An Answer to Liberal White Parents

whyLast year, teachers from the Seattle Public School district organized a Black Lives Matter event to raise awareness about racism in our society.  Yesterday, Monique Judge, a columnist for The Root, posted a new piece about it; she’s been following the response to the event closely since it received backlash from parents in the district.  Most of the complaints were from white parents living in wealthier neighborhoods within the school district.

What were they saying?  In general, the event was “too militant, too political, and too confusing for their young children.”  Here are some of the direct quotes, taken from emails:

  • Why is skin color so important?
  • What about red and black or yellow and white and black? How does supporting Black Lives Matter help that gap?
  • My daughter said she ‘felt bad about being white.’ And that ‘police lie and do bad things.’

Judge further notes that “white parents in Seattle are a microcosm of supposedly liberal white people all over America …”

…which is why I’m writing this piece.

The white parents in Seattle aren’t much different from many of the white parents in my own suburban area.  I’m based just outside of Detroit, MI, and I’ve heard similar words from well-intentioned white folks here – people who may have sincere questions, but no one from which to get answers.  Because it’s not the job of people of color to educate us whites, I’m going to take a moment and try to answer these questions sincerely – no sass, just honesty – from one white person to another.

Today, we’ll start with: “Why is skin color so important?”

The answer is, it’s not… and it is.  Skin color is about as biologically inconsequential as eye color is among whites.  Yet socially, it holds so much power and meaning here in the U.S.  It’s considered a social construct – we as a society have given skin color power.  Why was the event about skin color?  Are they making it about skin color?  The event wasn’t actually about skin color.  It isn’t about race.  It’s about racism and racism is a disease that we are all afflicted by.

The vast majority of White Americans walk around rarely thinking about our race or skin color while many Black Americans will say it’s never far from their mind.  It’s always right in front of them, reminding them on a daily, sometimes hourly (sometimes by the minute) basis – every time they walk down the street and notice bystanders wearing fearful expressions or clutching their purse, every time they walk into a store only to get followed around like a thief, every time they look to buy a car and wonder if they are offered a fair price, shop for a home and wonder if they are being steered to the “black” section of town, apply for a loan and get a higher interest rate, apply for a promotion and wonder if the white guy got it because… and the list goes on.

Consider the following facts:

– By the age of 10, black boys are viewed as less innocent, more likely to be mistaken for older than their age, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime – American Psychological Association

–  African American students are suspended from school at rates three to four times higher that the state average (CA) – this comes from a 2017 report from the Brookings Institute

– For decades, police drug raids have targeted poor communities with predominantly black populations, even though study after study has shown that drug use rates are no different among whites than blacks.  Whites simply live in wealthier neighborhoods and have more power to avoid drug arrests.  Reports from the Sentencing Project in Washington and the Human Rights Watch both show an overwhelming focus of law enforcement on drug use in low-income urban areas, with arrests and incarceration as the main weapon

– According to a recent New York Times article, “if a white man and a black man commit the same crime, the black man is far more likely to be arrested and convicted.  African Americans make up 12 percent of drug users but 32 percent of those arrested for drug possession.

– There are now more black men who have been in a U.S. prison or involved with the criminal justice system than were enslaved in 1850 – from Michelle Alexander’s well-researched book, The New Jim Crow.

And did you know?  Once you have a criminal record, it’s much more difficult to get a decent-paying job and you may no longer be able to vote in elections.

And I haven’t touched on police stops yet, about the fear that strikes the heart when you see those blue and white flashing lights in your rear-view mirror.  My heart used to skip a beat when I was younger, but now I’m twice the age of most officers and know I’m a “wholesome” looking adult white female (I’ve literally been told that).  I actually joked around with the last officer who gave me a warning for having expired plates, instead of a ticket that would result in points on my record.

I have never in my life, even for a moment, thought that when I reach into that glove compartment to get my proof of insurance and registration, that the officer will assume I’ve got a gun in there and will shoot me. 

That has never crossed my mind.  And yet it has likely crossed the mind of every African American today.

Yes, skin color is important.  It shouldn’t be, but it is.  Racism drives it to be important. The Black Lives Matter movement is not making this about skin color.  Our country has made it about skin color – for centuries.  Our country has valued black lives less than white lives.  You need only to look at incarceration rates, poverty rates, high school and college graduation rates, even average lifespans, to know I speak the truth.  When you hear the name of the movement as Black Lives Matter – listen for the implied “too” at the end.  Black Lives Matter, too.  Because in today’s society – nearly every turn of events shows the Black American that his or her life doesn’t matter as much as my white life.

And trust me when I say this conversation belongs in our public schools – it’s not just for adults.  The kids – they know.  They see, they watch, and they pick-up on our cues, on the cues of those around them.  Not talking about it won’t make it go away.  It’ll only teach them not to talk about it.

Hoping this reaches you – from one white person to another.

 


Kat LaTosch is a diversity and inclusion consultant based in Michigan.  For more information on this and other blogs, visit her website at www.LaToschConsulting.com.

