Cultivating an Equitable and Anti-Racist Workplace

2020 was filled with unprecedented events in all facets of life, and, as many have noted across the globe, the year became a landmark for the call to action against racism.

From the incident in Central Park, where a white woman called the police on a black bird watcher, to the murder of George Floyd by police officers, and when the police officers who murdered Breonna Taylor in her home were not indicted for their involvement in her murder, it is clear that racism is still very prevalent and pervasive. It reaches far and wide, including at home and in the workplace, where power dynamics and structural racism can be multiplied. 

Through his talk, “Social Work’s Role in Black Lives Matter,” Wayne Reid discussed racism’s reach into social workers’ professional lives. In the workplace, there are certain barriers that people of color face that white people do not. To address these barriers and inequities, equality, diversity, and inclusion advisory groups are often created. Too often, the burden of creating these groups and addressing racism in the workplace falls solely on people of color, when it is a fight that requires everyone’s involvement, especially those in positions of power. This is part of the push for people to go beyond being non-racist and to become anti-racist– actively fighting against racism and advocating for changes against racist policies and practices. It is an active, ongoing process, not only in one’s personal life but in professional environments as well.

Creating an Anti-Racist Workplace

Wayne works for the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), which currently has a goal to create a universal anti-racist framework that is applicable to all aspects of the social work field. This includes creating an anti-racist workplace, and Wayne and the BASW have an idea for how that would look. As Wayne described, an anti-racist workplace would have a very specific anti-racist mission statement, making sure to interview people of color, to integrate an anti-racism mentality into policies and procedures, to provide adequate anti-racism training to all staff, and to conduct annual pay reviews for employees of color to ensure they are being paid fairly relative to their white colleagues. With these steps, workplaces would have to take active steps to ensure they were discussing race within the workplace and enforcing anti-racist policies.

On top of these ideas for an anti-racist workplace, including mandatory professional development courses aimed at educating people on how to be anti-racist, anti-discriminatory, and anti-oppressive would be beneficial. There are already experts in the world of anti-racism who have done the groundwork, and their expertise can be utilized to help implement anti-racist practices within workplaces. For example, Stanford University has created an “Anti-Racism Toolkit” for managers to better equip themselves to address racism in the workplace and move towards a more inclusive environment, and the W.K Kellogg Foundation has created a Racial Equity Resource Guide full of training methods and workshops to provide structure for anti-racist professional development.

Leadership Inequality

Wayne also discussed the importance of leadership programs for people of color within their workplaces. In the US, black people only make up 3.2% of senior leadership roles, and only 0.8% of Fortune 500 CEO positions. Employers need to sufficiently invest in leadership training programs and provide the resources to ensure the success of people of color within them. Leadership programs for people of color would help address the lack of people of color in leadership positions within the social work field and beyond. For social work specifically, in conjunction with these leadership programs, employers should create programs allowing social workers of color to mentor senior staff members as well, providing insight for them regarding the challenges people of color face in the workplace. That said, while the benefits of this type of program are important, boundary setting and confidentiality are just as vital and would need to be well thought out prior to implementation.

Addressing Education

In order to assist in diversifying leadership, higher education must also be addressed. Despite the increase in people of color attending college, there is still a large imbalance in representation compared to the general US population.

For the social work field, it is important to address the accessibility of social work education programs. Because they are often expensive and have numerous requirements for entry, entry into the field is inaccessible for many. They also need to include a more deliberately anti-racist curriculum, which can be guided by people of color through their lived experiences, as well as experts in the field. The field of social work has long been dominated by white women, and that imbalance has impacted the curriculum that we use today.

Moving Forward

As long as people continue to ignore racism and the effects it continues to have, nothing will change. Wayne and the BASW’s work to integrate anti-racist education and policies into the workplace and social work schools is crucial to the future of social work and the progress of anti-racist work. Social work needs to play a large role in the changing of policies and practices to ensure that the future is more equitable for all.

