Overstretched: Finding the Right Fit for Your Racial Equity Rubber Band

By Sapna Sopori, Founder & Owner of Sapna Strategies, LLC

*acronyms used: HWL – Historically White-Led organization; BIPOC – Black/Indigenous/People of Color

The other day, I was trying to wrap a rubber band around a box that was just too big for the band. I stretched it and stretched it and sure enough, it snapped. But, for some reason, I started crying. It wasn’t because the sound scared me or I hurt myself; rather, I was sad because like that overstretched rubber band, I have been feeling so overstretched lately, too. Before this new COVID world order, I was a lot like a rubber band: I like giving support by holding things together, helping to provide order in disordered places. But since we’ve been in a global pandemic, I’ve felt like I don’t have enough stretch to cover all the things that need support. Everything feels so big, so out of my control, so beyond my ability to help. When that rubber band snapped, I felt like I snapped, too. What could I possibly do that would help with all the chaos in the world? What could I do to change any of the injustices felt at such a large-scale? What use was I, just a little rubber band who had been stretched too far?

And then I realized: it’s not that I have to stretch around all the world’s injustices; instead, I need to choose the right size of issue to wrap myself around to make a difference that will ripple out to the greater world! This may seem like elementary wisdom to drop in a blog, but after many conversations with colleagues and friends, I know I am not alone. A lot of us, especially those who are supposed to provide support and solutions to systemic injustices, need this reminder. I was allowing myself to be swallowed up by the whole, mad, chaotic pandemic, as if my only choice was between solving all of the world’s problems at once or break trying. That feeling is overwhelming and can lead to stifled inaction. And inactivity is exactly what the world does NOT need now! We need more antiracist action! So, instead of trying to wrap myself around all of the systemic injustices surfaced by COVID, I am refocusing myself on the same form of injustices that manifest themselves in the smaller systems I engage with every day. All of these smaller systems support and are supported by the greater system. If we apply ourselves to uprooting injustice in the systems that are within our stretch/control, we can contribute to a larger, more just picture overall. Without breaking ourselves in the process. 


It’s not that I have to stretch around all the world’s injustices; instead, I need to choose the right size of issue to wrap myself around to make a difference that will ripple out to the greater world!


For personal life, I encourage folks to keep learning about how to identify and uproot racism in our daily lives. Here’s an excellent piece titled, “I’m White and I’m Outraged by Ahmaud Arbery’s Murder. Now What?” This is intended for white folks, but as a cis-hetero Asian American woman with much unearned privilege in this world, I found it useful, as well. Donating to organizations doing the frontline work I am not able to is also a way to stay within my stretch while making a difference. Donations can take the form of time, talent, testimony, and/or treasure, so if you are able to provide any of these t’s, reach out to nonprofits that are focusing on providing relief for those most impacted by COVID. Here is a great article in Forbes with a list of national options, and if you’re in the PNW, here is a link to one of my favorites, Front and Centered’s COVID relief fund for frontline workers (note: I do not work for or sit on the boards of any of these nonprofits). Also, if you have children and need ways to support their understanding of COVID and racism, here is a link to one of my favorite teaching websites, Teaching Tolerance’s Supporting Students Through Coronavirus. You can Google more but these are antiracist options to (hopefully) wrap yourself around now without overstretching. 

While the personal stuff is really important, don’t stop there! I spent time this last weekend reminding myself that examining and uprooting racial bias in workplace structures, policies, procedures, and practices is still critical, especially during a pandemic that impacts so many workers unjustly! If we wrap ourselves around work systems and strategically root out bias and replace them with just strategies, our efforts can ripple out to the greater world! To help you with this work, I am committing myself to sharing more tangible workplace activities in my blogs that you can use at your organizations to deconstruct supremacy. 

So, to that end, here is today’s activity: Examining Organizational Racial Equity Statements (see below). We are so trained in white dominant culture to code our words for safety in order to not offend anyone…but who is it that we are worried about offending? (Be honest.) The truth is, these statements need to be more than pretty words to show funders how “woke” we are; these statements need to set a bar for us to reach for, something that pushes us to a high, impactful, urgent, and authentic standard. If these statements use coded language or have unexamined assumptions, they can lose their potency as standard-bearers for our work, thereby allowing us to “skate by.” This is why critical examination is so important: it can keep us real and honest. And, this examination (though challenging) is very much within our control. I focused on race in the questions below, but you can adapt them to focus on any specific “ism” that your organization is trying to uproot. 

