Racial Inequity: Shifting from Debates to Dialogues

dei human resources organizational culture racial equity May 26, 2021
Racial Inequity: Shifting from Debates to Dialogues

On December 2 & 3, the Center for Nonprofits held its annual conference, “Reckoning, Reshaping, Rebuilding”, which touched upon racial inequity amongst many other important issues. As occurs every year, there were numerous professional development opportunities that allowed nonprofit organizations to learn the latest trends in philanthropy, advocacy, event planning, fundraising, philanthropy, and improved management practices. This was also the first time the conference shifted to a virtual setting, which, for the first time, allows participants to view the recorded workshops that they were not able to attend. 

Shifting Away from Debates to Dialogues Around Racial Inequity

There was one theme that was threaded across many of the workshops and sessions that stood out as particularly poignant and time-sensitive. The keynote speaker, Dr. David W. Campt, spoke about “The Power of Vulnerability: Personal Stories as the Catalyst to Transformation”. He touched on disparities that contribute to racial inequity, perpetuate racism without intending to, and unconscious bias. Successively, he invited the participants to reframe their thinking by acknowledging that we are not always in control of our subconscious biases. 

He also shared with us many of the complexities that surround racism and some anti-racism practices. In the process, he encouraged us to acknowledge that multiple realities can coexist with respect to racial inequity. His example centered around recognizing some of the racial progress that has occurred in our recent past. He shared that his grandfather had to worry about spontaneously forming white lethal mobs, but he has not ever worried about this happening. This is progress, yet disparities in access and racism persist.

He also noted that reframing problems around equity requires engaging in difficult conversations about race with a combination of “will” and “skill”. He shared the importance of making certain concessions as they relate to the domain of racial progress without denying the impact of racism. For example, he brought to our attention that there are times when antiracism remedies can go wrong. Sometimes situations can be described inaccurately or the inability to make concessions with “Drop the Mic” statements can close the door to dialogue with people who do not believe racial inequity is a problem or affects them.

Instead, it is important to be vulnerable. This means making confessions that lead to new types of conversations that shift away from debates and transform into dialogues. We accomplish this by talking about experiences that both reinforce the beliefs of those that do not agree with you and your own beliefs. Then, he gave an example of a time in which he was able to change someone’s mind about subconscious bias by describing an incident in which he racially profiled someone. 

He described a time he was in Chicago and became fearful of an African man who was going up and down the street holding onto his bookbag in a suspicious manner. He was worried that the man could have been a terrorist due to the bookbag or looking to harm him. Then, the man came back up the street in his direction and then past him. Instead of committing a crime, the man in question appeared to find a man he was looking for in a store, and they seemed to be discussing repairs for the bookbag. At that point, Dr. Campt realized that he had racially profiled this man.

After he shared this anecdote in a corporate talk he gave, a white executive came up to him and shared with Dr. Campt that he recognized that he had also been guilty of doing this and Dr. Campt’s anecdote changed his mind on the issue. In short, transforming perceptions of racial inequity requires getting people to talk about their experiences instead of focusing on establishing the right definitions. 

Racial Equity Practices

There are several lessons we can draw from this in the management of our organizations: 

  • We are all susceptible to subconscious biases, and they must be confronted directly in the workplace to ensure we are not inadvertently advancing systemic racism. 
  • Long-term change requires the commitment of employees, board members, senior staff, volunteers, and the ED to engage in vulnerable discussions. 
  • Making a declaration that an organization is anti-racist is a step in the right direction, but it cannot be a one-off panacea. Policies, procedures, and practices are essential components to instituting long-term change that works towards building racial equity.  

Share Your Story

Please share your experience with addressing racial inequity with all of us below, so we can all learn from you. 

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