The Impact of Institutional Racism on Capitol Hill

The 116th Congress, the current meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, is the most racially and ethnically diverse in history. Black, Latinx, Asian/ Pacific Islander, or Indigenous members now account for 22% of Congress, a record-breaking trend on Capitol Hill. This represents an 84% increase over the 107th Congress of 2001 to 2003, which had 63 diverse members. Although racial and ethnic diversity among lawmakers has increased over the years, Congress remains disproportionately white when compared to the overall U.S. population.

Social Solutionist Dr. Angela Henderson suggests that the lack of diversity of legislators on Capitol Hill is directly tied to institutional racism. Skilled in research and statistical analysis, Dr. Henderson examined demographic data from the 116th Congress to better understand the relationship between systemic inequities and racial and ethnic disproportionality. Dr. Henderson translates research into action-oriented solutions that will eradicate institutional racism and increase diversity on Capitol Hill.

“The best way to change the future is to understand history.”

                 – Adam Ramer 

The requirement for candidates to raise significant funds for their congressional campaign compounds the homogeneity on Capitol Hill. Due to the effects of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and unequitable wealth distribution, the lack of monetary inheritance within communities of color present significant barriers. Monetary inheritance within a family provides financial stability for future generations to thrive and take advantage of wealth-building opportunities. According to a 2014 Pew Research Center article, the income of households headed by Black people continues to lag behind households headed by white people. In 2014, the median Black household income was approximately $43,300 while the median white household income was about $71,300. The study also found that household heads with higher levels of formal education tend to have higher household incomes. However, the Black-white-gap in income occurs across all educational levels and indicates a lack of equitable opportunities for communities of color.

Decades of racial discrimination, segregation, and disinvestments in communities of color have left families with fewer resources when under financial pressure. In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted The New Deal to combat a housing shortage and to increase housing stock. In reality, this program was a state-sponsored system of segregation that pushed Black and Brown families into urban housing projects. In 1934, the Federal Housing Administration furthered segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages within Black and Brown communities, a practice known as redlining. The Federal Housing Administration justified racial segregation by claiming property values would decrease if people of color bought homes near the suburbs. Although the New Deal was repealed in 1939, it has left behind ongoing stagnant racial inequities and deep wealth gaps between Black and white communities.

Debt negatively impacts all families but is especially burdensome for families of color. Research suggests that while only 15% of white households have been late with debt payments, 27% of Black households have been late with debt payments. Without a social safety net or alternative financial means, more and more Black families may be at risk of taking out additional loans at high interest rates to pay their living expenses. This leaves fewer assets and means for families to support and assist their children with basic life necessities, such as housing, transportation, and/or college tuition.

“There can be no learning without action, and no action without learning.”

          – Reg Revans

According to Dr. Henderson, we can take the following steps to push back against the effects of institutional racism and increase leadership diversity on Capitol Hill:

  1. Community Rites of Passage Investment: We must strategically invest in our youth of color early, particularly investing in youths of color who are on a political track that requires financial means to succeed. Given that it takes a village to raise a child, our community should collectively craft solutions and invest in opportunities for our children to do so.
  2. Mentoring, Internships, and Fellowships: All professions, including political social workers and researchers, should challenge themselves to mentor and provide internships and fellowships to youth, undergraduate, and graduate students. These programs and opportunities, such as Emerge Virginia, will help students get acquainted with working in Congressional or State offices.
  3. Political Training Programs: This learning opportunity will help students develop skills around campaign messaging, fundraising, campaign budgeting, and all tactics pertaining to running for office.
  4. Political Action Committees (PAC): Support PACs, U.S. organizations that raise money privately to influence elections or legislation.
  5. Social Work Political Campaign Courses: Every social work program around the country should offer a course about social workers and political campaigns. This course should provide social work students with a year-long intensive training on politics, etiquette, debating, and different ways to prepare them for work in this realm.

