“Knowledge is only power if knowledge is put to the struggle for power. Changing minds is not a movement. Critiquing racism is not activism. Changing minds is not activism. An activist produces power and policy change, not mental change. If a person has no record of power or policy change, then that person is not an activist.”Kendi, 2019, How to Be an Antiracist
White supremacy movements are real. Discrimination and injustice take many forms and is widespread. Microaggressions occur daily. It may be easy to think that the work to address justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) is at the personal or individual level. It is, and much more. Saying you are not a racist, and practicing as a non-racist is only the first step toward creating and supporting more diverse, justice, and equitable interactions. Kendi challenges us to be more than a non-racist. He challenges us to take action to tear down racist beliefs within ourselves and in organizations, and he instructs us to address structural discrimination and injustice. This also applies to other social identities such as gender, sexual orientation, nationality, ability, and socioeconomic class.
Reflecting on how I live my life and about my mindsets (values and assumptions) that drive my actions, has led me to review some of my practices as an educator, leader, executive coach, and a management consultant. Here are a few practices I have adopted or are considering:
- Authors: I will make sure I am reading (personally and professionally) works by diverse authors. This includes race, along with gender, political perspective, sexual orientation, nationality, culture, etc. In addition, I will strive to make sure materials I recommend to others represent a variety of authors and perspectives. A simple check about authors’ gender and race can be revealing. Not only does this increase exposure to multiple perspectives, it helps foster sensitivity, openness, and encourages others to engage in rich discussions.
- Examples and Cases: I will illustrate points and provide examples from a range of experiences. For example, sharing stories and examples that only come from sports does not demonstrate appreciation for those who are less familiar with the sport or are not interested in sports at all. Consider, for example, who are the heroes/heroines of the stories I told? Are they exclusively one gender or one race? Do you only refer to families as male/female parents with children? Are the organizations in stories only U.S.-based and focused? Are the exemplars primarily white and male or do I provide examples that represent various social identities?
- Curiosity and Exploration: I willshare and encourage others to share their identities and cultural experiences that will help me and others get acquainted with them, build relationships, understand different perspectives, and help me relate to them. This includes asking people to share something about their culture that might impact our interactions, always asking follow-up questions when people share something about themselves, and not assuming I understand other cultures or the implications of other cultures.
- Pronouns: I will identify my preferred pronouns (he, him, his) and encourage others to identify their preferences. I added this to my display name in Zoom and ask meeting participants and students to add their pronoun preferences. This is a step toward acknowledging differences and avoiding the assumptions about preferences. In addition, I try to avoid referring to diverse groups as “guys”. This takes the gender-biased language out of the conversation.
- Policies and Practices: I will continue to seek changes to policies that perpetuate oppression, subordination, injustice, and discrimination. My experience is that those of us with privilege (dominant identities) frequently do not even recognize when policies and practices subordinate others. Many U.S. states are trying to pass laws that make it difficult for transgender youth to receive help and some states are passing laws that make it difficult for those with limited transportation options or who work in jobs with little freedom to run an errand to vote in future elections. We need to take steps to be more inclusive and less exclusive.
These are just a few ideas to scratch the surface. What are you doing to address justice, diversity, inclusion, and equity? What ideas do you have? I’m interested in your thoughts and ideas, so please leave your comments, feedback, and suggestions below.
© 2021, John L. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.