Leaders: Assess the beliefs informing your inclusion strategies, policies, & practices by contrasting 6 popular beliefs about race with scientific understandings. These popular beliefs about race often infiltrate and limit organizations' visions for creating inclusive climates. These scientific understandings would likely reform your approach. Come get some.
1. “If I am liberal, social-justice oriented, and experience a lot of empathy for people of color, there is nothing I could ever do that perpetuates racism.”
Political preference on the liberal-conservative spectrum is not a predictor of racial responsibility. Race studies suggest people at different places on the political continuum engage in racialization – sometimes in symbolic ways (i.e. voting against school busing or affirmative action initiatives), other times in aversive ways (i.e. moving to an all-white suburb or gentrifying neighborhoods of color and calling the police on “suspicious behaviors” and “loud” cultural expressions (i.e. drumming in public parks, black church praise and worship). In sum, one can be liberal, social-justice oriented, and experience empathy for people of color and still engage in actions that perpetuate racial+ inequality (Quillion, 2008).
2. “Racism is a thing of the past. It does not exist now. There’s a black president.”
Sure, in some ways, racism does not look the way that it has in the past. However, it does not mean racism ceases to exist anymore. It means it's form has changed. In sociological literature, race isn’t necessarily centrally written about in temporal ways. It's different forms is referred to as overt, traditional racism and covert, contemporary racism. That is, racism can function in ways that are symbolic, aversive, implicit, and unconscious. Instead of non-existent. While there is little empirical attention paid toward delineating the difference between prejudice, discrimination, or racist, there is a significant academic discourse about the social science meanings of overt, traditional racism versus covert, contemporary racism (Quillion, 2006). Researchers have employed many theoretical conceptions and methodologies for documentation and measurement. Rather than extinct, Bonilla-Silva (2001) argues, “[R]acial practices that reproduce racial inequality in contemporary America are (1) increasingly covert, (2) embedded in normal operations of institutions, (3) void of direct racial terminology, and (4) invisible to most whites...” (p. 48).
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3. Whether or not a person is racist matters most in efforts to dismantle racism.
In Racism (2000), Memmi writes, “there is a strange kind of tragic enigma associated with the problem of racism. No one, or almost no one, wishes to see themselves as racist; still racism persists, real and tenacious.” Contrary to popular belief, many scholars argue that racism does not require racist people in order to occur (Bonilla-Silva, 2001). Omi & Winant (1994) offer, “…racial inequality and injustice [a]re not simply the product of prejudice, nor [i]s discrimination only a matter of intentionally informed action. Rather, prejudice [i]s an unavoidable outcome of patterns of socialization…” (p. 69). Similarly, Essed (2002) suggests, “The term individual racism is a contradiction in itself because racism is by definition the expression or activation of group power” (p. 179). Unlike popular opinion, these social scientists place a minimal emphasis on an individual’s (good) intentions, (un)prejudiced beliefs, and egalitarian values. Instead, the unit of analysis shifts from what is thought to be intentional and inside an individual’s head to what is the unavoidable outcome of structural and organizational processes.
4. In the contexts I navigate, nothing racial ever happens.
As noted in the second point, contemporary racism can appear in forms that differ from what it has looked like traditionally. Race is ever-present. Americans are subjected, so much so, that soon after birth, every American child is classified in at least one racial category and are asked to offer up this racial assignment in most institutions she/he/they navigate(s) thereafter (i.e. schools, hospitals, voter registration, college and job applications etc.). Again, in the 21st century, social scientists describe race as (1) increasingly covert, (2) embedded in normal operations of institutions, (3) void of direct racial terminology, and (4) invisible to most whites” (Bonilla-Silva, 2001, p. 48). Given these characteristics, it is easy for some to believe that nothing racial ever happens in the contexts they navigate.
Suggested: 5 Organizational Paradigms that Beg to be Tranformed so Inclusion can Thrive
Race is not merely a category, however. Race is also a process embedded in the “business as usual” of every organization (McAfee, 2014). Embedded racial meanings are invisible and atmospheric in nature (DuBois, 1991; McAfee, 2014). If asked, most people disassociate racial mechanisms from the way the organization works (Bonilla-Silva, 2001; Omi & Winant, 1994). Policies and norms are likely void of direct racial terminology, so much so, the practice, policies, and processes of organizations are likely understood as neutral and necessary, rather than racial (Bonilla-Silva, 2001, 2003; Omi & Winant, 1994). This fact is determined by the racial patterns an organization produces in effect (i.e. student achievement outcomes, hiring, promotion, attrition trends, etc.)
5. Malice is required for racism to occur. If I have good intentions, it is better. I have positive racial attitudes towards all people. My positive attitude reduces racism.
The research literature suggests that whether a person is malicious is not the most pertinent information for several reasons. On the one hand, people can have positive beliefs and it still be problematic (i.e. see paternalism (Jackman, 1994) and false generosity (Freire, 1993)).
