Small Steps to Address Racism - Personally, Professionally, & In Your Parenting
Dear White Parents:
The events of the last few weeks and months weigh heavy on my heart. You might be feeling the same.
These are just three of the most recent names in an incomprehensibly long list of Black Americans taken too soon because of our collective and individual failures to address the systemic racism and white supremacy* that course through every facet of our society.
Every single one of these individuals were real people. They were sons and daughters. Often mothers and fathers. They had hopes and dreams. JUST LIKE YOU AND ME.
How much longer can we sit silently by and watch the same story on a loop? The names and details may change but the stories remain the same. Black men, women, and children losing their lives unjustly. Killed while handcuffed on the ground, while jogging, while sleeping, while wearing a hoodie. For simply existing.
Let’s be clear – this is not solely a policing issue. Racism infects every system and structure in America – from criminal justice to education to housing, healthcare, and so much more. We may not have created this system which privileges White Americans in this country, but we all participate in it whether we realize it or not.
Our whiteness has allowed us, among other things, to:
Get a home mortgage in our desired neighborhood or even simply view a home for sale
Gain admission to colleges and universities without whispers of affirmative action as the reason
Be stopped less often and receive fewer traffic tickets when pulled over by the police
Our fellow Americans of color do not have these same opportunities or advantages. And it’s no better for children of color either. The disparities in K12 education reinforce this generation after generation.
It’s time for each of us to stand up and say enough is enough. Our shared humanity requires so, so much more from us.
Now… REAL TALK. I know what you’re thinking. I’m working. I’m homeschooling. I’m camp counselor now too. I can’t do ONE.MORE.THING!
This is not one more thing. This is THE thing. You are literally building the future right now through your individual actions. This is what will define what kind of communities and workplaces you create for your children and how they will either reinforce white supremacy or fight against it. Which road will you take?
Whatever your individual reasons for inaction in the past, I challenge you each now – TODAY – to (re)commit and (re)consider what YOU can do to make change:
In your Parenting
Why these three areas?
Quite simply, change starts with you and your example.
YOU need to do the work. Not someone else.
Your individual actions, the environment you foster in your place of work, and how you raise your children are three of the main ways you influence the world as a working parent, today and well into the future.
So what can you do?
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
(And because I know you’re also busy with life – in the middle of a pandemic – I’ve tried to make these actions small enough so you're not paralyzed with overwhelm. Even committing to one action consistently is a step forward.)
Your individual actions are the example you set for the world.
Take time to learn and reflect on your own role in white supremacy – There is no shortage of great books, movies, and podcasts out there to educate yourself and consider how this all applies to you. This is a great primer. As is this list of resources. Right now, I am working my way through Me & White Supremacy, which provides useful prompts to uncover the many ways in which I've participated in white supremacy. It's really hard to admit the many ways I've failed, but it's also a necessary part of the process. Don't be afraid to share your journey with others.
o If you’re looking for great book recommendations while also supporting a black-owned book-store in the process, Fulton Street Books in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has set up an Ally Box, a 3-month limited book subscription for allies and those who seek to be allies. Books will arrive at your door with suggested action steps.
Follow People of Color on social media – Take 10 minutes to take stock of your social media accounts. We spend so much time scrolling our feeds that we don’t realize the subtle messages we absorb. Consider who you’re following and what messages you’re seeing or might be missing. Add more diverse voices – particularly those of Black people and organizations committed to anti-racism – in your feed. Follow People of Color in your particular industry. I’ve especially appreciated learning from The Conscious Kid, Equal Justice Initiative, Dr. Tiffany Bowden, Rachel Cargle and The Great Unlearn, The Dad Gang, and – especially if you love Peloton, Tunde Oyeneyin.
Donate to organizations committed to addressing systemic racism – This work requires funding. Contribute whatever you can to allow organizations doing this work to continue on. If you can, make a recurring donation. Even $10 a month – which is less than I casually bought the Trolls Movie to get some peace and quiet one night – adds up over time. Color of Change and Equal Justice Initiative are just two of hundreds of great organizations. Find one that speaks to you!
Support Black-owned businesses – Many cities and states have a directory of Black-owned businesses. Here is Long Island, NY’s. Here is Brooklyn’s. Depending on where you live (and in the Covid-era generally), shopping locally at Black-owned businesses may present challenges. If you’re struggling to find local retailers, check out Black-owned Etsy shops or other Black-owned businesses online. Also, there are many great Black-owned wines, which let’s be honest… we all need on subscription right now.