 

What Kind of Diversity Training Do We Need & How Much Will It Cost?

trainingI get a lot of calls for “diversity training” and my first question is always, what kind of training do you need?  Most don’t know.  Most also don’t know how to answer the question.

In order to figure out what your organization needs, it’s a good idea to start with the question, “Why do you want training?”  Answers to this can be varied.  And while there are certainly innumerable answers to this question, here are three typical responses:

  1. Our diversity is growing and we’d like to ensure that our organizational culture grows with it. We want everyone entering our organization to have a baseline understanding of what diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to our organization and how they apply to our work, to our mission.
  2. We’re not so good at interfacing with ______________ community, we have difficult reaching this population, and need some cultural competency training around this.
  3. There’s a negative narrative about working here among ____________ people (fill-in: people of color, women, lesbian/gay, millennials, etc.). We’ve had employees lodge complaints – from HR conversations, to exit interviews, to formal EEOC complaints. We want to work on making it better; we need to be better.

Depending on the answer, your approach should be different.  How you go about it is key.

1. FOSTERING INCLUSION

With the first scenario, you have likely had at least one conversation among leadership about the meaning and value of diversity, equity and/or inclusion for your organization. You may have been working on building greater diversity at the staff, board and/or volunteer levels and want to ensure your new recruits are welcomed into the organizational environment.  Maybe you want to extend inclusive thinking throughout the various nonprofit function areas – programs, communications, fundraising, operations – for ever greater success.  Perhaps you’ve built an inclusive culture but want to dig deeper and offset employment inequities that occur systemically.    Here are some tips as you think about training:

  • Share your diversity, equity and inclusion values broadly with your organization constituents (if you haven’t yet done it);
  • Invite a trainer to meet with staff and identify the specific areas where you’d like to improve understanding as an organization; enlist their help in designing a learning program that will work for your organization.  If you haven’t already done it, consider including training on implicit bias and microaggressions in your plan.
  • If this is an organizational priority, encourage not just staff, but all volunteers, interns and board members to participate in your new learning program – you will establish a strong, values-rooted organizational culture fast –  depending on your annual turnover, in less than one year, you could see a noticeable shift.
2. CULTURAL RESPONSIVENESS

The second answer relates to learning about specific populations. Sometimes you recognize you don’t have enough information about a group of people in order to serve them well.   Perhaps there’s a new immigrant group or a newly identified unmet need.  It’s important to learn about the cultural norms of the groups you are serving in order to serve these populations well.  Here are some training considerations:

  • Consider first why you don’t know much about this population.  Are members of this group represented in any way on your staff or board?  In your volunteer or client groups?  Is this a newly emerging population?  Is this a long-standing community with whom you are disconnected?  Is there any painful history behind your disconnectedness that may prove to be a continued barrier, that may need resolution first?
  • Work on building authentic relationships with this group.  Build your organizational networks – encourage staff and board to make strong connections with sister organizations that serve this group and their community members. Find out how your organization might help them in their work.  Invite sister organizations to provide training and development for your organization.  Compensate them for this valuable service.  Consider opportunities to work together on projects in which you have a shared interest.
  • Consider forming an advisory group made up of members of this community to help inform you on policies and procedures, including employment practices and outreach.
3. TROUBLE SHOOTING

The third response is your hint that there is deeper work to be done. If there are negative narratives or specific complaints, it may be the tip of the iceberg.  If you engage in diversity and inclusion training without laying the proper foundation, you may leave staff feeling that the training is just “window dressing” without real meaning.  Negative narrative(s) fester when they haven’t been given the space to properly air out.  You could do more harm than good.  Some considerations before you proceed with training:

  • Engage a consultant to help you get started. It doesn’t have to be very expensive, but it will be well worth your while and save you valuable time and money in the long run.
  • An outside third party will be able to gather data about the perspectives and experiences among your staff, engage them in conversation about how to move the organization forward and help set a plan for change.
  • Take the organizational readiness survey at the Denver Foundation’s Inclusivity Project. While the survey focuses primarily on race and ethnicity, you can think of the survey along any dimensions of diversity. http://www.nonprofitinclusiveness.org/node/55
HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?

Fostering Inclusion.  Many organizations offer diversity, equity and inclusion training.   Recent research has shown that organizations which include a strong implicit bias training component have had good results in shifting organizational culture and in making positive strives in their recruiting and hiring efforts.  Look locally for a facilitator or pair of co-facilitators who can lead your training and education efforts. Cost depends on frequency of training, but organizations should budget a minimum of $1,000 per half-day of training which includes two professional facilitators.  I recommend organizations invite all existing employees to a beginner level training (you want everyone to know where the new people are starting from), then include it in each new staff member’s orientation process.

Cultural Responsiveness.  It’s important to build relationships with the groups and communities about whom you wish to learn.   Pricing can vary, but nonprofit organizations should be prepared to spend at least $500 in Michigan for a half-day session.  Some organizations will provide training for free, but with an honorarium.    Consider not paying less than $500 for their valuable expertise.  LaTosch Consulting offers culturally-specific training on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues and can make referrals for other community-specific training.

