How white leaders can stand with and for black communities
We reach out to you today heartbroken over the horrific events unfolding in our country over the last week. The video of George Floyd dying under the knee of Derek Chauvin took our breath away.
Even more devastating is the knowledge that this is nothing new for our black community. We grieve with you, even as we know that these events will land differently for each of us based on our identity.
A note upfront: This article is our attempt to step up to make a difference. As white women, we bring humility to this moment and know that we are not experts at speaking to the Black experience. We are inspired and grateful for the willingness from Lesley Brown-Rawlings of Beloved Community to create a dedicated space for Black leaders to share, process, and support one another. What we do know is what it means to start to take a stand as aspiring equity leaders. For those white leaders who are finding their way into their equity leadership, this article is for you. We know that path well, because we are on it with you.
As a white leader, you might find yourself stuck when your community needs you most. You might feel inadequate to the situation. You might be unsure about what to do. And you’re probably concerned about getting it wrong.
We hear you because we’re in that place with you. We never feel enough in moments that are bigger than us. That’s the paradox of stepping up.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”
As an offer of love and support, we share five concrete steps we see white equity leaders take to move from a place of paralysis to a place of standing with and for their black communities.
Note: All of the tools we share below are open-sourced. We collected what we could find this weekend but all folders are editable and we would love to see your additions!
Five Steps For White Leaders to Get Started
Say something. You may feel ill-equipped to step into what leaders are called to right now. None of us are ready, but not all of us have a choice. Your silence leaves your black community in pain, bearing the burden alone. You can start simple, but do start. Begin every meeting or class by checking in and giving people a space to share. Add a heartfelt message to an email that’s already going out. Send a few paragraphs or a short video to your staff and the community you serve making sure they know you stand with them. We captured some sample messages from leaders who chose the courage to say something over the fear of doing it wrong. (This is open source; please feel free to add examples you admired!)
Learn from and amplify black voices. We as whites are not the experts on the reality of racism. While it is not the job of our Black colleagues and friends to educate us, it is imperative that when they choose to speak, we listen to, learn from and amplify their truth. You might consider reviewing this collection of ways to take action for learning and listening opportunities. Ensure you have black leaders at the table when making decisions. Ask black staff for their input as you craft your response to racialized issues. They may not feel they have the energy to educate us on how to speak about racism. They have already spent a lifetime doing that. But if your black staff and families feel inspired to speak and lead, ask how you can support them.
Take action. A quote rings sharply by a Black woman, teacher and activist in Charlottesville when asked what she wished white people were doing about racism. Her answer was “Do something … anything. This may be new to you. But this is the same conversation we have been having for hundreds of years. Stop talking, and change the systems.” We curated here a collection of ways to take action. Action can be small (writing, holding spaces for your team to process). It can be be at the organizational level (committing to culturally relevant texts next year, undertaking an equity audit, taking steps to moving to an anti-racist organization). And it can start at home. One of us spent Saturday breakfast with her husband and teen boys agreeing which systems we most wanted to change (we added criminal justice and down ballot elections to our focus on education), choosing places to donate (we started with supporting black organizers) and where to volunteer (registering people to vote). Another dedicated time in a predominantly white church community to make sure they took moments to pause and acknowledge these painful current events.
Commit to learning about racism, bias and white supremacy - and about yourself. While taking action is an important step, dismantling racism has to be accompanied with your own internal work. See lists of resources at the end of this message. As equity leader Robin DiAngelo explains, part of confronting racism is about confronting our own fragility and discomfort. Maybe this learning is about building our language and awareness to be able to speak to racial issues more fluently. Maybe it’s about confronting our insecurities or perfectionistic tendencies that fuel our fragility. We need to compassionately hold the mirror up to ourselves and understand that we are Amy Cooper at times. It’s not a pretty truth, but until we acknowledge that, we will be trying to do anti-racist work without understanding that we too are racist. Here’s how the black queer Buddhist leader Lama Rod Owens puts it: It seems like if we are really interested in ending white supremacy, white people should focus more on loving themselves instead of trying to love me. The violence emerges from the ways self shame and apathy are bypassed in attempts to use love towards me as an argument trying to convince me that you are not "that kind of white person." As long as you can not face yourself and love even those ugly parts, you are indeed that kind of white person and I will be left with the work of trying to love what you can not bear to witness.
Embrace the bumps in the road as part of the work itself. The work of being an anti-racist is messy. As part of it, we’re going to find moments where we are awkward or have blind spots. We may make mistakes. We have received candid feedback from black colleagues on our own hurtful racist actions. We have blind spots and commit microaggressions. Our friend Marion at illuminate coaching convenes groups to discuss whiteness, and she has helped us see that being humbled and ashamed at our internalized racism is part of the journey. We take feedback and get up and try harder. Our pain and humiliation at getting it wrong pales in comparison with a lifetime of bias and oppression that our friends of color have endured.
“A riot [protest]” said Martin Luther King “is the language of the unheard.” While discussion rages about whether property damage is justified for the cause - and who is doing it - what is undeniable is that protesters are desperate for a time when black men and women can live safely.
Let this be the time that every single one of us says the systems which were literally built to advantage some of us at the expense of others must be changed. And let us have the courage and fortitude in our communities and our institutions to say something that will be heard. Let us take action at home and at work that will make a difference. Let us amplify black voices. Let us be humbled and get back up and do it again. And let us keep going until black mothers don’t have to tell their children it’s unsafe to go outside.
If you are seeking a space to process, grieve, and take action, join us in one of our community calls. We are grateful to our partners and mentors - Lesley Brown Rawlings from Beloved Community and Marion Hodges Biglan at Illuminate - for being willing to facilitate these conversations.
We’re with you in this work as we continue to learn and lead too. If there’s anything that you need, please feel free to reach out.
Join us for facilitated Community Conversation to share, to grieve, and to plan.
A dialogue for Black leaders with Lesley Brown-Rawlings of Beloved Community
(Fri June 5 @ 3pm ET)
A dialogue for allies and co-conspirators with Marion Hodges Biglan of Illuminate Coaching
(Thu Jun 4 @ 12pm ET)
Our Partners and Mentors in Anti-Racism
As part of our mission to create a compassionate human centered world where all people can thrive, Leading Elephants holds equity at the center of our work. We are grateful for the guidance of these equity partners over the last year:
Equity Leaders We Have Learned From
We believe part of the work of anti-racism is continuing to educate ourselves rather than relying on people of color to do it for us. We are grateful to these organizations we have learned from over the last year:
Ways to Start Reading and Listening
Here were some of the books and resources about race that were most transformative for us:
Seeing White: A History of Whiteness and Racism in America (podcast series)
How To Be an Anti-Racist (book)
“I, Racist” (article)