video connections.

The conversation was interesting and thought-provoking. One of the questions that stayed with me was we often hear about micro-aggressions that are made towards people of color. Micro aggressions are hurtful and harmful comments or actions that come off as innocent but are hurtful towards people of color. Micro-aggressions also show people’s biases.

The flip to this that we briefly explored during the talk is the notion of micro-affirmations. Micro-affirmations are the daily actions we can show to people of color to help create inclusion, understanding, and recognition. When these small actions of inclusion and praise are not shared with people of color, will favor white people.

Who Gets Positive Communication

Several years ago, I saw data from a community survey that documented which families received positive and negative communication from teachers. Families (mostly parents) reported even scores on the question of who received negative communication – teachers could find parents when they needed to communicate a negative action. However, the data showed white families received about 1.2 more touches for positive communication. While 1.2 does not sound like a lot, when the two data points are taken together it shows how the overall education system creates more inclusion for white students and families. When things are bad the outreach is equal, but when things are good, we don’t make the same effort to share that with people of color.

We all have biases, and these biases show up in subtle ways, such as who receives positive or negative communication. If someone tells you, “I don’t have biases,” don’t believe them. Our brains are hard-wired to have biases. How we act on our biases is the more important part of acting for racial equity. Who we give micro-affirmations to easily and readily is a way our biases play out. The white boss who tells a white women employee “good job,” for a task is a micro-affirmation – does that same boss readily acknowledge a Black women for doing an equally good job on a similar task?

Creating an Affirmative Environment

During our webinar conversation about allyship, my co-presenters shared how they cultivate environments where micro-affirmations are shared. One person said they have a Slack channel to share positive work and celebrate those efforts. Another presenter said as a white male he is working on being very aware of who he includes in his conversations and using his position within the company to encourage POCs to take on leadership roles. He also shared how he’s sponsored and mentored other POCs outside his company because he knows how important their success is in the field, even though they are technically competitors.

As a side note, you can’t fake affirmations. At the start of COVID, I was on a call with a statewide white-led organization to answer questions about a grassroots mutual aid effort I was a part of. The statewide organization asked for the meeting under the pretense of praising our group, but it was very apparent they wanted the call to make sure we were following their rules. The syrupy praise they were pouring on was gross and condescending. After about fifteen minutes of the fake affirmations, our group called them out on their fake praise and about their need to reform. I think we almost made them cry.

Affirmations need to be sincere and specific. Point to what you are praising and why you’re praising it. Make sure you’re spreading these affirmations equally and not allowing your personal biases to favor some and ignore others. And a final note, affirmations are not just words it can also be in who you spend time with or not, where you place your attention, or in other small ways. Be conscious of how you share your affirmations with people of color so it is inclusive of their accomplishments and included in the fabric of your organization.  

Why I wrote this: Being aware of who we show graciousness and inclusion to is important to building relationships that allow for racialized change.

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I am writing from the lands of the 29 federally recognized and non-federally recognized tribes in now Washington State, including the Coast Salish people — Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, Snohomish, and Native American organizations that have treaty rights and have been here since time immemorial. I give my thanks to the elders, Native and Indigenous colleagues and relations, and the land itself. Fakequity pays “rent” to Native organizations in Washington and Hawaii; a small act to repair and work to be in more justice-based relations.