In order to increase leadership diversity on Capitol Hill, we will need to create more opportunities for people of color. Acknowledging the challenges and barriers they often face such as limited professional networks and political clout, we have to be intentional about bringing people of color into these spaces. We have to ensure that we are equipping youth and communities of color with the connections and resources needed to build wealth and maintain sustainability. As Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley urges, “we have to be disruptors, innovators, and we have to shake the table.”

Tackling Microaggressions in a Post-Trump Era

As a member of several online Facebook groups, one trend I noted was the concern from Women of Color (WoC) on the increasing level of micro-aggressions when they posted or commented on the experience of living in a Post-Trump election as a WoC.

Posts or comments were and still are commonly met with calls for unity, as commentary on White Privilege were seen as divisive, requests to call it White “Advantage” instead of “Privilege”, as the term privilege was offensive to some, and requests that maybe WoC could leave and start their own group. This is not to say that all White Allys are critical of conversations of White Privilege.

The conversation on White Privilege is a daunting but much needed conversation especially as it applies to Intersectional Feminism. In an election cycle where sexism and racism were foundational elements, conversations on racism and White Privilege are critical as women unite to push forward agendas for equality.

So before we start this conversation, some recommendations to consider:

  • If you find yourself getting upset or offended because I’m going to talk about White Privilege, step away from your computer or phone and take a couple of minutes to unpack your Privilege. Maybe take a couple of breaths and ask yourself why I’ve struck a nerve.
  • I do not speak for all Women of Color. I am a straight, cis gender, Asian American married to a Jewish man. My experience is unique to me. While as a Woman of Color, I share in the struggle, my struggle is different from other Women of Color. Our unique experiences all coalesce into the need to recognize a system based on racism that upholds White Supremacy.
  • If something in what I’m saying interests you or makes you feel uncomfortable, please take the time to reflect on this and Google it. I can’t cover all the nuances in one post so please if you have a smart phone or access to a computer, you have a world of knowledge at your fingertip.

Identity Politics

Colorblind approaches to seeing race are faulty. When someone says they don’t see race and we are all the same, what I hear is that you are not acknowledging a part of my identity that is integral to how I navigate my day to day life. My race is a prominent part of my identity. I cannot hide it and as a result it impacts how people see me.

Our inherent biases are social constructs that we have to check regularly. So when you say you don’t see race when you look at me, you deny the obstacles and struggle of what it means to be a woman of color. In essence diminishing it. In acknowledging race, we acknowledge that there exists a powerful system that favors Whiteness.

Slacktivism

The safety pins which is largely a gesture started by White women to let the Others know that they are safe. I get it. It’s a super, super nice gesture and I really do appreciate it. I am cautiously watching though to see if this is a trend or if this is a movement. When major events of human tragedy occur, there typically exists a feel good slacktivism response.

Everyone changes their FB profile pictures and offers prayers or in this case wears safety pins, but there is a lack of actual sustainable change. Sustainable change is achieved through holding our leaders and politicians accountable and pushing forth policy agendas for the equal treatment of its most vulnerable citizens. Policy not Prayers or in this case Policy not Pins. Again, I’m not diminishing anyone’s efforts be an ally or to help. I understand that this is a visible sign that you are down with the struggle but I and other WoC just have our reservations.

Checking White Privilege

This is a daunting task because when it is checked, WoC are often asked to validate our authenticity or provide examples. This in itself is a micro-aggression and example of White Privilege. We feel like we are being gas lighted because what we just checked you on was an example.

Calling out White Privilege is not meant to be divisive and tear down this group. It’s ironic that in a group full of Nasty Women, WoC are being asked to play nice because our narratives are too divisive. One concerning aspect of addressing White Privilege is the request from some to call it “White Advantage” instead of White Privilege. This again is another example of a micro-aggression. In splitting hairs on the terminology, we detract on the much needed hard work to dismantle racism and White Supremacy.

So in Solidarity with your sisters of color, please take time for some internal checking and move over a little. We want to sit on the bench with you as we all buckle in for this long ass ride.

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