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Are your diversity efforts dismantling anti-Black racism? If not, you must rethink your approach.

Updated: Feb 17


It is a centuries-old tactic to dilute the attention raised by the hard work, sacrifice, and organizing by Black people to address every other form of oppression and exclusion, while allowing anti-Blackness to persist.

Let’s not mince words, the world changed in 2020. The twin pandemics of Covid-19 and systemic racism shone a light on white supremacy delusion[1] and the toxic culture that accompanies it. In the last year of the rule of the United States' 45th president, anti-Blackness could no longer hide under its trusted protectors: silence and invisibility. The millions of protestors around the world who took to the streets in the early months of a global pandemic to declare that Black Lives Matter sent a clear and loud message to our government and to our society at large that we would suffer in silence no more. The summer 2020 uprisings, and the resulting conversations in workplaces across the country - and the world - resulted in many organizations feeling pressured, very often by their own staff, to reach out to consultants such as myself, to help them advance racial dialogue and equity in the workplace.


In her essay entitled “A reflection on anti-Black racism,” former senior policy advisor for the Bread for the World Institute Marlysa D. Gamblin defines anti-Black racism as “the specific kind of racial prejudice directed towards Black people. Anti-Blackness devalues Blackness, while systematically marginalizing Black people, the issues that affect us, and the institutions created to support us. The first form of anti-Blackness is overt racism, which is upheld by covert structural and systemic racism that categorically predetermines the socioeconomic status of Blacks in this country. The second form of anti-Blackness is unethical disregard for Black people, as seen in the cases of police, or civilian, brutality against Black bodies.


Because our society’s appetite for justice for Black people is almost always short-lived, racial dialogue and justice efforts have been replaced by generic ‘DEI’ efforts: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. It is a centuries-old tactic to dilute the attention raised by the hard work, sacrifice, and organizing by Black people to address every other form of oppression and exclusion, while allowing anti-Blackness to persist. The very anti-Black racism that ignited the uprisings also operates in workplaces by silencing Black voices and refusing to center the experiences we bring that would help transform the dominant culture. These actions allow anti-Black workplace policies and actions to persist and limit opportunities for Black people to take their rightful place in leading all of us towards a different future.


The root causes for the protests in the summer of 2020: systemic anti-Black racism[2] - and the state-sponsored violence that accompanies it - continue to impact the lives of the average Black person in the United States, the rest of the Americas, and our whole world. Furthermore, Black people continue to experience high levels of discrimination and microaggressions in the workplace, if they are even hired at all. In the District of Columbia, our nation’s capital, where Black people compose nearly half of the population, you still find numerous organizations that claim not to be able to find or retain Black talent, and the statistics are even more dismal in senior leadership roles. There is no reason why in 2022 organizations that claim to want to serve marginalized communities, continue to be led solely by white leaders from outside those communities, not only in their staff, but also in their boards.


It is important that organizations looking to advance racial equity and justice understand the crucial need to center the specific ways in which Black people of all backgrounds and identities are impacted by white dominant culture and anti-Black racism. What there is to understand about anti-Black racism is too broad and too deep to resolve in any single article or conversation. We need a long-term commitment to learning, dialogue, and transformation, if we are to make lasting progress in eliminating all types of discrimination and harm in our society. In an effort to begin (in some cases) or continue (in others) on this journey, I want to share five perspectives that may help those interested in being a part of the solution, identify ways to begin to dismantle anti-Black racism from the inside out.


This list is not intended to be exhaustive but to be a conversation starter. I absolutely welcome and encourage your own insights, if you have been impacted by anti-Blackness. My hope is that we can advance this conversation collectively, and finally begin to make significant inroads into the dismantling of not only the systems and structures of anti-Black racism, but also the practices and behaviors that allow for the continued harmful dehumanization, criminalization, and exploitation of Black people across this country and around the world.


1. To dismantle anti-Blackness, you must understand where it originates and how it manifests today. Understanding the history of systemic racism in the United States through readings like The 1619 Project or Stamped From the Beginning, or trainings like that of the Racial Equity Institute are a good place to start to create the shared background and language that we will need to work together towards a different future. We must learn from our history, so that we do not consciously or unconsciously repeat it. Just as one example, did you know that after the civil rights movement in the 1960s and the legislations that followed, affirmative action efforts primarily benefited white women, and therefore, white families? This is one of the reasons why affirmative action programs have provided marginal benefits to the Black community and why DEI efforts must directly confront anti-Black racism. We must seize this moment if we are serious about eradicating the lie of white supremacy (and the twin lie of Black inferiority) once and for all.


2. To create change at a societal level or even at the organizational level, you must start with work at the personal and interpersonal levels. The first step in dismantling anti-Blackness at a personal level is to lean in to, rather than avoid, discomfort. There is a reason why some state governments are passing bills making it illegal to cause “discomfort” or “guilt” to those who benefit from systemic racism – and that reason is the preservation of white power and the violence it perpetuates over Black and Indigenous lives. Actively and compassionately listening to (and believing!) those who are most impacted is a necessary step in understanding what harmful behaviors and practices you may be perpetuating against Black people. Tema Okun’s Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture website and the Racial Equity Principles included in it are wonderful self-assessment tools. An important thing to understand is that white supremacy culture is not limited to people who identify as white or enjoy the benefits of proximity to whiteness[3]. Most of us who grew up in a racialized society operate in white dominant culture (a culture of dominance operating under the lie of a hierarchy of human value), particularly those of us who chose to or were forced to assimilate to the dominant culture in order to move up the career ladder or survive workplace microaggressions.


