Sunday, November 25, 2018

Topic #33: A Call for Transformational Antiracist Leadership

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Few of us would eagerly trade places with a leader trying to navigate an organization through a racist incident. Finding oneself at the top of a ladder at its breaking point is an uncomfortable place to be. But should any leader really be surprised to find him or herself there, given the social and political climate in which we live, and the surplus of headlines detailing such incidents? 

This kind of crisis doesn't need to mark the end of a leader's career, but instead can serve as an enormous opportunity to rise to the occasion and model what is so desperately needed in American culture right now: Transformational Antiracist Leadership

Most of us remember what happened at the University of Missouri in 2015 when students protested an unsatisfactory administrative response to racist incidents on campus, as detailed in Spike Lee's documentary Two Fists Up. This situation prompted the American Council on Education to take a close look at what works and what doesn't when leaders are trying to save an institution from implosion. The result was their comprehensive report, Speaking with Truth and Acting with Integrity: Confronting Challenges of Campus Racial Climate. The findings are conclusive: 

Being an effective leader requires that you not only engage in a lifetime of transformative learning to become more educated about racism, but that you constantly work to instill a solid antiracist infrastructure in your institution before an incident occurs. 

Here are other key takeaways copied directly from the report on how to forge a path forward when addressing an institutional crisis triggered by a racist incident:


CAMPUS CONTEXT MATTERS. A campus racial crisis does not emerge from thin air. Such crises are deeply embedded within layers of social, cultural, and political contexts on a given campus. The interviews we conducted at the UM System and MU reveal the perceptions that many campus stakeholders have of the historical legacy of race and racism on campus, as well as the climate at the local and state levels, which further contributed to the crisis. In addition, racial crises occur within the broader national and political context of race and racism. We document how leaders can assess and analyze these contexts, and the role they play in how the racial crisis unfolds, in the recovery from a crisis, and in ultimately building a more inclusive environment. 

ACKNOWLEDGING AND RESPONDING TO COLLECTIVE TRAUMA. Once a racial crisis occurs on a campus, the impact can vary, depending on the campus’s efforts to build capacity prior to the incident. Low- and even moderate-capacity campuses will not have invested deeply in educating leaders, building trust and respect across groups, or dismantling oppressive environments—actions that build the capacity of a campus to withstand times of crisis. This was the case for the University of Missouri. Trauma leaves a great deal of collective emotional pain with members of a campus community. And because emotions are often ignored, campuses have difficulty emerging from racial crises. Acknowledging and responding to this collective trauma is a critical step in recovering from a racial crisis. 

TRAUMA RECOVERY—DOS AND DON’TS. The general features of collective trauma recovery frameworks include active listening, speaking from the heart, and “acting with” (as described below). What leaders absolutely should not do in the immediate aftermath of a crisis is set up a task force, collect data, and develop a report with recommendations. This routinized approach to responding to racial issues on campus rarely creates meaningful changes and will be particularly weak in addressing the trauma that ensues from a racial crisis. This routinized response is common but destructive to campus communities that need authentic engagement from their leaders. 

ACTIVE LISTENING. The first element of overcoming collective trauma is active listening, a structured form of listening and responding that focuses the attention on the speaker and improves mutual understanding without debate or judgment. Most people engage in conversations but are focused on their own mental responses and perspectives, and tend to not focus intently on the other speaker. Active listening—especially when utilized by leadership—is a powerful method of responding to stressful and traumatic situations and events. This tactic allows individuals to share problems and struggles, engage with difficult feelings, gain perspective on the experiences, take ownership of the situation, rebuild relationships, find their own solutions, and build self-esteem and resilience. 

SPEAKING FROM THE HEART. The second element of overcoming collective trauma is speaking from the heart. This involves honest communication from leaders, free from political spin. Speaking from the heart, as is suggested by the phrase, means invoking and responding to emotions. Too often it is the impulse of leaders to get prepared comments after a tragedy so that they do not say anything “wrong” that might further offend people. When leaders speak from the heart, they can build the trust needed to overcome fear and fatigue. 

