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5 steps organizations must take to become anti-racist

November 18, 2020 Category: FeaturedLongMethod


This guest column was written by Tauhid Chappell, the News Voices: Philadelphia project manager at Free Press.
The calls for reform of, well, pretty much everything during these turbulent and uncertain days has left no industry across America untouched.

Whether it’s the calls for abolishing the police, dismantling the carceral system or striking for better wages and health protection during the COVID-19 pandemic, one can look at every industry that props up the U.S. economy and say “Yes, we need to fix this.”

One sector that’s facing its own reckoning is the media industry, which is dominated by white men and has very little diversity across its ranks. From the Los Angeles Times to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Philadelphia Inquirer and New York Times, newsrooms across the country are grappling with decades of poor decision-making around diverse hiring and inclusion, recruitment and retention, and overall trust with the public, particularly with Black and brown communities.

This historic moment is the ideal time to begin evolving your organization into an antiracist entity.

These same issues affect a range of nonprofits and foundations that may want to meet this moment of reckoning as a way to study and address their own shortfalls in addressing diversity, equity and inclusion. And this historic moment is the ideal time to begin evolving your organization into an anti-racist entity.

Know that the process of making this shift is exactly that: a process, which needs targeted goals and outcomes, and agreed-on commitments along the way that ensure every employee is committed to making this transition work.

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This will not only take time; it will certainly lead to uncomfortable truths. But if the goal is to be a truly inclusive, diverse and antiracist institution, then these conversations are needed to ensure your organization reaches its desired outcomes.

Here are five steps you can take:

1. Acknowledge and publicly report your institution’s racism, and survey your workforce to document instances of racism.

This is a must. There is no moving forward without naming and repairing past and current harms. Institutions of any size and shape can’t begin the process of changing how they incorporate and implement antiracist policies, procedures, messaging, partnerships and more without first lifting the hood and recognizing how they’ve supported white supremacy and racism.

You can’t say you’re about diversity when your workforce is predominantly white. For companies to understand their own histories, they must examine the ways in which they’ve failed to create a truly diverse workforce. After documenting this, organizations can then shift resources to ensure that diverse candidates are not only hired but supported and enabled to grow.

To begin addressing your organization’s racism, both past and present, research, identify and name what white supremacy is and understand the forms in which racism takes place in your workplace.

You can’t say you’re about diversity when your workforce is predominantly white.

In many industries, the process of hiring people of color has not shifted the needle, nor has led to a noticeable increase in diverse workers. As you begin to address your organization’s racism, identify areas that can improve your diversity: from the makeup of your board to the part-time workers you contract with.

Some newsrooms are taking this approach to begin the long process of addressing the harms they’ve committed against Black and brown communities. This is important. One, because it’s never been standard for a company to acknowledge its own racism, but also because it allows the public — including communities that may not be engaging with your organization or communities your organization has negatively impacted — to see a new level of transparency and recognition of past harms. Any institution could be doing this right now.

In fact, Free Press has helped kickstart an opportunity for media outlets to discuss how a concept like reparations can be integrated into journalism to support and uplift Black lives while repairing the harm that coverage has had on these populations. Nonprofits and foundations can take these concepts and integrate them into their own practice as well.

Struggling to find a starting point? Hire or contract a BIPOC-owned business and pay it to walk you through the process.

2. Call in diverse workers with grievances, and call out those who create toxic workplace environments.

(Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels)

Full participation, specifically from Black workers and other workers of color, is critical to understanding the levels — and spectrum — of racism, microaggressions and toxicity that employees may face on a daily basis.

In newsrooms across the country, journalists of color often face cultural incompetency and microaggressions, where white managers act as decision-making gatekeepers and fail to understand the significance of ideas, stories and services that speak to Black and brown communities.

Too often newsroom leaders tell journalists of color that their story ideas “don’t speak to” a newspaper’s audience, or that “not enough” people are talking about an issue for it to be important. If a white manager isn’t seeing similar conversations happening in their networks or bubbles, there’s often no appetite or want for it.

Identify trends in your organization that support white supremacy or allow racism to exist without consequences or accountability.

It’s crucial to invite candid feedback, give space and allocate time during the workday to ask your employees how workplace toxicity and racism impacts their work.

Use that feedback to identify trends in your organization that support white supremacy or allow racism to exist without consequences or accountability. If you do not include the viewpoints of people of color, you will be addressing racism within a vacuum — and failing to incorporate the views and proposed solutions from staff members directly impacted by racism.

3. Bring BIPOC-led community organizations and diverse stakeholders to the table in partnership with current constituencies to understand ways to solidify antiracist policy and procedures.

(Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels)

It’s one thing for an organization to identify and address internal racism, but what about the public’s experience and perceptions? Pay local and national organizations whose missions intersect with your own and bring them to the table to hear what your organization could be doing better.

