A few people have asked me how we can keep people focused on antiracism and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work when they’re worried about their lives and livelihoods. This work can often feel like an add-on at the best of times, so what do we do now? My answer to this question is to remind folks that the times when we’re under pressure are when it’s the easiest to fall back into old habits. This is one of the reasons we must work hard when we’re not enduring a pandemic to change our culture, making those old habits obsolete.
So what can we do now, in the middle of one of the most stressful times many of us have ever experienced? Before we can answer that question, we need to remember three points: First, racism has been a constant and consistent emergency for 400 years on the North American continent. What may seem like a resurgent problem to many white folks is in fact just the way life has always been for people of color in the US, especially Black and Indigenous people. Second, racism has impacted our environmental decisions and healthcare systems to the point that people of color are predisposed to illnesses that exacerbate the deadliness of COVID-19, resulting in disproportionately more deaths amongst communities of color. Third, more people of color than white folks work in jobs considered essential during the pandemic, leaving them vulnerable to infection in addition to the fact that these jobs have historically been undervalued and undercompensated. Every negative effect of the pandemic merely magnifies the negative effects of living in a racist society.
Once we internalize these things we can move on to our actions today.
People looking for ways to donate or put pressure on elected officials have only to turn to any social media platform for suggestions. Grassroots organizations have always been a good place to start, and right now I encourage folks to reach out to groups working against incarceration of all types. The reason I’m suggesting this particular focus is that incarcerated people are at high risk for infection, have reduced (or no) access to adequate healthcare, and are disproportionately people of color. (Some suggestions: La Resistencia and Northwest Community Bail Fund for monetary support; and Prison Policy Initiative for information on how your state’s carceral system is responding to COVID-19.)
People wanting to make institutional change either at work, at school, at their places of worship, or elsewhere can continue to educate themselves about how racism shows up in ways that many of us don’t even realize. Tema Okun’s and Kenneth Jones’s work on white supremacy culture has been a touchstone for me since I started learning about systemic racism, and much of my time is spent thinking and talking about it. Those of you who read last month’s post about the ways white supremacy culture is showing up during the pandemic are already familiar with the ideas presented, but I recommend that everyone read the original piece and sit with both the ways it feels true and the ways it feels challenging. As I always say when introducing white supremacy culture norms, we start to dismantle white supremacy by interrogating the ways it manifests. Asking whether there might be a better way to be than the default we’ve been given is the beginning of change.
Finally, the answer to the original question of how to keep people focused on antiracism work while we struggle in so many other areas is: just continue doing the work. Continue to hold your DEI committee meetings. Continue your equitable HR practices. Continue to offer allyship and support to people who have requested it. Continue to make equity a part of your culture. Continue the work.
©2020 Judy Blair LLC