While the term “anti-racism” has been a new buzzword this year, it is not a novel concept. For most, at least before the developments of this year became more and more evident, it meant that one was just “not racist.” And as human beings, we also try to see ourselves as the best version of who we can be. “Of course, I’m anti-racist. I am not a racist person. I have a [insert an identity/ethnicity] neighbor/friend/brother-in-law. We begin to rattle off the podcasts, TED talks, books, and other scholarship or activist organizations to flash our “Anti-Racism” membership card.
But this year, there has been a collective acknowledgement and awakening to a deeper meaning, a more active stance vis-a-vis racism. Many attribute the concept to activist Angela Davis who in the early 70s has been quoted to have said “In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” More recently Ibram X. Kendi has raised the profile of this concept with his book “How to Be An Anti-Racist.”
During a virtual discussion this summer in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kendi stated: “…We really need to be thinking about policy change. And when I say policy change, I’m not just saying city council passing a policy that helps the community…it can be in an institution, it can be within a neighborhood, it can be informal. And, we need to be constantly thinking about ‘Will this money or will this program, will this policy reduce inequity, will it empower people who have historically been disempowered? Are those people part of the planning…process? Am I assuming that there is nothing wrong with the people and that there is everything wrong with their conditions? And, am I striving through this work, through this funding, through this program or policy, to help the people by … transforming their condition? If we are thinking from that standpoint then we’re thinking from an anti-racist standpoint.”
So, what does that actually mean? Obviously, the answer will change depending on what level (individual, organizational, institutional, societal) we apply the term. Additionally, the definition varies depending on what industry or sector the term is applied. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the wake of demonstrations after the killings of Black Americans by White civilians and law enforcement, corporations, organizations, and governmental agencies seem to be adopting an introspective stance.
While there seems to be a mix of genuine reflection but also knee-jerk reaction to wanting to become “an anti-racist organization” (or not wanting their brand be caught on the wrong side of history in this unprecedented moment), it begs the question of what that actually means and looks like for that particular organization and its given industry. That is why this type of inquiry has to be conducted with the highest degree of honesty and accountability.
When clients approach me and say, “We want to be an anti-racist organization,” I usually respond with, “Great! But why? And, what does that mean to you?” What I usually suggest to my clients is to begin by answering the following prompts:
(1) Identify & Acknowledge
Identifying the historical context and systemic racism and oppression of the industry within which the client’s organization operates
Acknowledging those mechanisms to be oppressive and causing inequitable outcomes for Black people, Indigenous people, people of color, and other historically marginalized communities
Determining how the client’s organization maintains, protects, and/or contributes to those oppressive mechanisms either actively or indirectly
(3) Take Action
Identify concrete steps with which to not only cease the organization’s contribution to the status quo but also proactively remove the frameworks, structures, or PPPs (policies, procedures, and protocols) to design new ones that ensure and protect equitable outcomes.
What that actually looks like in practice will, of course, vary depending on the organization’s industry. The historical backdrop is different for a police department, as that of a health care clinic, a school district, a social services not-for-profit, or a law firm. But it is an inquiry that communities across the country and the globe are requiring to take place as the demand for accountability and equity has signaled a rejection of “how things have always been” and denounce “going back to normal” after this pandemic.
About the Author
Carla Madeleine Kupe is the CEO of The Impact Alliance LLC, a diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism consulting enterprise. Additionally, Carla is the Director of the Professional Identity Formation program at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Carla created Speak Truth Summit, a platform giving voice and visibility to the particular and unique experiences of women of color.
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