I was facilitating a caucus the other day, and the topic of discussion was apologizing: the pieces that need to be in place for us to make a sincere apology and how we can quell our natural instinct to defensiveness. About half way through the session, one of the participants turned to me and said, “I don’t understand how this conversation is related to race. Can you please explain why we’re talking about apologizing?” I realized in that moment that I had not laid the proper foundation at the beginning of the session for people to see how what we were doing fits into antiracism work.
So, my explanation for the folks at the caucus was:
I believe that antiracism and DEI (diversity, equity, & inclusion) work is relational by nature. It requires us to be in relationship with others, to recognize the humanity of the people around us. Such relationships require trust, which is a thing easily broken. As members of the dominant racial identity, white people are inevitably going to make mistakes that harm people of color. There are things that we just don’t see or understand about what it’s like to be a person of color living in a society designed by and for white people. (By the way, I highly recommend Austin Channing Brown’s book, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness.) If we want to be in relationship with people we have harmed, we need to be able to sincerely apologize for those mistakes. If we don’t apologize, the relationship is stunted, unable to grow past the unmentioned hurt, unable to recover trust.
Additionally, in order to be effective, antiracism and DEI work needs to be integrated into everything we do, such as:
- Valuing curiosity over fear
- Valuing multiple truths over a single story
- Making sure that lines of communication are open
- Making it clear that leadership wants to hear different perspectives and is able to react to those perspectives thoughtfully –my definition of leadership here is anyone who holds power in a situation, whether they are a CEO, a parent, a teacher, a receptionist, etc.
- Making it a norm that people show up as their whole selves, not just the selves that are assimilated into whiteness/heteronormativity/able-bodiedness/etc.
- Understanding how to show respect to each other
Because this work is integrated into the way we move through the world, we will be doing it even when we aren’t specifically pointing it out; we’ll be doing it even if our job title doesn’t include the word diversity; we’ll be doing it even when we’re not at a cultural celebration or marking a particular heritage month. We’ll be doing it all the time, and that’s the only way to really do it.
© 2019 Judy Blair LLC