That’s it for this month’s blog but I will keep sharing activities and resources to help you identify and uproot organizational injustices. And, please share resources of your own! Together, we can support each other and give everyone a little bit more stretch to do the hard work without breaking in these challenging times!

Sapna Strategies’ Activity to Examine Organizational Racial Equity Statements:


Many organizations have equity statements, so as we craft ours, let’s research what our colleagues are writing! Evaluation of these statements is not meant to unduly praise or criticize any single organization. We have no idea how these statements are being brought to life within the organizations. Also, there may be internal documents not available to external audiences like us. Lastly, there is no “perfect” statement. 

But, these types of statements do hold an organization to a standard. By examining others’ statements critically, we can better craft an equity statement that holds us to a high, impactful, urgent, and authentic standard. Once completed, this statement should be centered in our work, from strategic planning to lesson planning and everything in between. For every action we consider, we must ask the question, “how will this action get us closer to meeting that standard?” 

Steps to this activity:

  1. Find and read at least one racial equity statement from an organization/s that you are interested in, partner with, work at, etc. Many orgs have their statements posted online, so a quick Google search should produce results. 
  2. Then, ruminate on the questions below. REMEMBER: the point of these questions is to get us thinking about our work and our statement, not to judge or poke holes in another organization. Peer review is a helpful tool to help us learn more about ourselves. 
  3. Though most of the questions below are in a yes/no format, it does not mean that “no” answers are bad. As we craft our own statement, if we choose to say “no” to any of the questions, we need to examine the reason why. And then, we need to ask if this reason must to stay inside the organization, or would we be comfortable sharing it externally. Why or why not? Keep asking “why” until it can’t be asked any longer. Every decision does not need to be shared externally; but, every decision does need to be examined and owned by those making it. 

Questions to consider after reading the equity statement/s:

  • Racism: 
    • Does the statement clearly call out racism (or does it generally refer to all the “isms”)? 
    • If so, does it explain why it focused on race? If not, does it explain why it focused on all “diversity?”
    • Is there a clear connection between uprooting racism and the mission of the organization? 
    • Does it acknowledge the sector’s racist past and present?  
    • Does it acknowledge urgency centered on those historically and currently negatively impacted by racism?  
    • Does it acknowledge how those same demographics contributed the least to the disruptions they must now navigate?   
       
  • Whiteness: 
    • Does it call out underrepresented populations? Overrepresented populations? 
    • Does it explain how whiteness fits into dismantling racism? 
    • If the organization is HWL, does it address how it benefits from the system as it stands? 
    • Does it explain this organization’s role in changing the system?  
  • Structural changes:  
    • Does this statement call for fundamental changes in the structures of the organization, or is it additive in nature, focusing on programs to add or additional work it will do (i.e. not really requiring the organization to examine and uproot the biases baked into its core)? 
    • Does it explain how it will do it?  
    • Does it state what the organization is willing to risk in order to do this? (this can get us past safe actions and push us to “put our money where our mouth is,” so to speak)
       
  • Future/Urgency: 
    • Does it paint a picture of what a racially equitable future in this sector looks/sounds/feels like?  
    • Does it explain what happens if the organization doesn’t do this work? 
    • Does it explain why this organization needs to uproot racism? 
       
  • Impressions: 
    • Is it vulnerable?  
    • Do you detect any saviorism or deficit modeling (the overt or covert implication that a perceived “deficiency” or “dysfunctionality” in a nondominant population is the reason for the injustice imposed on them)?  
    • Based on the writing, who do you think crafted the statement: people at the top? White people? BIPOC? Why do you think that? 
       
  • If this were our organization’s statement, how would it make you feel? 
    • Uncomfortable?  
    • Nervous?  
    • Excited?  
    • Unprepared?  
    • Confident? 
    • Inspired? Uninspired?
    • Other? 
    • Examine those feelings and explain in detail.  

Know an equity leader in your community that we should highlight? Drop us a line!


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