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From the Desk of the President and CEO

From the Desk of the President and CEO

Here’s Why You Can’t Recruit or Retain Black People and What You Can Begin to Do About It

..institutions commonly and unconsciously assume POC [People of Color] who are invited into the institution should not only be grateful but should also want to be like the white people who invited them.” -Ruth King, Mindful of Race

Organizations often reach out to us to discuss their community engagement dilemma or ways to recruit and retain Black people in board and/or staff positions.  I immediately ask two key questions, Are you ready to transform your culture?  What is the evidence that you are ready?

Most are not ready to answer these questions because they have not made the correlation with their culture and their intention to engage more Black people.  Our premise is this-ALL organizations center white dominant culture.  And if an organization wants to engage Black, Indigenous, People of Color they must dig up this root and plant something different.

Simply, Black folx are not joining your cause or staying as employees because your organization centers perceived whiteness or the “white way”.  And Black folx can feel and see it.  This means that they cannot (and will not due to potential harm and retaliation) show up as their authentic selves. 
No one wants to wear a mask long-term.  I can guarantee that you are not paying enough or offering enough support for Black folx to endure this.

As defined by Tema Okun, White dominant culture or white supremacy culture is defined as:

The explicit and subtle ways that the norms, preferences and fears of white European descended people overwhelmingly shape how we organize our work and institutions, see ourselves and others, interact with one another and with time, and make decisions.

Okun has compiled 22 white dominant culture norms that show up in institutions and compares them to antidotes and alternatives to white dominant culture norms.  With this tool, organization members have an opportunity to begin to interrogate how these norms might apply to themselves or play out within the organization. 
Then, each member needs to be curious about how the antidotes and alternatives could apply to each person, their work and the organization. 

At CBV, we continually unpack these in our own organizational structure and help other organizations to do the same. So, if you want to do the work to shift your culture to recruit and retain Black people, here are our top 5 foundational white dominant culture norms to begin to root out.

The Top 5 Foundation White Dominant Culture Norms to Begin to Root Out
As you read through these norms, commit to reflection.
Reflection:  What can you personally do to make a change, or pivot, from the left column to the right column?  What can your organization do?




Taking unearned credit for wins.  Co Opting local organizing efforts, or the work of other staff.  Treating core campaign issues as more important than issues that other people are working on. Taking time to build relationships based on trust.  Focus is on ‘building a bigger pie’ instead of fighting over a slice.  Mutual support and promotion of each other’s campaigns and issues
Power Hoarding VS Power Sharing
Ideas from less senior people are treated as a threat, information and decision making is confidential. Holding on to resources, scarcity mindset. Ideas at all levels are valued for the positional expertise they represent, ideas from others are requested and space is made for them to be heard. Budgets are made available for viewing, providing input on, and resources are shared equitably and appropriately.
Comfort with Predominantly White Leadership VS Leadership Representative of the Communities Most Affected by Inequity
Defaulting to all or mostly white leadership using urgency and lack of available, qualified People of Color as justifications for doing so. Take time to weave into the fabric of the organization a critical mass of equity-oriented People of Color in leadership and on staff at large.  Create inclusive culture.  With graceful awareness, acknowledge that we’re all unconsciously socialized to see physical features that are more white European, including lighter skin, as ‘better’.  Be mindful of how norms of the white, middle class can easily permeate the main organizational culture.
Individualism & Separateness VS Community & Collectivism
Focus is on single charismatic leaders, working in isolation, from each other and from other organizations. Working together, working from a movement lens.  Understanding that to change everything it takes everyone.  Understand interdependence of all social struggles.  
Over-working as Unstated Norm VS Self-care/Community Care
Encourages people to work through weekends and into the night (directly or passively by setting up work plans that are unachievable in a 40-hour week) – ignoring how Black and Brown people have been historically and systemically requested to take on physically taxing work by white bosses. Actively encouraging a culture of self-care and community care in which people care about each other’s physical and emotional well-being, supporting time boundaries and are considerate of time zone difficulties, parental needs, personal health issues, etc.  Work plans include 20% of unscheduled time to enable space for the inevitable unpredictable tasks that emerge.

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