Our learnings from our summer antiracism practice
“When the horrors of systemic racism shook our country and our consciousness, millions of Americans of every age, every background rose up to march for each other, crying out for justice and progress. This is who we still are … compassionate, resilient, decent people whose fortunes are bound up with one another. It is well past time [to] reflect our truth.” - Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention
The murder of George Floyd on May 25 was a clarion call for us to step up our lived commitment to antiracism. In the words of John Lewis, we heard an invitation to say something, and do something.
At Leading Elephants, defining that “something” - an authentic, lasting shift in our leadership - felt daunting. Maybe you, like us, were spinning in those early weeks. Maybe you also felt that desire to make sure this wasn’t simply a performative moment of exclaiming our outrage. But for a monumental, amorphous challenge like systemic racism, every action felt insufficient.
We know some of you may have felt that same call to action - before you were pulled off course by the ever changing demands of COVID. Or you might be paralyzed, feeling uncertain where to start. Ultimately, for us, clarity finally arrived when we adopted two mantras: “start from where you are” and “take the next best step you can.”
By July our something had come to life - a four-part virtual series called White Leaders Working on Antiracism (lovingly WLWA for short), in partnership with amazing colleagues at Illuminate Coaching and Beloved Community. Our first cohort of WLWA just wrapped up and - humbly - we were amazed to hear that our “next best step” mattered more than we could have hoped.
This experience has reframed for us what an ongoing antiracism practice can look like. Here are five things we’ve learned.
Our Five Takeaways from Our Summer Racism Practice
(Quick side note: We speak here from our identities at Leading Elephants to other white leaders stepping into their antiracist practice. We recognize the many wise voices from Black
Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC).)
The place to start is taking the next best step - There is no “easy button” - no one book, no course, no protest, no policy change that will be THE right thing for you to do to “be antiracist”. But doing nothing allows the promise of the 2020 protests to fade back into the status quo. If each of us takes just what Elena Aguilar calls the “biggest small action” we can from wherever we are - and do it again next quarter - the momentum could be world-changing.
It’s work from the inside out - Antiracism is head, heart and hands work. Gaining some prerequisite knowledge of how white supremacy was constructed in our country and ourselves was foundational. From there, it could be easy to jump to how to change institutions and structures. But the magic began for us by looking first at ourselves. Noticing, naming and sharing our own white supremacy out loud in community became a small practice in antiracism for us. To quote Lesley Brown Rawlings from Beloved, “you can’t disrupt what you don’t notice.”
It’s better when we don’t go it alone - Reading a book, or immersing yourself in social media was a starting point for many in June - but for some it left them overwhelmed and confused. We were amazed and inspired in the WLWA cohort to see the power of grappling and reflecting out loud together. In that space of grace and loving accountability, cohort members made inspired commitments that had eluded them trying to go it alone. (And for us at Leading Elephants, we grew from the wisdom and expertise from our advisors and co-facilitators. By each bringing what we could, something beautiful arose that none of us could have achieved alone.)
It’s an ongoing practice - filled with imperfection, discomfort, and growth. As people raised in a culture of whiteness, we were taught to avoid both conflict and mistakes. But the truth is racism is within all of us (as Beverly Tatum says, it’s part of the smog in which we were raised). So sadly we will make mistakes and do harm. The question is whether we are aware of it, and whether we graciously receive feedback, make amends and do better. With practice, we can be grateful, not full of shame, for the opportunity to grow into better humans together.
Embrace the “both and” of affinity spaces. - We realized the power of white affinity groups like White Leaders Working on Antiracism as spaces to learn, self-reflect and be lovingly challenged to live in greater alignment with our beliefs - without doing harm to our BIPOC colleagues. But the ultimate goal is to be in multiracial relationships and communities in a way that is more self-aware, does less harm and as a true ally and co-conspirator in the work of antiracism. We view white antiracism communities as a supportive tool toward that end - not the end in themselves.
So our loving challenge to you is to remember that our fortunes are bound up with one another - and we as white leaders have work to do. Let’s make sure the great marches of 2020 are heralded as the time when leaders all across the country began to take their next best step - big or small from wherever they were. Then in community we helped each other find the next step, and the next step - until we achieved collective liberation.
If a structured community for learning and self-reflection is a helpful next step to keep your momentum, please join us in the 2nd cohort of White Leaders Working on Antiracism starting in October. More information on WLWA - as well as other offerings to consider from BIPOC leaders - is included below. Enjoy your journey!
(Another quick side note: We are on the lookout for similar spaces dedicated to
supporting people of color. Please let us know if you have some you would like us to share!)
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” - Lilla Watson
Join Us for White Leaders Working on Antiracism
White Leaders Working on Antiracism is a dedicated learning community for white leaders who are working to deepen their self awareness and develop a stronger antiracist practice. Created in collaboration with Marion Hodges Biglan of Illuminate Coaching and executive coach Miwa Kamras with advisory support from Lesley Brown Rawlings at Beloved Community, participants can join us for a four series program in October. Sign up by September 20.
Tuesday Evening Session
(4pm PT / 7pm ET) October 6, 13, 20, and 27
Thursday Day Session
(10am PT / 1pm ET) October 8, 15, 22, and 29
Note: This series can also be offered within your organization.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for details about hosting (virtually) at your site.
For Graduates of White Leaders Working on Antiracism (ONLY)
Keep your learning going in the WLWA community by joining us for monthly practice sessions or small group coaching. WLWA Alumni, sign up by August 27, and email us at email@example.com with any questions.
Explore Learning Led by BIPOC Leaders
There are a number of incredible options by BIPOC leaders, as well. For many of you, these may be more supportive for your learning or a powerful complement to your affinity-based learning experiences. (We have engaged in multiple cohorts and courses this summer and are excited to keep learning from these powerful equity leaders.) For your support, we compiled a sampling of opportunities.