“ACTING WITH.” The third element of overcoming collective trauma, “acting with,” allows leaders to move forward by directly engaging with community, particularly the community members most affected by the traumatic events. Too often, leaders rush ahead with actions to “solve” the problem and do not engage and act with the community, which can negatively impact the collective recovery from trauma. “Acting with” requires leaders to move in a measured way that deeply connects to community members as the campus actively listens to inform their strategy forward. 

BUILDING CAPACITY PRIOR TO A RACIAL INCIDENT. Racial incidents are complex and emotionally charged. Even under the best of circumstances, there will be significant challenges in leading through a crisis. High levels of capacity building provide a strong foundation and frame of reference for shared expectations, values, and commitments to diversity and inclusion. Leaders on high capacity building campuses have a shared context from which to communicate and engage in sense making during and after a crisis. The University of Missouri case highlights how low capacity around diversity and inclusion led to a prolonged and traumatizing experience. Being proactive on issues of diversity and inclusion is critical to avoid this type of trauma. Campuses that build capacity ahead of time can accelerate their ability to respond effectively during and after a crisis. High-level capacity building requires that campuses demonstrate a sustained commitment to issues of diversity and inclusion even when things appear to be improving

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Many of us raised with traditional models of leadership struggle to shake the outdated image of a charismatic commander who appears to know how to steer the ship. Effective and accountable leadership requires that we replace these notions with a new image of leadership characterized by listening and humility. Transformational Antiracist Leadership is the wave of the future, and the only way out of the mess in which we currently find ourselves. 


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Topic #31: Modified Privilege Checklist


Peggy McIntosh's White Privilege Checklist from her article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack has become a seminal tool in the practice of understanding white privilege. I find myself referring to it constantly when I teach workshops, seminars and classes. I recently facilitated a book club meeting on the phenomenal book So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, and I wanted a quick and easy version of the privilege checklist that we could use as a basis for discussion without going through the original article and 50-item checklist. Here is my abridged version of McIntosh's White Privilege Checklist, crafted by selecting the items that seem to make the greatest impact. I've also added a few of my own items at the end based on common responses to the checklist. Please feel free to use and share with appropriate acknowledgements.

Modified White Privilege Checklist 
adapted from “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh
  1. I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
  2. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
  3. When I am told about our national heritage I am shown that people of my race built it.
  4. I can turn on the TV, browse the internet, or open to the front page of the newspaper and see people of my race widely represented in a variety of roles.
  5. I can swear, listen to a certain type of music, dress in sloppy clothes, or not answer emails, without having people attribute these choices to the behaviors of people of my race.
  6. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
  7. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge" I will be facing a person of my race. 
  8. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.
  9. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling like I belong, rather than feeling isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, causing people to “walk on eggshells,” or feeling feared.
  10. I can worry about and speak out about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-pitying.
  11. I can be chosen for a job over another candidate without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
  12. If my day or week is going badly, I need not ask of each cumulative negative episode or situation whether my race was a factor.
  13. I can be sure that if I need legal help, my race will not work against me.
  14. I can be sure that if I need medical help, my race will not work against me.
  15. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.
  16. If I am ineffective as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.
  17. I can chose makeup or bandages in "flesh" or “nude” color and have them more or less match my skin.
  18. People aren’t constantly asking me if I know a specific person because we share the same race.
  19. People don’t use special words when communicating with me because of my race.
  20. I can travel alone or with groups of people of my race without expecting embarrassment, hostility, or unusual behavior in those who deal with us.
  21. I will feel welcomed and "normal" in the usual walks of everyday life.
  22. People are not constantly trying to demonstrate to me that they don’t have negative feelings about my race by telling me about other people they know who share my race, or creating stories and situations that show they are not racist. 
  23. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that give an accurate depiction of the numerous contributions by people of their own race.
  24. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them or want to single them out because of their race.
  25. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of racism for their own daily physical protection.
  26. My chief worries about my children do not concern others' attitudes toward their race.
  27. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for an article I wrote on white privilege.
You are a beneficiary of white privilege if you can answer “true” to most of the statements above. Please answer these last three items to complete the checklist:

28. While most of these statements are true for me, they make me feel defensive, they make me feel negative about the person who gave them to me, or they elicit a desire to explain reasons why they might true other than that I have white privilege.

