Visibly dismantle racism. Do it now.

-by Timothy (Tim) Grivois, Ed.D.

Many caring professionals talk about dismantling racism as an abstract goal to achieve years from now. However, though I agree that justice is a long term project, I notice that colleagues often use time as an excuse not to take action today. If your school, nonprofit, or government agency sincerely wants to dismantle racism, right now is an outstanding time to take action. Here is how:

Know your numbers.

“Show me your data and I’ll show you your racism.”

Gloria Ladson Billings

Start with data you already have, understand, and can explain fluently.

A mistake that I often see my clients make when working with data is to ask questions that can’t be answered with current data sources. Because the data you already have tends to be more familiar, easier to access, and simpler to share, discovering where to begin and what goals to set tends to take much less time and effort.

Below is a table of common data sources that most of my clients already work with frequently.

Discipline referralsStudent attendanceReading / Math Inventories
GradesNaloxone kits distributedStandardized tests
F-ListsStaff demographics / retention / recruitmentIntake data
Blood pressureChart / Case manager note reviewsScreening scores
Number of arrestsCalls to Child Protective ServicesProgram enrollment / utilization
Culture / climate surveysDeflections from arrests / Redirections toward treatmentFollow-up calls and visits completed
Common Data Sources for Schools, Nonprofits, and Government Agencies

Next, make sure you’ve selected a measure that you understand. An example of a measure I commonly work with is student attendance. Attendance is easy to understand, and connects seamlessly with the school values of each school that I work with. However, a measure I avoid is percent passing rates on standardized tests. Although I understand the measure, I have never understood why a student who scores one point below the cutoff is invisible and a student who scores one point above is considered successful, when both students likely have similar learning needs.

Finally, choose a data source that you can explain fluently. Explaining data fluently is a skill that develops rapidly with practice, and is easier when the data source connects with something your team and your community already care about. For example, the Substance Use Resource Team at the Tucson Police Department tracks the number of follow-up calls and visits completed. This matters, because during follow-ups, SURT officers and peer liaisons offer direct access and transportation to treatment as well as life-saving Naloxone kits to family members.

Ask better questions.

You’ll notice that I described attendance and follow-ups as two examples of data that two groups that I work with already have, understand, and can explain fluently. The next step is to ask better questions.

  1. What is this measure?
  2. Why do we measure this?
  3. Who decided that we needed to measure this?
  4. What do you believe about this data point?
  5. Whose values are reflected and reinforced by this measure?
  6. Whose values are erased by this measure?
  7. Who is deemed successful in this measure? Who is deemed unsuccessful?
  8. What would happen if we stopped collecting this data?
  9. How might collecting this data actually harm those we serve?
  10. How might we use this data to dismantle systems that harm?

These questions are adapted from Dr. Sharla Horton-Williams’ “10 Questions to Ensure Equity in School Discipline.” And, if you are using data that you already have, understand, and can explain fluently, you can answer all of them with your own knowledge and facts that everyone in your community already has the opportunity to know.

Do it now.

Yes, form a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. Of course, lead book studies and share articles. Develop surveys and such. These are all long-term strategies that might possibly support antiracism work in your workspace. Just know that they are insufficient.

Schools, nonprofits, and caring organizations that answer the 10 Questions typically uncover multiple opportunities to make antiracism visible.

For example, schools tracking attendance data may as well track attendance by race and ethnicity. If there is a disparity between white students’ attendance and the attendance of students of color, identify a realistic and effective way to reach out to students of color and find out how they want to be supported. If white families accept naloxone kits more readily than families of color, find a culturally sustaining alternative to make the kits available.

Most importantly, don’t wait. Unless your organization can demonstrate that your data reveal no difference in access, experience, or outcomes for people of color compared to white people, your committee, book study, and surveys are performative and disingenuous. Taking action to improve measures for the people of color that your organization serves is essential to making antiracism visible.

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