Pressure Points: Emerging Opportunities for Racial Equity Impact
November 17, 2021
Working toward racial justice means going toe to toe with the gravest injustices and institutional biases plaguing societies around the world. Mass incarceration. Voter suppression. Environmental injustice. These issues, and the many spaces they intersect, are far from new — and, unfortunately, far from eradicated.
At the same time, the disparities keep growing and the fight gets evermore complicated. The pandemic has magnified and exacerbated what inequalities already existed, and it’s going to take even more intention, commitment, and action to ensure that the most pervasive equity gaps don’t only get wider. As we bring forth our own new Practice dedicated to this work, we’re reflecting on just some of the urgent and emerging themes of note where support could be most needed next.
In personal experience: A losing battle with mental health
The fight for racial justice has become a fight for mental health as the victims of inequity are also stepping up to battle it. Advocates and activists need support and resources necessary to mitigate burn-out and adverse mental health effects, and reframing self care as something integral to, not separate from, serving your community. What does a sustainable movement built for longevity look like?
Taking Action: A sustainable movement takes care of its champions. Providing access to mental health support and encouraging rest will be critical so that activists and advocates can not only fight injustice, but grow and thrive. Access to culturally competent care that acknowledges the racialized trauma, depression, and anxiety that POC communities experience may be where to start, as could be fostering intergenerational movements that make space for young activists — Gen Z is highly attuned to mental health challenges, and is already organizing.
In cross-community relations: Pursuing true BIPOC solidarity
From natural resource corruption to economic exploitation, Indigenous people face injustice from all ends around the world. As the movement has taken care to increasingly name and honor the Indigenous presence, it nevertheless remains crucial to note that needs and experiences for these communities are distinct and complex. How can a movement working toward a BIPOC point of view truly prioritize justice for these communities, as they envision it?
Taking Action: Dominant media narratives have relegated Indigenous stories to the past. But part of prioritizing justice for Indigenous communities is recognizing the current reality that Indigenous communities face, and uplifting the vital work they are doing today to preserve their lands, communities, and languages. In a moment when increasing attention is on climate change and climate action, there’s an opening to embrace solidarity and coalitions that highlight and uplift Indigenous knowledge and leadership, and deepen cross-communal relations from there. Likewise, from the recent heartache that so-called “missing white woman syndrome” has sparked, there is also an opportunity to join forces to end the gendered violence inflicted in Indigenous women and girls.
In business: Complex dynamics with consumers of color
Businesses are among the many actors rushing to make positive impact around racial equity. The murder of George Floyd and the civil rights movement brought with it nearly $200 billion in corporate pledges to combat systemic inequity and racism. But as of June 2021, only $652 million had been spent in this area. At the same time, the drum continues to beat for marketers to target multicultural communities in their outreach, given these populations’ spending power. How can businesses ensure consumer-focused interventions aren’t ‘equity-washed’ — tokenistic and ineffective at best, and exploitative of the consumer-of-color’s dollar at worst?
Taking action: Companies must commit to evolving their practices to meet the needs of communities of color through their products and their actions beyond commercial representation. Corporations should take stock of what they have done to advance DEI efforts in the past, and assess what actions are feasible in the future. Actions might include diversifying their workforce at leadership tiers; ensuring their products and services are meeting real community needs; building partnerships with communities and leaders of color; redistributing resources through donations, grants, and loans; and integrating an equity perspective into their brand’s purpose.
In the workplace: Empowerment for leadership of color
Racial representation has been established as a top cultural priority in businesses across the country. In addition, after a wave of DEI commitments last year, women, including women of color, have been the champions of this value-building and organization-shifting work, but are still facing a lack of support, allyship, and mentorship despite their considerable ambition. As organizations rapidly diversify their workforces and leadership benches, are these teams and leaders finding they can truly thrive in their new environments?
Taking action: It’s not enough to hire diverse talent — work cultures must transform to support and retain and nurture these team members.To empower leaders of color, organizations need to humanize diverse talent, empower employees by investing in their success, and encourage allyship. Above all, these leaders need to be invested in, with time, resources, and trust. Employee activations that embrace empowerment and accountability as dual pillars may be the first step.
Even as organizations build plans to correct their own systems and set bold equity goals, it’s equally important to stay in touch with lived experiences and pressing needs. Insights like these, while only a glimpse into the complex realities of people of color living in white dominated cultures around the world, can help us all stay connected to opportunities to protect and uplift communities of color in the ways needed most.
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