29. I am focused on the few items that are untrue instead of the problem that so many are true.

30. Instead of de-centering myself and imagining how this realty must feel to a person of color, I am preoccupied by my own discomfort (even though I’m the one experiencing the privileges and benefits).

If any of the last three statements are true for you, you are likely suffering from white fragility. This is a great opportunity to learn more! Contact sbsurj@gmail.com to join a community of peers who are learning together and taking action for social change.




Monday, June 25, 2018

Topic #30: Concerned Citizens: Be Prepared for ICE

What You Can Do
During Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Raids
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A lot of folks think that there will be an easy way to resist ICE enforcement or to respond to ICE enforcement in a way that prevents the unjust detention of their neighbors. Unfortunately, the way ICE operates is really complicated and unpredictable.” (Katie Miller, CASA). In fact, as a bystander trying to interfere you could make the situation worse. But there are things you can do.

GET PREPARED NOW:

  1. Prepare to record: First, make sure you’ve downloaded the ACLU’s Mobile Justice App and use it to document raids or report ICE actions.
  2. Prepare to report: Put the Rapid Response Hotline number in your phone: 844-878-7801 (844-TRUST-01). Call when you see ICE activity. They can send people out to verify whether an ICE raid is happening and provide legal support. 
  3. Have information handy: Keep “Know Your Rights” cards on hand in case a community member needs one. You can print them here.

IF YOU SEE ICE OFFICIALS:

  1. Document. If it’s possible, take photos, videos, and notes on exactly what happened. Use the ACLU app in case your phone gets confiscated (the info you record is stored on their cloud). Write down badge numbers (if possible), the exact date, time & location and the type of law enforcement agencies present and vehicles. Note if ICE interferes with your right to take photos or video. 
  2. Report to 844-878-7801 (844-TRUST-01).
  3. Share, with caution. Report raids or checkpoints on social media only if you are certain. When unverified reports are shared, they can reduce the trust between immigrant communities, organizations and well-meaning bystanders. It also amplifies people’s existing fears and traumas, and further isolates marginalized communities. It also spreads fear and paranoia in those communities, leaving them to skip work or school even if there’s no need. It also means that anti-raid efforts are deployed in the wrong places, reducing their effectiveness when it really matters. Please refer to the next section.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU SEE/HEAR A SECOND-HAND REPORT:

  • Do not share it publicly on social media if it is not verified (i.e. not from someone who witnessed it). Do not screenshot other people’s reports. Do not copy and paste reports.
  • Reach out directly to organizations in the area who are trained to go out, document and verify the report. Contact the person/organization who shared this document with you. Make sure you have the original source of the report to trace, confirm, correct, or retract.
  • If you personally know people in the area who may be directly affected, notify them to be aware of the possibility of ICE/CBP/DHS/police in the area. Clarify that the report is unverified. Be prepared to provide emotional support. If you see others sharing unverified reports, refer them to these guidelines.

WHAT TO DO AFTER AN ICE RAID:
  • To find a person in detention: Use ICE's detainee locator here or call the local ICE office here).
  • To find immigration legal service providers in your area: visit the California Department of Social Services website or the Immigration Advocates Network’s immigration legal services directory.
  • If you believe someone has been wrongly held for immigration: call 1-844-TRUST-01 (1-844-878-7801) or email catrustact@gmail.com.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Topic #29: I'm Not Accepting It

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At a recent awards banquet I was grateful to be recognized as a "Courageous Communicator" for my work in social justice.
  
However, I don’t feel at all like a courageous communicator, and it’s not because I developed laryngitis the day before my big acceptance speech. It’s because I work for racial justice at a fraction of the risk for twice the credit as women of color, and it is unjust for me to be the person recognized for it. 

