Real Work or Show?

6 mins read

Racial Inclusion is a noble aspiration that almost any democrat would say they embrace. Many state or county Parties have committees, work groups, or some type of initiative to address racial diversity. I’ve had a career of participating in or leading these types of groups under the duress of supervisors who really didn’t support equity, and within the parameters given by the very institution expected to change as a result of these trainings or task forces. I quickly learned the difference between what I call The Real Work and The Show. Since joining my county Party, I have had the support to lead what I believe to be The Real Work.

The Show

The smoke and mirrors approach to equity work is often highly visible, involves food or holidays, and usually feels quite wonderful! Celebration is important and community connections are unquestionably valuable. But by themselves, public events do not move the dial in our organizational efforts to become more racially responsive and inclusive. To gauge the meaningfulness of said events, it’s helpful to reflect on what led up to it, and what will follow it.

Recruitment is where most Parties begin the conversation about how to racially diversify. If getting them in the door was our issue, we’d be less concerned about the obvious lack of retention. Rather than asking “Why don’t they come?” (assigning responsibility to them), we need to reflect on “What is it about us that doesn’t attract People of Color (PoC)? Why is it that when PoC come to our meetings or events, they don’t tend to come back?”. We must clean our house before inviting others.

Translation is one of the most ironic ways we profess to attempt better linguistic inclusion. Telling people how to get involved in their language is not the strongest leverage we have. If lack of words in Spanish, Korean, Mandarin, Vietnamese, etc. is actually a barrier to participation in the democratic party, how do we explain our low numbers of black participants? If there is not a defined procedure for high quality translating and vetting, that includes paid compensation for labor, then translation as a way to diversify the party represents both monolingual naivety in intention, and institutional racism in impact.

The Real Work

We must start from the inside. A great place to begin is a with an institutional readiness needs assessment. Institutional change begins with raising awareness. If key leaders aren’t there yet, that’s where to begin. You can beat them over the head with shame and blame, but that will result in their defensive stance where they operate from a place of fear. Another approach is to embrace the notion that people support that which they help create. Leaders in an organization need to make meaning for themselves and create a level of urgency that is both individual and collective. I’ve always dusted off the vision or mission statement to find what they said they believe or want for diversity. In my Party it was found in the Platform. It’s always helpful to start with “(Y)our organization says…”

Building foundations for common language and conceptual understanding is a housekeeping item that has to include leadership. Training, book groups, or a standing item on the agenda can accomplish this with varying timelines, depending on your approach. Once leaders have been trained, holding them accountable to hold one another accountable is a capacity building model that can gain momentum. Their transformation has to be individual and internal, but be held with their fellow leaders in a collective way that enables support and accountability.

After some basic training, a race-based needs assessment needs to involve all stakeholders. This will allow members to be a part of prioritizing needs, designing an action plan driven by timelines, and creating measurable goals to monitor progress. None of this is done by one person. This is not exclusive work from a committee of PoC. This is not an assignment for the Administration or Executive Committee. For once, BOGSAT (bunch of guys sitting around the table) were not in charge. We will do this together.

We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We take spokes off of other wheels and make our own! The Real Work has been done successfully in other places. There is ample research that guides us in our journey. It’s a journey that is uncomfortable, messy, and not as linear as this article might make it sound. Communication and collaboration are the mortar for our bricks of action. Together we will build something sustainable that builds capacity so that any one of us can go away and Racial Inclusivity no longer needs a name (or special group). We’re changing a paradigm by doing The Real Work.

Originally posted on Medium. Re-posted with permission.

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A former bilingual educator, GM now serves as Co-Chair of Multnomah County Democrats’ Racial Inclusivity Work Group in Oregon where she is a DPO State Delegate.

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