No matter what your position, you play a role in shaping the culture in your workplace.
Audit your personal behavior at work – The Management Center has a great suite of tools and services focused on equity and inclusion, especially for those managing in the nonprofit space. My favorite tool for my own practice is Identifying Choice Points: The “Bias Check” because it provides a visible chart of my patterns of behavior and management, and highlights areas of concern I may not have noticed.
Stop the euphemisms and say what you really mean, please – I work in the HR/Talent space in education as my day job. As a sector, we say we want more “diverse” teachers. Diversity is a broad term which can encompass many things. But often, we use diversity as coded language for wanting more Black and Latinx teachers. If that’s what we mean, let’s say that so we can focus on hiring more Black and Latinx teachers. As you look to hire more “diverse candidates,” define specifically what that means for your organization.
o On a related note: Shift away from terms like “minority” and instead use People of Color. The word minority suggests a less than or a smaller status, which becomes problematic when trying to ensure equality for all. The term minority may also be increasingly inaccurate, as demographics shift and People of Color become a majority of the population. In short, the words we use matter.
Review your retention data – You may believe that the culture in your organization is inclusive and welcoming to all, but does your data – organizationally and on your team specifically – confirm that belief? Individuals do not stay at organizations for long if they do not feel comfortable in the environment and culture you’ve created. As you review your retention data from the last few years, analyze retention and also leadership data by race (along with gender) to see what themes emerge. Adjust accordingly.
Build authentic partnerships with businesses/organizations led by People of Color – If you are in a position to purchase services or create partnerships for your organization, actively seek out organizations and businesses led by People of Color. Highlight their work to others in your industry. Here are other ways to partner authentically. I’m especially excited to be able to use and share this list of consultants of color in the nonprofit space. If there’s no list yet of folks/businesses specific to your industry’s needs, start it! If you need to learn more, considering joining one more online Racial Equity Workshops.
In Your Parenting
Your children are the legacy you leave to the world. What you do now, prepares them to be more aware of racism and inclusive of others later.
Simply start (and continue) the conversation about race with your kids – I know it can be hard to talk about race, but what do we teach our kids when we don’t say anything at all? This list of resources has a section geared towards helping parents.
o Most importantly, don’t dismiss or shush kids asking about race or why someone may look different than them. Acknowledge differences. Teaching colorblindness is just another form of racism. (Here’s another article if you need more convincing.) Teach your kids to speak up if they see something harmful and hurtful. Process mistakes you each make on this journey together.
o In our house, books are one of the best ways we’ve been able to engage our kids in these conversations. These are three of our favorites (by age): Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi & Jason Reynolds - for our 12 year old, The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson - for our 7 year old, and Mixed: A Colorful Story by Arree Chung - for our 4 year old.
Write to your school district to seek changes – I don’t know about you, but I feel like my education in what were considered “good” schools was seriously lacking when it came to the history of race in this country. Let’s not make the same mistake with our kids’ education. The National Equity Project said it best when they said we should: “Demand that our schools teach a full and truthful history of the United States including the stealing of Native People’s lands and the genocide of Native people; the history of whiteness, race, and racism and help students make active connections between history, their own experiences and identities, and current events.” I sent a letter to my own school district’s Superintendent asking how our district addresses (or plans to address) issues of whiteness, race, and racism in our schools and curriculum. I encourage you to do the same.
Expose your kids to experiences different than your own – Trying foods from different cultures, reading books that show a broad representation of people, viewing works of art, music, and museums focused on the experiences of people of color, etc. are all ways to normalize different experiences, share the immense contributions of people of color with your children, and do something fun at the same time. As your kids get older, a trip to the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. is a must. These experiences form the building blocks for children to be more open-minded and just in the future.
There are, of course, dozens of other ways to engage in each of these areas. These are just a few ideas to get you started. What I would encourage you to consider as you take any action is to:
Examine your own beliefs and behaviors first and foremost. You are not immune. Expect to feel some discomfort and get it wrong at least some of the time.
Put your money where your mouth is. Where we spend our money shows our real values.
I’d love to hear from you. What are you doing to make personal, professional, or parenting changes in this moment? Let me know by dropping me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All my best,
* White supremacy. It sounds harsh. You think of the KKK or Neo-Nazis. I know. I did too. But it really is the idea (ideology) that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions. (Sharon Martinas)