Because of the concerns I had about proper credit I felt that I shouldn’t accept the award. And then I asked myself the same question I always ask when deciding whether or not to be in the spotlight while I’m doing this work: 

Will it give me the opportunity to speak to people who have power, influence, and resources, and who, by hearing my words, may be compelled to join those of us working for a more equitable and just society? And is there a chance that I am uniquely positioned to have greater influence with this particular audience because they are more likely to accept this message if it comes from someone in their own racial peer group?

In this case the answer was yes, and so there I was. Here is what I said to an 85% white audience for my ten minutes of air time:
....

I occupy this stage today instead of women in our community who have been working far longer and much harder than I will ever know, but who, because they continue to be marginalized, are rarely recognized and given credit for their work. I do this work at a fraction of the risk for twice the credit as women of color, and yet I am the one here receiving an award. That is unfair, and it is something that needs to change. 

So my goal in being here today is not just to accept this lovely honor, but to compel you to do more than you’re currently doing for a more fair and just society, because clearly we are not doing enough

But the truth is, I’m speaking to some of you more than others. 

Often when I speak about these things, folks don’t hear me because they think I’m talking to someone else. They think,  “Yes, but I don’t say or do racist things, so I’m not part of the problem. But I do know the folks she’s talking about!”

So let me be clear. I am talking to you if:
  • Your ancestors immigrated to the U.S. when immigration was only allowed for white Europeans.
  • Over the years, your ancestors received training and salaries in jobs where white employees had rights that people of color did not.
  • After serving in the military, someone in your family benefitted from Federal Housing Administration or Veteran’s Association loans. For folks who don’t know, the FHA and VA financed more than $120 billion in new housing between 1934 and 1962, during which time covenants specified that only 2% of this real estate be made available to non-white families.
  • You live in a neighborhood where people of color were ever prevented from living or buying property, either through discriminatory lending practices, or various forms of legal and illegal intimidation. If you live in a predominantly white neighborhood it’s a safe to assume I’m talking to you. These outcomes do not happen by accident.
  • Your parents and grandparents were able to vote for people who represented their interests without worrying about: polling taxes, literacy requirements, inaccessible polling locations and hours, or other forms of discrimination. 
This timeline of events from which we directly benefit, and these are just the tip of the iceberg, have left us going about our daily business in a country where:
  • We live in a country where even after controlling for all variables including credit score, Latinx Americans are 78% more likely to be given a high-cost mortgage than a white American, and black Americans are… 105% more likely. 
  • And did you know, that this problem is not getting better, but in fact it’s getting worse? The wage gap between black and white workers has been slowly increasing since 1979.

And if you’re tempted to believe that our community is a liberal utopia that is somehow exempt from systemic racism, first of all, look around you. This demographic representation does not happen by accident.


And know this:

In a recent study on the Santa Barbara Unified School District, after controlling for the type of discipline incident, black students were 1.8 times more likely to be suspended than their white peers (that’s almost twice as likely) and Latinx students were 1.3 times more likely to be suspended than their white peers for the same type of incident.

We allow all of this to be true, even though we know that suspensions and expulsions are unequivocally linked to poorer developmental outcomes for adolescents, including lower academic achievement, dropout, and increased behavioral problems both in and out of school, otherwise known as the school-to-prison pipeline.

And still, based on polls, less than half of all Americans believe that racism is a major societal problem.

But it’s not really about what we believe, is it? It’s about what we do.

And what do we tend to do?
  • We easily forget the timeline of events that has, for over four hundred years, stacked the deck in the favor of white Americans, and allowed us to be where we are.
  • We convince ourselves that anyone could be here with us if they just worked hard enough. 
  • We refuse to acknowledge the data that show racism as a sociological fact that shapes life outcomes. 
  • And when we find ourselves in places where the majority of people look like us, whether it be our neighborhoods, events we attend like this one, or at the decision making table, we rarely ask ourselves, “How did it come to be that so few people of color are present? And what can we do about it?”

