Greetings and Happy Winter!
I usually write something celebratory to mark the end of the year. But, today I’m interrupting my own business-as-usual to write about #BlackLivesMatter. How can non-profit and public organizations address anti-Black racism and support the #BlackLivesMatter movement? Many organizations have already been in action and are setting examples for others. This post provides tips and questions for ongoing reflection, learning, and action. Many thanks to J. Elena Featherston, Amiko Mayeno, Dawna Vann, and Alex Tom for their insights and input on this post.
1) Recognize and lean in to discomfort.
For the past month, I have been uncomfortable. I have experienced a mix of emotions and confusion about how to make sense of what is happening around me, how to understand my own privilege, and how to contribute in a positive way. Being uncomfortable is a great privilege in comparison to fearing for one’s own life. It can also be a good thing, because it tells us that the way we have viewed the world and operated in it are no longer working for us. If we lean into the discomfort, rather than pushing it away, there is opportunity to open up to different ways of understanding and interacting in the world.
So, I am leaning in. I am learning by watching the injustices of our system, which have made it painfully clear that Black lives are systematically devalued. I am learning from the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which has shown me how important it is to interrupt business-as-usual and insist that Black lives must be affirmed, not destroyed. I am also learning that there is still much work to be done around racism and privilege among those of us who consider ourselves progressive.
If you are feeling discomfort, I invite you to sit in that discomfort, learn, and explore ways that you can take action.
2) Understand and support #BlackLivesMatter without taking the focus away from Black Lives.
I am grateful that the #BlackLivesMatter Movement has grown exponentially in the past month. Racial injustices, and specifically anti-Black racism, have been brought to the forefront of national and international consciousness. Many people have replaced the #BlackLivesMatter meme with alternative memes, such as #AllLivesMatter or #OurLivesMatter. Replacing the #BlackLivesMatter meme diverts the focus away from the issue at hand, erasing the focus on anti-Black racism.
In A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement, Alicia Garza states that that “Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.” Garza lists some of the many ways that anti-Black racism permeates our society and Black people are deprived of their basic rights and dignity by state violence. #BlackLivesMatter is about affirming all Black lives – men, women, queer and trans people, undocumented immigrants, people who live with disabilities, and people with different abilities.
#BlackLivesMatter is not about Black lives or struggles being more important than others. It is about shining the spotlight on the ways that Black lives have been and continue to be devalued in our society. Systematic oppression depends on dehumanizing groups of people. When dehumanization of Black people is normalized or accepted as routine, it keeps anti-Black racism in place.
#BlackLivesMatter is also about restoring our full humanity. Until #BlackLivesMatter in our society, we will be part of a culture that dehumanizes all of us. When we dehumanize one group of people, we all lose a piece of our humanity. #BlackLivesMatter can help us all regain what has been lost over centuries of domination.
3) Make connections: #Explore how BlackLivesMatter relates to your mission.
Many organizational leaders have struggled to figure out how to take a stand around BlackLivesMatter. Contrary to some critiques, solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter is not mission creep; it is central to achieving your mission. Many organizations have missions that implicitly or explicitly relate to Black lives. Whether ending hunger, eliminating poverty, improving health, ending bullying of LGBTQ youth, building youth leaders, improving educational outcomes, protecting the environment, or something else, it is likely that your mission touches on the lives of Black people. Unless you are making progress towards your mission in the Black community, your mission is not being achieved.
#BlackLivesMatter is also central to mission because anti-Black racism prevents many Black people from living full lives, obtaining education and access to resources, and contributing their fullest potential to our society. Anti-Black racism also prevents Black people from being integral to many organizations established to serve their communities. This is particularly tragic given that Black people led the Civil Rights and Black Power movements that resulted in the establishment many nonprofit and public programs.
#BlackLivesMatter is also an opportunity to go beyond treating problems to addressing their root causes. Tamara Rodriguez Reichberg is a Harvard student who participated in a die-in involving 70 medical schools. In this post, she states that “The role of medicine is to alleviate human suffering. As practitioners of medicine, we must treat not only the symptoms of suffering, but also its causes.” Anti-Black racism is likely at the root of many of the social inequalities that prevent your mission from being achieved. Higher rates of unemployment, incarceration, chronic disease, premature death, educational inequities, environmental injustices, and many more inequities cannot be eliminated without acknowledging and addressing the anti-Black racism that keeps them in place.
#BlackLivesMatter is important for all organizations based in communities of color. Many Asian American organizations are taking action in support of #BlackLivesMatter because they recognize that none of us can be free from racism until Black people are free. In this video, Scott Nakagawa describes anti-Black racism acts as a fulcrum in the system of white supremacy. Asian Americans are also challenging the model minority myth that has been used to justify anti-Black racism.
4) Acknowledge Privilege and Interrupt Oppression
Even the most progressive people and organizations are not immune to anti-Black racism and other forms of oppression. #BlackLivesMatter gives us an opportunity to break the silence about anti-Black racism and create new practices that involve reflection, dialogue, and action. Organizational leaders can play an important role in modeling this for others.
One dimension of privilege is that we are often unaware that we have it. We can also be unaware of the impact our actions have upon others. #BlackLivesMatter gives us an opportunity to reflect on our own privilege and use it to make a difference. Listening with humility, when racism is pointed out to us, can help us understand the impact of our actions. Privilege comes along with unequal access to power and resources. Consider ways that both power and resources can be shared, including donations to support #BlackLivesMatter.
5) Make a Long-Term Commitment to #BlackLivesMatter
This is a moment in time when the world’s attention has been focused on #BlackLivesMatter. For #BlackLivesMatter to have staying power, and to make lasting changes, it is also an opportunity for organizations to think about what it would look like to make a long-term commitment to ending anti-Black racism. As you plan for 2015 and beyond, consider how you can make #BlackLivesMatter a part of your work.
How can you integrate a #BlackLivesMatter lens into your organization on an ongoing basis? Here 25 questions that can help you look at your organization and explore ways to take action. While not an all-inclusive list, I hope they provide a useful starting point.
- How do your values implicitly or explicitly affirm that #BlackLivesMatter? How do you live these values in your organizational practice?
- What are you doing to ensure that Black people are part of your organization, not just on the front lines of service delivery? Who is in governance and leadership roles in your organization? How are you ensuring that Black people are not treated as tokens, but are sharing power and shaping direction of the organization? Are there informal networks that help some people gain access to jobs and advancement opportunities, while excluding access for Black people?
- What are people in the organization doing to recognize internalized privilege and anti-Black racism? What type of training, dialogue and support could you conduct to raise awareness of anti-Black racism and privilege among staff members, including leadership?
- Do you address issues of anti-Black racism in the services you provide? For example: If you provide mental health services, are therapist trained to understand the role that anti-Black racism and trauma play in the lives of your patients? Are they able to interrupt stereotypes that dehumanize Black people and recognize and value the strengths of the Black community? Do Black people who utilize your services feel that they are valued and treated with respect? How do you know?
- How are you engaging and partnering with Black people who utilize your services? Do they have a voice in shaping how your services are delivered?
- How do your policies and procedures affirm that #BlackLivesMatter? Do you have anti-discrimination policies in place? Are there biases (possibly unintentional) in your policies or procedures?
- How do you measure who is in your organization and who you are serving? Are you collecting data, broken down by race, to track your progress?
- What partnerships have you established with Black-led organizations? How does your organization learn from Black-led organizations? How does your organization support Black-led organizations in gaining access to resources and power?
- Does your organization advocates for policy and systems change at local, state, or federal levels? If so, how does your policy agenda support #BlackLivesMatter?