As an anti-oppression consultant, it is my job to cultivate a humble and thoughtful response in my White clients around statements of racism and being "racist." When I am done working with a school, company, or organization I want the White people there to be able to handle discussions of racism and implications of being "racist" without getting defensive. I want their internal dialogue to be one of grace and curiosity because being racist is not always about being a bad person. It is most often about benefitting from a system that fundamentally deems White folks as safer, smarter, more beautiful, more capable, harder working, cleaner, better, and normal. One only becomes intentionally complicit with racism when s/he remains defensive, rejects curiosity, refuses to listen, and demands to be made comfortable.
Anti-oppressive means developing individual and organizational Equity Literacy which is the knowledge, skills, and mindsets to see and respond to bias in an organization, company, or school. It means humbly exploring one's own identity and the lived experiences of others. It means understanding power, privilege, and oppression, including the words and living examples. It is messy, complicated work. It gets harder before it gets easier. It requires time, people, and money. Anti-oppression means anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-heterosexism, anti-cissexism, anti-classism and more. Let's change the world starting with what's in your locus of control. Let's do it anyway!
Truth-filled, passionate anti-oppression keynotes matter even if they don't really change people who inadvertently perpetuate racism, sexism, classism, hetero-sexism, ableism, cis-sexism, etc. Powerful, controversial, and engaging keynotes matter because they show people who are marginalized that they are seen, heard, cared for, and that there are those who will use their privilege and platforms to fight for justice. Strong equity keynotes strengthen allies in the room and encourage those who are new to the anti-oppression journey to keep going. The right keynote promotes justice by unifying those who already believe the words and it shouts to a crowd, "You are not alone!" Also, you can never underestimate the power of planting a seed!
The order isn't Diversity--Inclusivity--Equity; instead, it is always equity first! Recruiting people of color is not equity work. Promoting inclusivity is not combating injustice. Creating an "Inclusive Excellence" team is not eradicating systemic oppression. In fact, "diversity and inclusivity" initiatives can be very hurtful to people who are marginalized. To actively recruit marginalized people to a place without creating and sustaining a just environment first, is to recruit people to work and learn in oppressive environments. Companies, organizations, and universities should only do diversity and inclusivity work once they have begun deep and on-going equity work.
Commit to equity work. Create and sustain anti-oppressive environments. Become a threat to inequity in your organization, school, or company. Develop Equity Literacy. Contact Amber!
In expanding my anti-oppression consulting work beyond schools into medical, counseling, and non-profit offices, one issue I constantly encounter is confusion around the term "professional." Many leaders view professionalism as the "right" way to be in an office. They believe that professional standards aren't "White" and that it is oppressive to label "professional" a White thing. Some believe that when we deem professionalism "White," we degrade people of color who authentically act in concert with current professional standards and norms. While it is true that people who are marginalized deserve the freedom to dress, speak, and be however they choose without being called "White," we must also come to terms with the racist, sexist, and classist history of what we now deem professional dress and behavior. Until we can recognize what is racist, sexist, and classist about current professional standards, we will not be able to undo oppression in companies, organizations, and schools.
Structure is not a dirty word. Students of all ages and colors need structure and support. They need to know what is expected of them. But when what is expected of Black, Brown, and Indigenous students mirrors expected prison behavior, there is a problem. A racism problem.
"In today's world of police shootings and communities' mistrust of authority, schools cannot continue to promote practices that undermine human dignity and restrict freedom. "Ducktail" walking as a tool for compliance does both. It takes away the human dignity of a K-5 student by indicating that he or she cannot be trusted to walk down the hall appropriately, and it restricts freedom without just cause. Simply put, these students must follow orders similar to those given in prisons," Anthony M. Rodriguez explains in his Letter to the Editor.
There is a line between healthy structure and racism. Simply put, if one can find a picture on the internet of prisoners that mirrors expected student behavior, the line has been crossed.
Many of us want to fight oppression in our communities and in the world, but perhaps instead we can start by fighting the oppressive practices and systems in our own classrooms. We need to rethink the strategies that we have been told are “proven” and that we have been urged to employ. Anti-oppression demands courage because it expects us to question the way we are expected to act, teach, lead in the face of leaders telling us that “this” is right or even required.
My 4th keynote was Friday! This time it was to students. The main point: we need to do equity work before we host diversity days, multicultural nights, or diversity and inclusivity "clubs." This is because diversity without equity is oppressive. Students understand this. They are the ones that can demand and lead this work in their schools!
Her name is "Fearless Girl." Some schools and educators create compliant children. Some schools and educators develop students who can see and fight racism, sexism, ableism, etc. We make a choice every day about which kind of educators we will be and what kinds of schools we will create. Choose #EquityLiteracy.