Trouble Shooting.  Engaging a consultant in this work is especially important if you are facing specific problem areas.  Consultant fees vary based on the organization size, scope of services needed, and geographic spread.  LaTosch Consulting uses a simple six-step assessment process that typically takes 4-6 months, depending on the organization.  Much of the work can be done remotely with as few as three in-person meetings.  Fees are based on the size and complexity of the organization.  Click here for a free consulting quote.

Communications Essentials for Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives

communicate-sqGood communication is essential for growing an inclusive organization.  Communicating throughout your process will keep people informed and energized about the work and provide transparency for the process – which builds trust. Attention to internal communications also provide your organization with a precious opportunity to practice messaging before communicating externally.

If you’re about to embark on a diversity and inclusion expansion effort at your organization, the process will be much more smooth if you lay out a communications plan in advance of engaging in the work.  But don’t worry – you can easily adapt this if you have already begun your diversity and inclusion efforts. Below is a list of 5 key places along the way where you should pay special attention to your communications:

1. Leadership

There is nothing more important than having your top leadership be fully in support of your diversity and inclusion efforts.  This is not about saying the right words – they should say it in their own words – and they must walk the talk. It comes down to integrity – having a strong belief in the value of inclusiveness, speaking one’s beliefs about that value, and modeling actions based on that value.  If your CEO or Executive Director is questionable on this, your efforts will be seen as false and unsafe – for with one quick decision, s/he could end the whole effort. This is so important that the Denver Foundation, one of the premier organizations involved in nonprofit inclusiveness, states that if you don’t have this support, you should not engage in the work at all.  You can take a readiness survey here to assess your organization’s readiness to engage.

2. Diversity & Inclusion Committee Formation

Forming a committee that will guide your organization through the assessment and recommendations process is essential.   It can also be a painful process if not well thought-out.  Consider answering the following questions below before launching the Committee.

  • What’s the purpose of the committee?
  • What is the intended end result of the committee’s work?
  • How long is the committee’s work intended for?
  • Who gets to be a part of this committee?  Is there a selection process?  Are there clear criteria for selections?  Can people volunteer to serve on the committee?   Who makes decisions about committee participation?
  • What’s the “job” description for committee service?   What’s the time commitment?  What’s the expectation of supervisors of staff who would like to participate?
  • How will people be involved who do not serve on the committee?

3. Regular Committee Communications

Diversity and inclusion efforts can quickly become subject to rumor in an information vacuum.  Our country’s history on inclusion has left an imprint on people – when they don’t hear about positive movement forward, many people will assume no movement – especially those who have been subject to past failed initiatives.  It’s critical that your committee make a plan for regular updates about progress and next steps.  If you’re in the assessment phase, something as simple as a quarterly update that includes a map with where you started, where you are and where you’re going is quite helpful. If you’ve completed your plan and are in implementation phase, this should be a regular report on progress – where you started, what your targets are and how far you’ve come on reaching your targets.  It also provides everyone in the organization with valuable information about the process so they are not left uninformed in the face of outside questions.  You are equipping your staff and board with the proper tools to talk about the initiative and it’s purpose.  It’s also a long-term investment in the shaping of your internal culture, providing people with ample opportunities for practice.

4. Report Sharing

Are you collecting information as part of an assessment process? [if not, you should be – how else will you track your success?]  Are you collecting information along the way on progress toward objectives?  You absolutely must share these results with your stakeholders – especially your staff and board.   You can share all manner of aggregate data.  If in the assessment phase, be careful about protecting the confidentiality of your information sources and avoid individual finger-pointing – keep your data and reporting in aggregate form with a focus on the future and who you’d like the organization to become.  Sharing your results serves two key purposes:

  • Your stakeholders feel involved.   They have access to the reports driving your initiative.  They can see the process unfolding and have likely played a part in contributing their thoughts during your assessment phase.  They have ownership.
  • Your stakeholders are engaging in a process of change themselves.   By reading about the process, engaging in thinking and reflecting with their peers, and seeing the collective landing places, they will understand how and why you land on final recommendations – before you get there.  In essence, everyone is traveling the road together and although some may be at the head of the pack and some near the back, all will move forward together.

5. Input Gathering

Communication is a two-way street.  You must engage your stakeholders in this work, not tell them how it’s going to be.  In order to do that, you must seek their input, weave that input into your assessment and planning processes and then show people how their input is involved.  This builds credibility and legitimacy while also strengthening collective involvement and engagement.


 


If you’re just getting started on your diversity and inclusion work, click here for articles and information about first steps.  Running into some problems?  Here are some trouble-shooting articles to help you get back on the path again.

Kathleen LaTosch, MSW, specializes in working with nonprofit organizations to help them improve and expand their diversity and inclusiveness.  Read more here about how a consultant can help you optimize success in your efforts.