Organizational leaders: If you want to change your culture, listen to Black women.
Updated: Dec 29, 2022
Racism is not the shark.
It is the water.
I heard someone say this once, and it landed with me like nothing else ever had.
Racism is ever-present. It is systemic. It is deeply interwoven in the fabric of American society. And goodness is not enough to overcome it. Sadness is not enough to overcome it. Broken hearts are not enough to overcome it. Diversity is not enough to overcome it. Acts of goodwill are not enough to overcome it. Being a better person is not enough to overcome it. Even love is not enough to overcome it.
Again. Racism is not the shark. It is the water.
I argue that racism is so much a part of who we are as a nation, that it will always be part of who we are as a nation. And while I am wishful for the eventual end of racism in America, I am not hopeful. As such, I seek to and advocate for minimizing the harm of racism and for Black folks to have more opportunities to exist in and subsequently thrive outside of spaces and systems where they have historically been marginalized.
Again. Racism is not the shark. It. Is. The. Water.
But there is hope.
We are the hope.
Black women know the water. We have lived in the water. We have navigated the water. We have survived in the water. We have birthed in the water.
So listen to Black women.
If you want to disrupt racism and injustice in your organization and the larger systems in which your organizations work, you need Black women. You need to listen to Black women. But first, you have to create antiracist, inclusive, and liberators spaces where Black women can breathe and thrive. Where we can feel joy and are inspired. Joy fuels us, and it comes when we feel safe and liberated. Until we feel safety, joy, and ultimately liberation (ideally all three at once), we can’t - we won't - do our best work. Oh, we can do good work anytime anywhere, but without this blessed trinity of safety, joy, and liberation, you will only get a fraction of us. You will only see a part of who we are. You will only experience a piece of what we are actually capable of. Until we feel safety, we are only compliant but not necessarily committed. Until we feel joy, we are kind but not necessarily invested. And until we feel liberated, no matter how we look on outside, we really do not GAF. And you really need us to GAF because we hold up half the world - whether you see it or not. Whether you want to admit it or not.
If you want to become an antiracist, inclusive organization, you must ensure that Black women are at every table where decisions are made and be willing to give them power and permission to interrogate and challenge your mindsets, policies, and practices without question. You gotta let Black women call you out on your ish. It's hard, but it's necessary - if you actually want things to change. And that's a big IF.
Ask Black women. Listen to Black women. Let Black women lead.
We know what you don’t know. We can do what you can’t do.
You already have Black women that can help you. That can save you. And while we are broadly tired of saving everyone (except ourselves), we can do it with very little effort. It’s what we have been doing since the beginning of time. But it’s up to you whether or not you take advantage of the asset that sits in front of you. And if you keep ignoring the asset and continue to marginalize us, we will go silent. And once we go silent, we will eventually just go.
A lot of leaders are doing all the wrong things when the right things are right under you noses. You are losing both the battle and the war, and you don’t even know it. Why? You just won't listen.