I know I’m making you uncomfortable. It’s good that you are uncomfortable. 
Our discomfort with these facts is a measure of our humanity. I’m uncomfortable, too.

I even hope you’re angry-- as long as your anger is directed at the problem and not the person speaking openly about the problem, whether that be me or the folks from Black Lives Matter.

Or, maybe you totally get it. You are angry at the problem. But I hear folks express outrage about the problem all of the time, and again the question is not about how we believe or what we feel, but what we do.

As I said earlier, I jump at the chance to speak to an audience full of successful people, because together we have the resources to make the future look different than the past. 

I’m going to give you some ideas.

If you’re a member of the Association hosting this event, here are just a few resources you have:

Skills:  Go to www.taprootfoundation.org to enroll to offer your services or skills for free to an organization working toward justice and equity. Consider doing this as often as you are able.

Organizational leverage: If you are in any position of power, which I would argue we all are in some form, take a close look around the decision making table where you sit. Ask yourself who is missing and what you can do about it. 

An audience: How could you use your platform or voice to spread information to folks in your circles of influence, like I’m doing right now? Whatever area of communications you’re in, select a racial justice angle or issue for your next project. If you are reluctant, take a deeper dive into understanding what’s stopping you and work to get over that.

Here are three things everyone can do, regardless of your profession or field:

Get on board: Email sbsurj@gmail.com to receive a weekly email with one specific, easy action you can perform.

Donate: Set up a recurring donation of $15-20 per month to an organization working hard for a more fair and just world. I recommend Color of Change and Southern Poverty Law Center. 

Learn and share:. Follow these groups on social media: Color of ChangeSouthern Poverty Law Center, Showing Up for Racial JusticeWhite Nonsense Roundup and share their messages about racial injustice with the same outrage you express over heart breaking school shootings, tragic celebrity suicides, and infuriating sexual harassment and assault of women. 


Sometimes the task of openly addressing our history and ensuring a different future feels too daunting, and so we're tempted to ignore our role and let others handle it. If you feel overwhelmed by my words, I encourage you to consider this Jewish saying that keeps me motivated when it comes to making social change: 

You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you excused from it. 


...



Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Topic #28: Panning Out from the White Racial Lens: The Problem with Punctuation



In my former life as a relationship researcher I spent a great deal of time listening to couples describe the root of their conflicts. When couples were probed about what typically started a fight, the wife would often say that her husband makes empty promises about things he’ll do and then pretends to forget. The husband, on the other hand, would blame her incessant nagging on his lack of motivation and the ensuing fights.

This difference in perspective is referred to in the interpersonal communication literature as punctuation, and it helps explain why two people in the same relationship view the start of their conflicts so differently. Not unlike the chicken and the egg scenario, it’s unclear which came first: the nagging or the noncompliance. Ultimately, it depends on who is punctuating the story.

The concept of punctuation can be a useful tool for understanding any number of human disputes, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to atrocities like the Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide. Examining how perpetrators explained the events leading to their despicable behavior doesn’t excuse it, but it helps us grasp the powerful drive provided by the self-serving punctuation of events. In his book Mass Hate, Neil Kressel summarizes this drive explaining,

“Virtually all perpetrators of great evil in the world — including Nazis, Serb rapists, Hutu extremist murderers, and those behind the Khmer Rouge atrocities — believed that they were victims of some long standing prior outrage that justified their militancy.”

Learning more about the role of punctuation gives some insight into why white folks often struggle to see issues from a racial justice lens. White people like me frequently find ourselves listening to discussions on topics like welfare, affirmative action, quota systems, and other programs meant to address racial inequity. In these discussions it’s not uncommon to hear comments from white peers about how members of another race just can’t get it together, don’t work hard enough, abuse what’s given to them, etc.

One philosophy I often hear goes like this:

“If you don’t want to get killed by the police, then just don’t _______ .”

