Rhymes Media Group, in keeping with our commitment to advocacy journalism, begins, today, the series: RMG's Anti-Racism 101.
Rhymes Media Group began, and continues, as a mechanism for persuasion for those who are willing to be persuaded. In other words, we are not looking for a show of hands - popular consensus is one of the WORSE metrics for determining what's true.
Racism exists when individuals because of their race, are:
Denied access to services or opportunities
Excluded from decision-making processes
Treated differently and negatively
Described or depicted as inferior
Subjected to direct or indirect harassment and/or physical violence
Is a rationalized, systematic and often times, legal harassment designed to exploit and control people on the basis of race
It is demonstrated by institutional policies and practices which, though apparently neutral, have the effect of creating social, economic, political and other types of inequalities on the basis of race
Some obvious patterns of racism include:
People of color concentrated in low-paying jobs
High levels of joblessness and homelessness amongst people of color
Persistent, often times, violent conflict with the justice system
Low self-esteem and low academic achievement among students and youth of color
Consistent, negative, limited and unfair media portrayal
Institutions serve two critical purposes:
They act as collective memory banks that serve as the keepers and transporters of values,
They also provide the structures through which those values, principles and traditions become operational in contemporary society
When discrimination, exclusion and bigotry are combined with institutional POWER, the result is anything from an organization to a whole society whose structures exclude non-members of the group in power from full enjoyment of the benefits that society has to offer. Systemic racism has a pervasive, self-perpetuating nature about it. Through institutional power, it mistreats and oppresses people of color and perpetuates ignorance about people of color. This in turn leads to socially sanctioned attitudes, beliefs, feelings and assumptions. This package itself becomes the justification for further mistreatment of people of color.
Any anti-racism organizational change model that attempts to impact on this paradigm ought to be guided by a vision in which the corporate culture of the organization, including underlying assumptions and values, systems and the specific behaviors of individuals, are deliberately changed to achieve access, equity and full participation of members, employees, customers, clients, students and citizens. This involves a process of identifying and eliminating systemic barriers and individual acts of racism.
Let us think in terms of an organization, any organization. It could be our larger society, a school system, police force or a family. There are three types of "social factories" - each distinct and each critical - which impact on the way that organizations work.
Social Factory #1: Dominant beliefs and values
Social Factory #2: Systems (practices, procedures, rules, policies etc.)
Social Factory #3: Individual's behaviors and experiences within the organization or social organism
There is a continuous flow and interaction between all three sets of factors. The dominant beliefs infuse the organization's policies, and these together determine how people in the organization - what they expect, what they internalize, how they view things, how they act. Taken all together, they maintain the power of the status quo. An anti-racism organizational model says that if you make an intervention to change one of these factors you must, by necessity, intervene in the other two.
Otherwise, those two other sets of factors will push back and block the change you are trying to induce. They will maintain the status quo.
Points to consider
If we look, for example, at employment equity, or police training, which are interventions into the organization's systems, what will happen if we don't deliberately challenge flawed dominant beliefs and values? Or an individual's flawed experiences and behaviors?
The answer is that unchallenged beliefs will entrench themselves. Old behaviors will persist. Working together, these factors will block REAL change. Employment equity will never work. Real anti-racist curriculum development will never take root. Culturally appropriate counseling will never work. Police training that is anti-racist will never become a reality.
Addressing institutional and systemic challenges
Audit the organizational culture. Examine how your dominant beliefs, values assumptions and mythologies are reflected in the organization (e.g. the kinds of pictures on the walls, kinds of sculptures, even the kinds of food you serve). All these things can send a very powerful implicit or explicit message.
Provide a safe environment for change. Good training in a context where inclusion and cultural proficiency are valued and helps members face their prejudices without fear of reprisal.
Be sensitive to the vulnerabilities of individuals who are different, and don't necessarily expect them to speak up and identify these. Provide as many kinds of supports as possible for them as they learn to trust new values.
Continue anti-racism training or employment equity or whatever anti-racist initiative you are involved in.
Be clear about how racism affects you and why you are challenging it. The impact of racism on people of color (in particular Blacks and Hispanics) is economic, political and/or social. It erodes self-esteem and self-confidence. Note: racism also limits members of the privileged culture. It promotes a false sense of importance; it encourages a limited view of history and current life and it limits possible learning and growth. Perhaps one of the most detrimental consequences of racism on the privileged culture is the creation of social and cultural tensions.
Use clear, unambiguous, unapologetic language. If you are talking about Black people say so. If you are talking about White people say so. Don't be cryptic; don't be disingenuous.
Distinguish between the person and the behavior where possible. If you can challenge behaviors without attacking the dignity of the individual, you have a better chance of affecting change.
Allow for discussion. Telling people what they should be thinking breeds resistance. Explain your position; encourage questions and atmosphere of trust for discussion.
Respect cultural pride. Encourage this as long as it does not become a question of superior or inferior.
Challenge yourself. What are you doing in your community, in your organization, in your relations, in your place of work - your institutions - to actively and uncompromisingly fight racism? Are you reading, analyzing, organizing, advocating, building, inspiring, and moving forward?