On the other hand, a person’s beliefs are not a reliable predictor of their actions. It is not uncommon for there to be gaps between individuals’ espoused beliefs and their actions. Plenty of people believe in healthy nutrition but eat junk food, for example. When it comes to racial+ beliefs, it's not necessarily different (Bonilla-Silva, 2001; Kinder & Sears, 1981). For example, people will espouse a colorblind society yet live in homogenous neighborhoods and have friends of the same racial background (Bonilla-Silva, 2001). People will say they support equal opportunity and integration, but will live in segregated communities and not support race-conscious policies in their voting choices (Kinder & Sears, 1981). People will support equality/fairness, yet, deny contemporary discrimination and existing racial inequality (Bonilla-Silva, 2001).
Suggested: 3 Reasons your Inclusion Strategies Yield Slow Progress & 4 Alternative Approaches to Minimizing Implicit Bias
Further, while the aforementioned assertion positions racial attitudes as either malicious or positive, research suggests individuals can hold co-existing, positive and negative beliefs or racial ambivalence. “Racial ambivalence suggests the co-occurrence of blaming anti-black feelings (the perceived irresponsibility of black families, leaders, and values underlies the continuing disadvantage of black Americans) with paternalistic pro-black feelings (emphasizing obstacles, discrimination, and unequal opportunities” (Katz & Hass, 1988; Kinder & Sears, 1981; Dovidio & Gaertner, 1989).
6. Systemic racism is too big and outside of my locus of control.
Racial systems are malleable and transform over time (Bonilla-Silva, 2003). For example, the mechanisms used to exclude people from the political process has shifted from literacy tests to gerrymandering and later to faulty vote counting. The malleability of racial social systems help it to persistently produce racial patterns, often times in-house, in plain sight (Bonilla-Silva, 2001; Essed, 2002, McAfee, 2014). However, there is no need to lose hope. We also know that persistent racial patterns are responsive to human agency (Dovidio and Gaetner, 1981; Hill Collins, 1990; McDermott, 1997; Mehan, 1996).
3 Reasons your Inclusion Strategies Yield Slow Progress & 4 Alternative Approaches to Minimizing Implicit Bias
5 Organizational Paradigms that Beg to be Transformed so Inclusion can Thrive
How to Increase the Inclusiveness of My Team: 9 Recommended Places to Start
Bio: Greetings, I'm Dr. Myosha McAfee, the founder of Racial Equitecture (R+E), a company revolutionizing inclusion and diversity. I am no stranger to thinking scary big to undertake the most pressing issues of the 21st century. I help organizations unpack how implicit bias may be occurring in-house, with high support and high challenge. The Racial+ Equitecture Crucible Experience, one of my most inventive solutions, facilitates a productive container for leaders in committed-to-diversity organizations to dive deep, face discomfort, surface biases and seriously grapple with institutional issues. To workplace equity, inclusion, and diversity (EID) challenges, I bring what social scientists know about social inequality, what iconoclasts know about leadership, and what educators know about helping others acquire new skills. Is your EID strategy fresh, fearless, and forward? Come get some. For inquiries Dr. McAfee can be contacted at email@example.com.
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. (2003). Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in the united states. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. (2001). White supremacy and racism in the post-civil rights era. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Dovidio, J. F., & Gaertner, S. L. (1998). On the nature of contemporary prejudice: The causes, consequences, and challenges of aversive racism. In J. L. Eberhardt, & S.T Fiske (Eds.), Confronting Racism: The problem and the response. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, pp. 3-32.
DuBois, W.E.B. (1984). Dusk of dawn: an essay toward an autobiography of a race concept. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction books.
Essed, P. (2002). Everyday racism. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Freire, Paulo. (1993). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.
Hill-Collins, Patricia. (1991). Black feminist thought: knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. New York: Routledge.
Jackman, Mary R. (1996). The velvet glove: Paternalism and conflict in gender, class, and race relations. CA: University of California Press.
Katz I., & Hass R.G. (1988). Racial ambivalence and American value conflict: Correlational and priming studies of dual cognitive structures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 893- 905.
Kinder, Donald R. and David O. Sears. (1981). Prejudice and Politics: Symbolic Racism Versus Racial Threats to the Good Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 40: 414-431.
McAfee, Myosha. (2014). “The kinesiology of race.” Harvard Educational Review. 84(4). pp. 468-491.
McDermott, Ray. (1997). Achieving School Failure 1972-1997. In Education and Cultural Process: Anthropological Approaches, Third Edition, ed. George D. Spindler. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press.
Mehan, Hugh. (1996). Between the Skin and beneath the Ears: A Case Study in the Politics of Representation. In Understanding Practice: Perspectives on Activity and Context. Seth Chaiklin and Jean Lave, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Omi, Michael and Winant, Howard. (1994). Racial formation in the United States: from the 1960s to the 1990s. New York: Routledge.
Quillian, Lincoln. (2006). New approaches to understanding racial prejudice and discrimination. In Annual review of sociology. 32. P. 299 – 328. Doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.32.061604.123132.
Quillian, Lincoln. (2008). “Does unconscious racism exist?” in Social Psychology Quarterly. 71(1). P. 6 – 11.