I do not recall during my college years or the early part of my professional career hearing much about structural or systemic racism, but that was 40+years ago. It is fair to say that the last 10-15 years this topic has been gradually surfacing in different manifestations best demonstrated by the Black Lives Matter movement reaching an unparalleled global impact brought on by the cruel lynching death of George Floyd. In the last 5-10 years, the conversation about racial justice, racial equity, and diversity and inclusion have begun to trend more frequently in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors. However, it remains mostly an educational exercise. Anand Giridharada’s recent book “Winners Take All —The Elite Charade of Changing the World” gets at the gut of the hypocrisy that exists about wanting social change while preserving the status quo. I personally love the book’s title as it reveals all that is wrong with how Philanthropy (or for that matter any institution) seeks to address racial justice and inequality. An excellent read, if you want to fully understand the root cause of inequality and its relationship to race.
In the wake of a pandemic, a broken economy, a racially divided political leadership, and a global social justice movement, you may be wondering what is my role in this and what can I do to save us?
Historically, systemic racism is what has built western civilization both in Europe and the USA. It has been embedded in our culture, institutions, and systems created to solely sustain its lifeline to gain power and exclude People of Color. Dismantling, it will take generations that gets at why Robin DiAngelo’s book is so relevant and is at the forefront of any movement toward change. The book is written by a white woman who actually works in the racial/diversity training field whose own self-awareness about her racism reveals a level of honesty, clarity, and candor. Her directness, openness, and straightforwardness is inspiring and enlightening, especially to People of Color like myself who, in any advocacy work we are engaged in, we immediately recognize the elephant in the room…White Fragility. Simply defined, as the inability to recognize or talk about one’s biases and prejudices towards other races and the privilege, entitlement, and superiority that comes with being White.
By failing to acknowledge one’s own racism, understanding the history of racism, and openly talking about it, there can be no change. It is a simple yet powerful solution with the hope that it will lead to actions beyond just talk. Only by having these candid conversations recognizing one’s “bias upbringing” and how it directly feeds into structural racism can we begin to interrupt and dismantle it. What are you willing to personally change to be able to then advocate for racial justice? I cannot answer that question for you other than to say self-awareness needs to transform into action, otherwise, the status quo will remain as is.
DiAngelo’s careful and perceptive analysis of both the history of racism and its relationship to power jolted me. She clarified for me behaviors that I had seen all my life in board rooms and staff meetings but did not have a way of calling them out or labeling them other than “white privilege.” She does this with such detail, directness, and honesty that you wish to meet her one day.
History and societal norms embedded in structural or systemic racism need to be taught in our schools and colleges if we are going to have the generational change that will be critical when we as a nation become multiculturally diverse. A recent advance review of the 2020 US Census data shows that nearly four of 10 Americans identify with a race or ethnic group other than White while showing a steady decline of the White population in all states regardless of the census undercount that exists among black and brown people. This decline is inevitable as White baby boomers age and eventually die, and a much more diverse and younger population becomes this nation’s majority vote.
Our ability to co-exist with each other, demands that we not be complicit or silent but invested in being part of a change align with the demographic and climate changes that will eventually take over and will be what a new generation of leaders will need to grapple with.
DiAngelo does not offer a wide range of solutions to dismantle structural racism as her focus lies on the concept of self-awareness. I personally would like to see a version of DiAngelo’s book and others that address the history of structural racism be standardized within the curriculum of schools connected to how we teach American and World history. This level of awareness needs to start earlier to begin to change attitudes and biases that all young people may not be fully aware of or understand especially as it relates to structural and systemic racism. Simply, how can you dismantle something that you do not understand?
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