This piece is for white caring professionals and white leaders of caring organizations who do not experience systemic racism, and for their BIPOC colleagues whose advocacy is routinely unheard.
When a system is organized in ways that benefit white people and harm people of color, the system is racist. The best time to dismantle racism is before people of color are harmed. As leaders of caring organizations, we must live their values out loud to purposefully unmask and dismantle racism at all levels of our work. One powerful approach to uncovering systemic racism is to list your systems and know your numbers.
List your systems.
A system is a collection of rules—written and implicit—that organize how something works. Common systems in the organizations I work with include:
|Payroll||Hiring / Firing|
|Instruction / Programs||Arrival / Dismissal|
|Sick leave / Paid time off||Student discipline / Client accountability|
|Community Engagement||Registration / Enrollment|
|Assessment / Testing / Grading||Attendance|
|Clubs / Teams / Extracurricular Programs||Transportation|
|Bell Schedule||Family engagement|
|Special Education / 504||Communications|
The systems within a caring organization are interwoven, interdependent, and numerous. Right now, your task is to print the list of systems, highlight the systems in your caring organization, and add any that are unique to you. It should take about 5 minutes once you have the list, and is a critical step towards leading antiracist work at your site.
Know your numbers.
Participants in workshops led by Dr. Sharla Horton-Williams and Dr. Toni Harrison-Kelly, co-founders of School Leadership for Social Justice, frequently hear Gloria Ladson-Billings’ quote, “Show me your data and I’ll show you your racism.” While data can feel overwhelming, our systems already generate what we need to know without much extra work from us. The key is to know whether our systems are organized in ways that privilege those who we serve that our white and harm those we serve that identify as people of color. Download “Using data to ensure equity” to get started.
Using data to ensure equity is an outline that will equip anyone leading antiracist work to examine any system for which they have access to data. Follow the directions on the template, and you will have a clear sense of how your systems:
- Serve or exclude parts of your community.
- Whether the system benefits served equitably
- Who experience harm because of the system
- Whether the harm experienced is acceptable to you as a caring professional
- What action you can commit to take to mitigate harm
- Who will do what and by when.
Be careful. Do not download the template if you are not ready to take action. Knowing that your organization contains a system that harms racially and ethnically identifiable groups of people requires action. Not to act is a dangerous decision in itself.
For leaders who understand that racism is a problem that they can help solve, I encourage you to work through this process individually, and to share your reflections with your team. When the caring organizations that I work with move from concern to action, the moral and practical benefits of equity beautifully transform our relationship to our colleagues community, and those we serve.