Taking Stock: Turning Inward on Your Racial Justice Journey, Part 1

Shannon Johnson / September 2020

(This is part 5 in our racial justice essay series. Read more in our other posts: introduction, taking a systems view, getting proximate, defining goals, and taking stock Part 2)

The Blue Garnet team is encouraged that a large number of people and organizations have been sparked into action in response to the current racial justice movement. We’ve seen numerous organizations publish “diversity and inclusion” statements, or share their ideas on how to make their organization more equitable.  We think this is a great first step – in fact, our last blog focused on developing a long-term vision for racial justice.

Yes – we are encouraged…or maybe cautiously optimistic is more accurate. We don’t want this racial justice movement to mirror what happened last year with the Business Roundtable’s “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation.” When 187 CEOs of major public corporations promised to “deliver value” to all STAKEholders, not just SHAREholders, it was considered a major milestone in corporate social responsibility (also noted in another BG blog). However, just one year later, the statement has been called a scam and “should be viewed largely as a PR [public relations] move rather than as the harbinger of a major change.”    

Please don’t let that happen here – this moment is too important. We need to hold ourselves accountable to doing better for racial justice. It’s time to transition from PR statements to action, and every journey starts with a single step.

In our experience, your first step should be to “take stock,” starting first with yourself, and then for your organization. As an individual— you need to understand the facts and history around systemic racism in the United States, recognize unconscious or implicit biases you hold (we all do!), and address your relationship with our racist systems. These are critical steps in mitigating our individual attitudes and actions. Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, we all have implicit biases and the vast majority of us are racist to some degree. And while structural racism may not be our fault, it falls upon us to address it and its impact on our community. A higher level of personal preparation better positions you to lead any transformational work on racial justice in your organization.

Taking stock individually often involves turning inward with a few questions:

  1. What is my personal relationship with systemic racism and Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) populations?
  2. What are my own implicit biases and blind spots?
  3. How does this show up in my life? Through my (implicit and explicit) attitudes and actions, how have I contributed to, or alleviated, the impact of systemic racism?
  4. What antidotes and changes do I need to take on, so that I might be a more effective leader in my organization and change agent in general?

This deep reflection is a journey, and it’s not easy – it will cause discomfort, but we need to forgo the right to comfort. Tema Okun, social justice advocate and facilitator, writes:

 “Understand that discomfort is at the root of all growth and learning; welcome it as much as you can; deepen your political analysis of racism and oppression so you have a strong understanding of how your personal experience and feelings fit into a larger picture; don’t take everything personally.

At Blue Garnet, we’ve made some space for members of our community (clients and fellow team members) to take on this self-reflection. Here are some recommendations for how you might support this deeply personal, and profoundly important, journey:

  • Be humble and acknowledge that there is a lot that you don’t know. Take this Harvard assessment to help uncover your implicit biases.
  • Do your best to actively listen and learn. Review and reflect on Tema Okun’s characteristics of White Supremacy Culture (note these are applicable to all dominant and existing systems, not just for white individuals). Some of our other favorite resources include Racial Equity Institute Phase 1 training, the “Seeing White” Podcast, Awake to Woke to Work training, and Community Coalition-South LA activist training.  Looking for more? Check out Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation-Los Angeles and Racial Equity Resource Guide to find additional racial equity organizations, guides, workshops, and resources.
  • Be vulnerable and open to feedback. While it may be uncomfortable, encourage a trusted friend (or, to avoid tokenizing, find an “accountability partner”) to illuminate your blind spots. Ask clarifying questions to understand. Speak for yourself and share your experience with others.
  • Expand your “community” and connect with people that are different from you to broaden your perspectives and get external feedback; get plugged in.
  • Know that you can change your personal (and eventually, organizational) behaviors and practices, as Dr. Bryant Marks, Sr. encourages leaders through his training efforts nationally. 

Self-reflection and learning are ongoing disciplines, and the Blue Garnet team is right beside you. What self-reflection tips or resources would you add? If you need a coach or accountability partner during this journey (or just have some questions), please don’t hesitate to reach out.

As a leader in your organization, your individual journey will ultimately cross into your organization’s journey. When it does, don’t forget to “take stock” there, too. We know the asks above are a lot to process, so we’ve broken this blog into 2 parts. In Part 2, we’ll turn to “Taking Stock” at your organization. Sneak peek: we share perspective and resources on these 5 questions:

  1. How has systemic racism impacted your organization?
  2. Who are you hiring, and how are you orienting and developing them to support a culture of racial equity?
  3. [For philanthropies] Who are you funding, and are you investing in organizations led by people most proximate to the challenges of their communities?
  4. How are you resourcing your efforts to center racial equity?
  5. How will you manage this organizational transformation to center racial equity?

 

For more on racial justice from Blue Garnet, check out our other essays in this series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.2.

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