I write this message with the full respect and humility for the leadership being called for at this pivotal time. I hope this message finds you, dear reader, with strength, courage, and wisdom, in light of the nationwide cries for racial equity amid the backdrop of a global pandemic that is disproportionately affecting Black communities/front line workers.
One unhesitating question has persisted across five degrees, a series of initiations, and an arduous road of trials to become: how do we, as a nation, a world, a universe, a humanity, attenuate structural inequity?
The scale and scope of the question is bewildering, overwhelming, and still, I know it's a part of my sacred purpose and gift to the world.
What began as a question in the soul-heart of a little Black girl looking at the creases in the weathered hands of a grandfather that picked cotton, emerged into a sweaty fight for my own emancipation. The seeds planted blossomed into teaching in K-12 education and helping to start a middle school in NYC as well as a college-access nonprofit in Austin, Texas. Grappling with tenacious racial patterns that appeared in achievement, family composition, college access, employment, and senses of safety in the world, catapulted me into a gestation period - a period of solitude, prayer, and learning. I took any and every class taught on race, racialization, and racism while cocooning at Harvard University.
While training to become a social scientist, I got the fortunate opportunity to study dimensions of race that draw on four disciplinary lenses (sociology, anthropology, comparative literature, and social psychology), and four schools of thought (structuralism, symbolic interactionism, micro-ethnography, and phenomenology). What emerged in my dissertation was an empirically rigorous new theory of race I call “The Kinesiology of Race” © 2014, published in the Harvard Educational Review.
When I emerged from this cocoon, graduating with my Doctorate in Education, I transmuted my theory into frameworks, rubrics, praxis, and tools. These tools were first launched in my social entrepreneurship venture, Racial Equitecture ®. Over time, my work operated at the nexus of social science, maverick leadership, a pedagogy of courage, and African Indigenous Shamanism. I also founded and headed Google’s Center for Racial Equity and Systemic Transformation.
Now, I am beginning a new expedition called The Equitect.™ Structured by grace and fueled with sacred purpose, the mission of The Equitect™ is to expand organizations' capacity to face inequity's tenacity.™
Racial Equity Strategy to Facing Inequity's Tenacity™
Facing inequity’s tenacity™ can be like an opening of the soul. It’s a crucible experience that purifies, renews, and returns the vessel to its original form: divine and beneath no one.
I sit in the depths of pain that abuses of power produce, the adverse impact the limited capacity to build and lead antiracist organizations is having on Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), myself included. I weep for the detrimental impacts on our destinies, careers, economic viability, dreams, progeny, as well as the blocking of our gifts, divinely granted to be shared with the world.
I feel and bear witness to the heartache brought on by the soul-crushing structures, cultures, and systems that unfairly subjugate, brutally silence, mistakenly deem unqualified, and consistently exclude. I’ve encountered these phenomena so much that embodied sensors that detect interactions bearing racial over- and under-tones have been refined. A special vision that uncovers the automaticity of stereotypes embedded in “feedback” that Black women are “unapproachable,” “intimidating,” “strong-arming,” and “hard to read” has been born. I’ve needed to shield Black men who have anticipated how they would likely be criminalized and dressed “professionally,” “fixed a smile on their faces,” “laughed when things weren’t funny to make white coworkers more comfortable around them,” and lowered their stature when they entered rooms to appear “less big and scary.”
The amount of emotional and psychological labor involved in just showing up to work everyday is not an explicit part of the job description. It is not listed among required or preferred qualifications, or compensated. To add weight to the already heavy burden even more, this labor is often invisible to those who don’t share the same racial reality. Still, an unstated social contract remains. While these efforts are less likely to “merit” a promotion/raise, many whose racial reality this does encompass, believe it can surely prevent one.
Equally important, I reflect on the dilemmas that mostly white executives, that hire me to help, face. I see the flushed red undertones of their skin when they profess, “I’m not racist,” and “I didn’t intend…” I hear the dilemmas: “am I harming or helping?” “Are the limits of my capacity to grapple with race and its intersections overshadowing my contribution to my organization’s mission and vision?” “Why are my apologies and attempts to recover failing me?” “Why is my silence and bystanding so dangerous?” “Why am I so ill-prepared to de-center my white centrality and surrender my implicit expectations for comfort?” “How do I stop creating a toxic racial climate and untenable working conditions for the team I lead?” The fear, regret, guilt, shame, and negative capability I’ve observed tend to overwhelm aptitude, halt direction, and render progress obsolete.
Race and Leadership
From multiple directions, there is devastation, inertia, and loss. While in this latest reckoning with the catastrophically tragic loss of Black life nationwide, I find myself both aggrieved and compelled to reflect on the latest evolution of my sacred purpose. How might I be of service?
Five elements came to me: the significance of this moment, the leadership called for, the innovation required, the rainbow amid the storm, and the choices we face.
I emphasize the reckoning of this moment as the tenacity of inequity continues to show itself. Systemic racism:
- against Second Lt. Caron Nazario in Virginia, Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, MN, all during the George Floyd trial for an unfortunately similar situation that launched global protests in 2020
- In the 361 bills introduced in 47/50 states to restrict voting rights
- In the series of hate crimes targeted at AAPI folks
- In the immigration crisis and conditions at the border
- In who were and are essential workers, and in who finds vaccinations as trustworthy & accessible
This moment is parallel to other sincere, non-cynical, stand-for-something history-making moments. It calls forth the front-of-the-curve innovators, the positively deviant, and the creatively maladjusted to injustice.
The leadership called for reflects that of the people we revere, historically and contemporarily, for taking the risks to push humanity forward.
The call for innovation invites imagining a new approach to grappling with structural racism, which The Equitect™ seeks to do.
The rainbow in the cloud rests in the great majority no longer turning their heads the other way or moving forward as usual. It involves no longer viewing the pursuit of ethical, humane goals as divisive, dangerous, & conflicting with falsely equivalent goals.
As shown in the image below, the choice we have is analogous to the choices facing these young black women, vulnerable in the face of police in San Jose, CA in 2020, 4 years ago in Baton Rouge in 2016, and 55+ years ago in Selma, AL and Robben Island South Africa. What will you choose?
I’m choosing to launch The Equitect.™
For tools, guides, and opportunities for expansion and evolution, visit: www.theequitect.com/guides-and-tools
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