Use this opportunity to ask these groups if they’ve had negative experiences, including racist ones, with your organization. Document these responses for your internal audits, because understanding your impact on communities of color can further inform how you shift into an antiracist institution.

Understanding your impact on communities of color can further inform how you shift into an antiracist institution.

For newsrooms, this engagement sometimes takes the form of creating advisory boards that allow people to come to the table and discuss issues and information needs directly with editors and reporters. A newsroom in Peoria, Illinois, initiated direct community outreach in a Black community: Through consistent community engagement, the newsroom increased trust and developed powerful relationships. These led to investigative pieces that examined inequities that these communities were experiencing.

This is to underscore the fact that you can’t do a one-off survey asking for feedback. Bring current and prospective partners, members and diverse allies into the fold and help them become a consistent part of your shift into an antiracist institution. Otherwise, these kinds of engagements could be seen as transactional or worse, exploitative — and they won’t bring about needed change within your organization. This is a long process; stick with it.

4. Commit publicly and in writing to creating meaningful change with outcomes that further underline your commitment to antiracism. Be ready and willing to be held accountable.

(Photo by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels)

It’s one thing to announce you’ll be reviewing your internal processes to eradicate racism at your organization and center equity and diversity. But it’s another to be public about your transition and to actively call for increased collaboration and accountability from your followers, members, etc.

Too often media corporations make quiet or internal decisions that they think are best, without inviting public input or bringing employees who aired their grievances to the table. Organizations all too often announce new policies in a vacuum without engaging with the communities and employees that these changes may impact.

This lack of engagement can result in public reporting that puts organizations in a bad light and brings more scrutiny over actions (or inaction).

This is similar to what we saw with the L.A. Times Black Caucus. There’s also the example of The Philadelphia Inquirer, which has failed to address the grievances of journalists of color — leading its journalists to launch their own accountability website to keep the public aware of what was happening internally. Announcing your intentions, calling for participation — again, with compensation for people’s time and energy — and laying out ways to be held accountable helps inform others that your organization is serious about transitioning into an antiracist institution.

The worst thing institutions can do is act like they care about change, but then reject input from their Black employees.

Bring diverse partners into the mix: Write up contracts, MOUs and other documents in partnership with organizations led by Black people or other people of color. The worst thing institutions can do is act like they care about change, but then reject input from their Black employees, other employees of color or communities of color at large. Newsrooms for years have continued this cycle, yet common sense can prevail in creating inclusive and productive conversations if impacted parties are consistently brought to the table to help provide solutions that address their concerns.

5. Be transparent about all processes and know when to let go.

Being vague or opaque about your process is just another form of upholding white supremacy. Organizations fear public scrutiny and an attack on their credibility and don’t want to give away “business secrets” to protect their intellectual property.

However, if one is truly committed to becoming an antiracist institution, one must shed this fear and be open, honest, public and upfront about the work you’re doing to show you’re serious about real change. It costs zero dollars to be open and honest about shifting to become an antiracist organization. But if you’re stymieing information, are unwilling to allow the public to participate or refuse to listen to criticism or critiques, you’re failing to actually change.

Being vague or opaque about your process is just another form of upholding white supremacy.

Too often racist employees are never held accountable for their actions. For Black employees and other employees of color, the human-resource department is not seen as a safe space to air grievances and seek remediation. In fact, these are spaces where people often experience further trauma, dismissal or microaggressions. In newsrooms, this is especially apparent as HR is rarely, if ever, involved in editorial decision-making or integrated into a newsroom’s workflow — leaving the department at arms-length and unaware of pestering issues until they reach a boiling point.

Some news organizations believe cultural-competency training will shift culture, and often hire outside consultants to lead these discussions. Yet these conversations often fail to produce tangible antiracist policies that are paired with consequences. The failure to act in response to toxic employees means you’re continuing to allow racism to fester within your workforce — and that there are no mechanisms to truly eradicate it from your organization. Make antiracist policies known to all employees, and be clear that there are consequences, and outcomes, for those who fail to abide by these rules.

It’s also important to have policies that allow you to remove anyone in power who refuses to adhere to antiracist policies. Everyone from the boardroom to contract workers must abide by such rules.

No white-led organization can transform into a fully functioning antiracist institution overnight, but shifting resources and allocating time, energy and space to move in that direction are pivotal to seeing the evolution through. This will be painful, and it will be triggering. It will be emotional and it will be difficult and sometimes contentious.

But the path to recognizing racism, white supremacy and one’s own involvement in supporting these belief systems and practices makes it possible to build a more inclusive space that will allow your organization to support those who are most impacted by oppressive and suppressive policies.

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