We now all know of the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, like so many other black men, women, and children before them. Along with the shooting of the Baton Rouge police officers, Dallas police officers and peaceful protesters, and the deadly attack in Orlando, the violence seems relentless; all these events have shocked and weighed down even the most resilient among us.
Some of these events seem far away, others hit much too close to home, but all of them grow from the same roots. Those roots are not new but, in fact, they are the consequences of long-standing systems and structures that do not value the lives of all people equally. Recently, though, with the rise of mobile technology and social media, the images on our television, cell phone, and computer screens called widespread national attention to the institutional racism we, as Americans, have always lived with.
As we gathered at different FSG offices to console one another, we began to think more deeply about what this means for us and our work. We wanted to share some of our thoughts and our renewed resolve.
Current events render it impossible to continue to deny that something is inherently wrong with our society; it is a symptom of a larger phenomenon: structural and institutional racism, which breeds negative biases and endorses detrimental narratives of low-income communities, communities of color, Native American people, immigrants and refugees, the LGBT community, and other disadvantaged populations. These biases and narratives form the foundation of policies, practices, and systems that explicitly or implicitly harm whole communities and lock them out of opportunity structures. Pervasive structural and institutional racism result not only in disparate levels of state-sanctioned violence against communities of color and marginalized communities, but also a range of inequitable outcomes across our healthcare, educational, political, and economic systems. From physical and behavioral health outcomes, to educational attainment and job security, disparities show up in all indicators of opportunity in this country.
The tragedies of today remind us that we, as an actor in the social sector, cannot stand by quietly, even if we feel uncomfortable, because we do not often know how to talk about race, we are afraid to say racism. We are afraid to say we have implicit bias that leads us to negatively affect the lives of those we perceive as “other.” We must look deep within ourselves and acknowledge and address the unconscious biases that lead to choices no one would be proud of or intentionally make. We need to ask where do our narratives of African American, Latino, Native American, LGBT, and Muslim people come from? What is our level of proximity to communities of color and marginalized groups? Are we numb to the struggles of our neighbors, colleagues, and community members? Where is our sense of solidarity with others who face struggle?
In the social sector, we all have a responsibility to uphold the dignity of life and expand opportunity so all communities have access to a life of dignity. No one should have to tell us to do this. We can’t wait to see if others are responding. We need to use our mantle to take risks in addressing equity and social justice and be real about the lived experiences of marginalized people. We must address the challenges of implicit bias, institutional racism, prejudice, and bigotry that permeate multiple systems of opportunity.
How can we contribute to changing this? We don’t have to have all the answers, but know that we need to collaborate with others and seek answers. We need to lead alongside our communities to address the imbalance of power and privilege that devalue the lives of Black people, Latinx people, Native people, Muslim people, LGBT people, and others. We need to seize this opportunity and amplify unheard voices. It is incredibly difficult to build equity in from the backend; let us try to embed it in the beginning of our work. We have the opportunity to act as a bridge between silenced voices and those in power.
In the same way disparities are present at all levels of opportunity, equity must be included at all levels of our solutions. When we are building cross-sector partnerships, writing a grant, or organizing an office meeting, we should take the time to consider how an equity and inclusion lens might change our approach and, ultimately, our outcomes. We encourage you to explore tools and frameworks to have these difficult, uncomfortable conversations. But don’t stop there; prioritize strategic action to dismantle systemic racism and other forms of oppression where you work, play, eat, and sleep.
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