Why understanding how to end racism is important to me.
Over the past 2 years, the public murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin sparked international protest to raise awareness of and demand the addressing of the insidious nature of racism and inequality. So many times over the past two years I was asked (and expected) to deliver a response to what the ‘solution’ to racism was. At times I would even volunteer myself, driven through overall desperation for a better world and better life for myself and my peers.
I found this ask (whether presented to me or driven by me) deeply overwhelming. Becoming anxious to know the answer to every question, or depressed on the realisation that so few of the questions have readily available answers. Over time it became clear to me that unless I took the time to understand the foundations of racism, practically and in organisations today, I would not be able to speak on it clearly or effectively.
I also saw a pattern in the conversation I was having with my community. That pattern was to discuss how horrible racism was and to seek empathy and compassion to change it. It was a circular conversation with no real solution and every means to empower individuals in positions of power already causing harm.
Then last year, Devon County Council instructed Sandhya Dave and Maia Thomas and me to carry out a Race Equality Audit of its institution, in the hopes of identifying how it can address structural racism. This project provided a focused lens from which to look at racism in a critical, resourced, and outcome orientated way.
This journal entry looks at the findings of that report, how you can conduct an audit of your organisations yourself, and what we concluded was the effective way to END structural racism.
This is a disclaimer that this audit was conducted in 2021 for a UK Public Body of a certain size and with the goals of ending racism is within this specific context. It is, of course, relevant to other work environments whether they’re smaller or bigger but it may not be relevant to all the instances of racism for example it doesn't address political racism, prisons, healthcare or immigration. As such please do not use it as a definitive way to end all instances of racism, instead, as you read on I hope you find that the process of conducting the audit to come up with the strategy to end racism within this context can be applied to other contexts as well, and encourage you to follow this methodology when critically reviewing your environment. with
Why ending racism is more important than understanding it
A clear distinction should be made between understanding racism to a commitment to ending racism. These two approaches are very different. Understanding racism (or understanding unconscious bias) looks at teaching White actors with power, influence, and resources to be more compassionate beings as though compassion is something that needs to be taught to adults with full agency over their own learning.
Ending racism looks at the accountability of individuals with power and resources and supports them in being more effective in creating safe and inclusive work environments whilst creating clear parameters for their potential failure in these spaces.
A commitment to ending racism gives everybody much more specific objectives to work towards as well as measures to assess and understand whether or not change has been driven
What is structural racism (themes for modern work environment)
Structural racism is defined as the normalisation and legitimisation of an array of historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal dynamics that routinely advantage White people while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for Black and Asian peoples.
Within the modern work environment, structural racism serves to sustain power, access and inclusion hierarchies in a way that favours white actors. Structural racism doesn't speak of the specific nature understanding or inherent goodness of any individual but instead speaks of how organisations are set up in a way that routinely supports one group over another.
Anybody with experience in most modern working environments will know that they can be set up in a way that rewards individuals of certain characteristics whether that be race gender income or are their social characteristics.
We address structural racism so that we may design organisations in a way that they routinely uplift individuals of diverse backgrounds to become inclusive safe and thriving working environments and as such are better able to serve the communities to which they belong.
What are the themes of structural racism?
Racism takes many shapes and forms from name-calling violence bullying and equality to deep-seated apathy bias's ignorance and cruelty. Leadership in many organisations claim to be working to address racism however studies show that the experiences of Black and Asian staff members throughout the country are that these efforts are not as effective as they could be. This points to the lack of an effective strategy in addressing inequality.
To be able to understand the themes that keep it in place these are
- The denial of racism
- The understanding that too few people of colour black and Asian people are present to be able to understand it in the first place
- White fragility in leadership
- Lack of sufficient strategy
- Unwelcoming culture for Black and Asian People
These themes serve to create hostile work environments that cannot critically review and improve themselves.
How to end racism, Culture and Consequences
The key to ending racism is to realise it is a balance between cultural change and consequences. Cultural change is required on many fronts, from being able to discuss racism, to creating spaces of psychological safety for all participants to inviting the growth of compassionate and authentic relationships based on mutual understanding and goodwill. However as it takes time for cultural change to be done well, a benchmark standard of accountability for dealing with race should also be created. This is where consequences come into play, consequences should range from opportunities for further learning to reprimands on an individual’s job role.
For the DCC what we found is that the following things are required in order to address racism
- Evolving Culture; to include frequent, welcomed and easy conversations about race.
- Grievance Management; provide very clear guidance on the process of investigating incidents of racial discrimination to all stakeholders within an organisation as well as very clear guidance on how that discrimination is managed and addressed. Coupled with the ability to review that process by the impacted people's at regular suitable intervals. Then Implement appropriate racial grievance channels, enabling staff to raise concerns independent of their direct reports or line managers. It is necessary for organisations to communicate that feedback is possible without consequences, particularly feedback that is interpersonal.
- Diversity in Teams; Organisations employ diverse and skilled equality diversity and inclusion team members with demographic characteristics from the backgrounds they are required to represent. The key reason for this is because equality and diversity and inclusion is about lived experience. The organisation should also look at screening for potential racist characteristics of new hires through their recruitment processes.
- Training; training should be available to everybody it shouldn't be kept for managers or directors or it shouldn't be expected of front workers without being expected of managers.
- (Resourced) Equality Reverse Mentoring; Reverse mentoring programme so that leaders are given the opportunity to learn from critical and personal feedback from Black and Asian team members.
These recommendations are a summary of over 31 action points raised for the County Council. We encourage you to review all of the recommendations and come back and identify the ones that will make the biggest impact on your organisation.
How to conduct your own audit
Please use these recommendations, and the wider recommendations of the report to generate ideas on how you can address racism within your workplace. However, we encourage you to conduct your own audit to see what the steps highlight for you.
Full Audit methodology can be found within the report.
It should include
- A review of relevant historic and current materials
- Interviews with all stakeholders
- Benchmarking against your industry
- Draft of your recommendations
- Feedback from stakeholders on the recommendations
- Key performance indicators and
- SMART strategy
Where to seek further support
If you would like to submit further questions or request audit support please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org