You can fill in the blank with a variety of behaviors, such as “commit a crime,” “run,” “hang around with bad people,” or “sell drugs.” Folks who express these beliefs seem to be of the opinion that the murder of people of color by police simply wouldn’t occur if folks would just stay out of trouble in the first place. In actuality, this perspective is just a classic case of self-serving punctuation that comes from viewing the world through a racially privileged lens.

In a recent episode of the podcast Code Switch, the hosts explore the case of Freddie Gray, who you may recall died in 2015 from injuries sustained after being arrested and recklessly driven around unsecured in the back of a police car. Freddie was raised in Baltimore, where the poverty rate is more than double the national average, and the unemployment rate is three times higher than the national average. Baltimore was identified by researchers at Harvard as the U.S. city with the lowest likelihood of its residents escaping poverty. Before being arrested and dying from injuries he sustained at the hands of police, events in Gray’s life included being exposed to lead as a child, being raised by a single mother, attending one of the worst rated high schools in the country, and several run-ins with the police for nonviolent crimes. During his last interaction with the police he decided to run. I ask you, person who continues to blame people of color for causing their own deaths by misbehaving, did Freddie really die because he illegally sold loose cigarettes and then ran from the police? Really?

I’ve learned that if I take a few steps back from the way the dominant racial group tends to punctuate and therefore justify human rights violations against people of color, it’s not very difficult to locate the real root of the problem. Spoiler alert: It is almost always systemic racism. Freddie did not die because Freddie ran. Systems of oppression that allow years and lifetimes of racial injustices trigger reasonable human responses to those systems of oppression, whether it’s running, lying, or even pulling out a weapon. The problem rests in our culture’s way of addressing these incidents and our failure to make deep and lasting systemic changes that will work toward preventing them in the first place.

You may be thinking, “That sounds like a huge and overwhelming problem! What can little me really do about it?” Here are a few ideas to get started.

Get educated about the juvenile justice system, and share what you learn. There’s an abundance of great resources out there to help us understand more about why punctuation matters in how we view equity and justice. By educating ourselves, we can fine tune our ability to pan out from individual events to get more information in the frame so we can more effectively address the real roots of social problems. My latest favorite resource is the new documentary Raised in the System. In 50 compelling minutes this documentary, produced by HBO and hosted by The Wire’s Michael K. Williams, addresses how the criminal justice system perpetuates a virtually unbreakable cycle of crime for children of color born into poverty.

Speak out against more policing, especially for youth. School Resource Officers (SROs), which is a fancy name for armed cops on school campuses, are being hired in increasing numbers by school districts to appease parents worried about school shootings. Not only are SROs ineffective in preventing school shootings (there was one on the Parkland Florida campus), but their presence has a disproportionately negative effect on students of color, increasing the likelihood that they will be arrested for petty, nonviolent crimes and end up in the juvenile justice system, a process referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline. By speaking out against the hiring of SROs on your local school campuses, you are taking action to break this cycle. You can find a compilation of some of the research on SROs here, and even use it as a template to petition the schools in your district.

Show your support for AB931 and SB1421, even if you don’t live in California. The most recent shooting of an unarmed black man, Stephen Clark, prompted California lawmakers to say “enough” and put forth two bills that need your support. Assembly Bill 931 is intended to restrict police use of force that often leads to deaths like Freddie’s, Stephen’s and so many more. Senate Bill 1421 (known as the Right to Know Bill) will demand greater accountability from police by allowing public access to records related to confirmed cases of sexaul assault and other egregious misconduct by police, as well as incidents where serious use of force was used, especially police shootings. Even if you don’t live in California, educate yourself about these bills and spread the word so other progressive states follow suit. Californians can begin supporting the bills here.

How folks punctuate events says a lot about where they are in their understanding of privilege, and can serve as a roadmap for those of us trying to change hearts, minds, and policy. The next time you encounter someone who tries to simplify systemic injustice by blaming oppressed individuals or groups (and, sadly, there will be a next time), I hope the concept of punctuation serves as a useful tool for conversion, I mean, conversation. Good luck!