3. Dismantling anti-Blackness requires a long-term commitment to not just allyship, but solidarity. Intersectionality can be a wonderful avenue into solidarity[4]. Allyship tends to use someone’s privilege to advocate for someone else, while solidarity admits that we are all impacted negatively by the systems and structures that oppress and limit access for Black people living at the intersection of marginalized genders, sexual orientation, abilities, etc. In other words, if you are personally negatively impacted by patriarchy, homophobia, classism and/or ableism, then you would be well-placed to operate in solidarity with Black people also impacted by those same systems, and who experience the additional burden of anti-Black racism.


4. The liberation of Black people liberates everyone. Being pro-Black does not mean being anti-white or anti-anyone else. Too many white people have been taught to imagine that if Black people were to be fully free, that would mean that white folks would be dominated and oppressed. This is the result of not only intergenerational propaganda devoted to preserving white power, but also the result of a tragic lack of imagination. It is worth noting that though Black people have been painted by the media and our government as dangerous and violent, Black people in the United States have been primarily at the receiving end of white individual, institutional, and state violence, and not the other way around. We must question the sources that paint us as eternally angry and violent, and override the embedded societal programming to see and relate to Black people in dehumanizing ways. We must all be willing to imagine what our world could be like, if we all decided to view Black people as deserving of abundant life and justice? What if instead of a culture of domination and greed, we created a culture of partnership and mutual liberation? Are you willing to imagine?


5. Black and Indigenous[5] wisdom and voices are the key to our collective liberation journey and must lead the way. Black-led movements have a well-established track record of benefitting not just Black citizens, but all of society. Do you find a sense of resistance to this statement? If so, I invite you to examine the source of that resistance. Since race is a social construct, and not a biological one, I am well aware that not every Black & Indigenous person is equipped, or desires, to lead the way to our collective liberation, in case that’s how you chose to interpret this statement. This statement refers to the collective wisdom of our communities and to the leaders who have the consent of and are accountable to those whom they represent. I am referring to individuals and movements that understand leadership as stewardship and partnership, rather than as power-wielding and domination. The same type of white-Western dominant thinking that got us into this situation will not get us out of it. It is time for a different type of leadership, specifically the leadership of those whose voices have been historically silenced and excluded. Self-agency and self-determination for Black and Indigenous communities are key end goals of our collective liberation, and we hope that those who are for our lives and our liberation know when it is time to step aside and let us lead. Rightly it is said that "those closest to the problem are closest to the solution."


A note of caution with this last point: Please do not confuse Black & Indigenous voices and wisdom leading the way towards our collective liberation with placing all of the burden and the work on us. Dismantling anti-Blackness and all forms of racism and discrimination will require labor, and our white and other non-Black friends could choose to see this labor as a form of reparations at the personal level. I realize that the word “reparations” arises different feelings for different folks, and it’s important to realize that the word is rooted in “repair.” I am sure we can all agree that repairing what has been broken is essential for our society. I also believe that only white folks can choose to dismantle the roots of white supremacy delusion, and it’s time that white communities take that responsibility seriously. Some would say our democracy depends on it. I am far from convinced that we ever arrived at democracy.


My invitation for my Black and Pan-African community to please add anything I may have left out. You may do so in the comments. Then we can take turns in exploring each of these topics and providing additional clarity and context, and I’d welcome you to write a piece for this blog if you’d like.


My call to action for everyone else is to begin to reflect on the five insights above, and to carefully observe how DEI work that does not directly address race tends to mirror failed affirmative action policies that arose from the struggles of Black-led movements but mostly benefitted white families, ignoring the bulk of Black families whose sacrifices and hardships have yet to be rectified. Let’s not make that mistake again and work together to dismantle anti-Black racism in every sphere of our lives.


Let’s face it, we already live in a multi-cultural society. Our multi-culturalism is not a pipe dream, it is already here. By opening ourselves up to the richness that Black & Indigenous wisdom and leadership can bring to our movements for justice, we could go a long way to advancing our shared goals of justice and liberation for all.


Itzbeth Menjivar is the founder of BridgePeople LLC and Co-Founder of The Healing Collective Global. This piece was written with the input and collaboration of a number of amazing Black women in my community, you know who you are, thanks!


Endnotes:

[1] I have learned from teachers such as Dr. Gail Christopher that it is important, when referring to white supremacy, to do so in the context of a lie, a delusion. Language matters, and the only thing that I find white supremacy to be “supreme” in is in its use of both individual and state-sponsored violence. [2] Used interchangeably with ‘anti-Blackness’ in this piece. [3] Whiteness and white racialized identity refer to the way that white people, their customs, culture, and beliefs operate as the standard by which all other groups of are compared. Whiteness is also at the core of understanding race in America. Whiteness and the normalization of white racial identity throughout America's history have created a culture where nonwhite persons are seen as inferior or abnormal. This white-dominant culture also operates as a social mechanism that grants advantages to white people, since they can navigate society both by feeling normal and being viewed as normal. Persons who identify as white rarely have to think about their racial identity because they live within a culture where whiteness has been normalized. Source: https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race/topics/whiteness [4] To understand the difference between allyship and solidarity, you can visit this resource, which is linked below: https://www.nyu.edu/content/dam/nyu/diversity/documents/2020-01-10%20-%20SW%20Solidarity%20Vs%20Allyship%20-%205x7.5%20WEB.pdf [5] Indigenous people’s issues are silenced by the American practice of Native erasure. The liberation of Black & Indigenous people, as the two non-immigrant groups in this country, are inextricably linked. All other people of color migrated here from other countries, into lands that were stolen from Natives and occupied by white colonial settlers. In a similar vein, the human trafficking suffered by Africans cannot be considered migration similar to that of other groups. This makes Black & Indigenous people the most impacted by white supremacy culture across the Americas.




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