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Four Lenses White Leaders Can Adopt to Advocate for Their BIPOC Colleagues


 — November 10th, 2021

Four Lenses White Leaders Can Adopt to Advocate for Their BIPOC Colleagues

Eighteen months ago, the murder of George Floyd sparked many White folks’ increased urgency in supporting racial justice.

Of course, anyone who’d been paying attention knows it was just another example of White supremacy and systemic racism playing out over hundreds of years to continually marginalize, oppress, traumatize, and murder Black folks and other people of color.

Still, the commitment to racial justice from White folks has been welcome. For most of us, it’s a steep learning curve to elevate our racial awareness and accelerate our racial fluency.

While much of the urgency has sadly waned, there are plenty of White folks who remain invested in creating an antiracist world.
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In my work with White leaders and their mostly White teams, I challenge them to hold themselves and each other accountable for how their actions or inactions contribute (or don’t contribute) to an equitable and inclusive workplace culture. Because most White people had not thought much about any of this before the summer of 2020, this is no easy task.

Supporting White folks on their journey to regularly show up for their BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) colleagues often requires a reframe of their world view.

Because of privilege and complacency, White folks often struggle to engage in meaningful conversations with humility, self-reflection, curiosity, and a willingness to learn and change that would ultimately lead to action that positively impacts BIPOC folks.

It’s essential to remember that while antiracism work can be difficult for White people, it's nowhere near as difficult as BIPOC folks dealing with racism every day of their lives.

There are no easy answers for “what to do” to fight racism, no formula for how White folks can advocate for their BIPOC colleagues. I can’t and won’t provide a list of “do’s” and “don’ts.”

What I will do is provide four key lenses that I have found successful in helping White folks figure out who they want to be in the antiracism struggle.

1. Social Justice

Key question to consider: Do you use your power and privilege to fight against inequity and injustice?

Or are you okay with the status quo? To state the obvious, the only reason antiracism is a thing is because racism is a thing. The reason we need to fight for justice and equity is because there is so much injustice and inequity.

White leaders in corporations must see antiracism work as social justice work. If we don’t, it’s all a facade, and nothing will change. For the newly initiated, this means lots of catching up—reading, listening, watching, learning, immersing, growing, evolving. You will never arrive, which is all the more reason to keep going on the journey.

Want an example of an organization committed to social justice? Check out Tides, a company dedicated to accelerating social change.

2. Emotional Intelligence

Key question to consider: Do you connect and empathize with people from different backgrounds?

Or are your social and professional circles made up of “people like you”? To be an effective antiracist, you must be self-aware. You must be willing to be vulnerable, compassionate, and curious about the lives of others.

In short, you must be willing to see the humanity in every single person—including yourself. You must believe people’s stories, validate their truths, and develop cultural humility and agility. You must understand that your norm is not necessarily the norm.

Matt Fawcett, Chief Strategy Officer at NetApp, is a good example of how a senior White leader models emotional intelligence to drive impact and affect change.

3. Mindfulness

Key question to consider: Can you sit with uncertainty and stay in uncomfortable conversations?

White folks new to antiracism work tend to have low stamina for the necessary continuous dialogue that leads to change.

Our privilege, coupled with our lack of patience, fluency, and equanimity, leads to us avoiding engaging in uncomfortable truths about racism and our complicity in perpetuating it.

To break this cycle, we need to slow down, breathe, and learn to observe what is happening without becoming defensive or dismissive. This mindset shift takes years of practice. No better time than now to start making that shift.

Ruth King, a Black woman and the author of Mindful of Race, helps us understand how racial bias begins with distorted perceptions, and what we need to do to mitigate those biases.

4. Storytelling

Key question to consider: Are you perpetuating or disrupting the narrative of the privileged majority?

Whose stories are being amplified? Whose aren’t? Why? Who decides which stories are told, which stories are true, which stories influence policy and law and regulations and norms?

Who’s telling these stories? Whose interest do they have in mind? Whose perspectives are being centered on? These are just some of the questions we need to be asking ourselves if we’re remotely serious about antiracism.

What’s your personal story about race and racism? Have you thought about it much? Why or why not? Evan Birkhead, a White strategic marketing and communications professional, gives us a good example of how to use our personal story to advocate for racial justice and equity.

These four lenses aren’t everything you need to be consistently antiracist, but they’re a good start for anyone who’s genuinely interested in committing to making change.

Which of course includes you, yes? I know it does. I appreciate you doing the work. And so do your BIPOC colleagues.

Photo by Edgar Chaparro on Unsplash

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