Because my network is diverse, white people often reach out to me asking me to connect them with people of color, because they want to diversify their organization, program, event, etc. While I am heartened by their desire for inclusivity, I hope to communicate that if they truly are sincere and want more than a superficial connection, they are embarking on a long term process, one that will require discomfort and deep work.
With the goal of strengthening my effectiveness discussing this topic, I had a conversation with Deborah Miles of the UNC Asheville Center for Diversity Education. What follows are notes from our conversation, directed to a white reader. While there are many kinds of diversity, this post primarily looks at steps towards racial diversity.
When you decide you want to diversify, it is imperative that you go through personal reflection first, asking yourself:
Why do I want to do this? Who benefits?
Is this transactional? – I want some people of color to be at an event, a meeting, part of an organization… or Is this relational? – I am seeking to build long term reciprocal relationships with individuals and organizations for genuine sharing.
Be aware that when white folks are wanting people of color to come into our spaces, we are asking them to do all of the work. Thus the importance of moving from a transactional framework to a relational one.
It is crucial that white folks work on seeing whiteness, and becoming knowledgeable about how whiteness acts in structural and individual racism. White people must take responsibility for our own education – seek out movies, books, online resources, speakers, conversations. One book Deborah recommends (that I read and also encourage you to read) is What Does it Mean to Be White? by Robin DiAngelo.
In addition, white majority spaces likely reflect White Supremacy Culture (click that title for a list of characteristics from Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun). Asking people of color into a white space without awareness of white culture and a willingness to shift that culture can be damaging, to say the least.
Stop there – if you feel like you understand how white supremacy works, see whiteness, have put in adequate time to begin your own education (which never ends), and are willing to get outside your comfort zone and invest time in relationship building then it is time to go to the next step.
Identify and reach out to organizations and individuals who share interests (while being aware of the tendency of some white folks to be too eager and overwhelming). For this, Deborah showed me an example of a “multicultural check list” – a template which she developed with Sarah Nuñez – that can be used to begin the process. Put time into creating your own database of multicultural media outlets, restaurants, educational institutions, cultural institutions, online social networking groups, organizations, houses of worship, small businesses, contract services, events, etc, etc.
Support individuals and social organizations – attend events, buy products, donate, sign up for mailing lists, like and share posts on social media, listen to leaders of color and ask what you can do to help or be a part of the change. (If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I make a point to share opportunities for this.)
For organizations/businesses, there are a number of excellent tools available to use for assessment and to create accountability measures for diversity, you can contact the Center for Diversity Education for suggestions.
In addition, just in time for this post, the Adaway Group is offering an online training entitled Diversity is an Asset: 101 starting September 6. There are individual and organizational options. If you are reading this after that class is over, check out the Adaway Group‘s current offerings.
For those of you with diversity and inclusion on your mind, I hope this has been helpful!
My Sistah Taught Me That (MSTMT) Fashion Show
Sunday, August 6, 3 pm, Celine’s On Broadway
“My Sistah Taught Me That is a young girl’s developmental program designed to encourage, inspire, educate and mentor young girls ages 11-19 with a special focus on girls growing up in single parent homes without their father.” Click here for more information and to buy tickets to this fundraiser.
Land of the Free? Immigrant Justice Movement
Tuesday, August 8, 6 pm, Pack Memorial Library
Featured speaker Azadeh Shahshahani, of the Atlanta-based nonprofit Project South, will give an overview of immigration policy in the United States and look at the issues immigrant communities are facing in Western North Carolina. Joining Shahshahani will be Alan Ramirez, a community organizer for Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas en Acción (CIMA).
You can find more Asheville/WNC events on my calendar.
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