We are happy to share an article from our friends Zakiya Larry and Tony Scott, of The Racial Equity Forum where they provide space for relevant and substantial thought-leadership to discover solutions and committed action to generate ongoing equity building in the United States and beyond, titled From Inclusion to Belonging: A Bold Inside Perspective.
From Inclusion to Belonging: A Bold Inside Perspective
The Racial Equity Forum is a 501(c)3 nonprofit advocacy organization that works to facilitate conversations and action planning between diverse communities, corporations and policymakers to create a racially equitable America.
Founded by award-winning strategists and global communicators, Zakiya Larry and Tony Scott, the forum was created in response to national unrest and racial tension after more than a year of global protests beginning in 2020. The forum fills a need for a people-centric, and education-driven organization that fosters collaboration and allyship. Learn more at www.racialequityforum.org.
- What’s the difference between racial equity and anti-racism?
ZL: Racial equity is both the eradication of systemic barriers to quality education, voting access, quality food and health care, fair treatment in lending and real estate, balanced arrests and sentencing in the criminal justice system—and the list goes on. This can be advocated at a grassroots level and must be instituted at a policy level. Anti-racism is seeing these injustices or even microaggressions on a personal level, and calling them out, then being part of the solution. I believe it’s nearly impossible to have one without the other. Anti-racism is an action that must be intentionally adopted. One can say they are not a racist but do actions show they are ‘anti-racism’?
TS: While I believe there are some definite intersections between racial equity and anti-racism, in my opinion, they are distinctly different. Anti-Racism primarily focuses on not being a racist with racial equity looks at a broader spectrum of bringing a state of equity into every fabric of life. One can not be racists, yet still embrace policies and institutional norms that don’t treat all people equally. I definitely appreciate the anti-racism work that’s taking place, but embracing racial equity takes the conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion to a higher level. There is no racial equity until “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all people are created equal.”
- Do you believe white Americans have the capacity to authentically understand and embrace racial equity?
ZL: I submit that in many cases, it’s not a capacity issue, but a “willingness” issue. In my work managing crisis communications for large organizations, including in the professional coaching space, I experienced white Americans struggling with duality. On one hand, it’s “this (Black Lives Matter) is the wrong conversation because it is divisive,” while also championing the American ideal of exploring and embracing individuality as a contribution to a more rich “whole.” It is stunning that talking about individuality is accepted only when it is comfortable or self identifiable. This comes from being used to existing in the center of all concepts and systems. To add additional insight; Black Lives Matter is the opposite of divisive. It is a rallying call for the marginalized AND the allies to unite. Unspoken but known to all who catch the heart of the movement is the word “too.” Black Lives Matter, too. The willingness to listen for understanding is key.
TS: I agree with Zaikya here. It’s not about capacity, but an authentic willingness and desire to understand racial equity. My experience has been that many white Americans have a level of fear about saying the wrong thing or offending someone when it comes to these much needed conversations. Ironically, there’s still much work to be done in the African-American community when it comes to embracing racial equity because many of us have grown tired of trying. This is a “fight” that has lingered for hundreds of years and yet 2020 showed us how much further we still have to go. But together, we must do this work that many see as hard. Maybe if we shift our perspective from the work being “hard” to work that’s “needed” we will advance our collective capacities much further.
- As a person of color, how do you define racial equity or rather, what is your vision of a racially equitable society?
TS: My personal vision for an equitable society is to exist in a world where we as a people stop focusing on skin color or ethnicity and just see humans. One of my favorite quotes from racial activist, Jane Elliott, is “there is one race… the human race.” When we all start thinking this way and embracing our brothers and sisters as fellow humans, this world will be in a much better place. As to whether this will happen in my lifetime or not remains to be seen. But I too embrace Dr. King’s dream – “I have a dream … where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers;”
ZL: Tony is on the mark here. I envision a racially equitable society in which humans of all races and ethnicities are able to exist in peace and are free to reach their highest potential without intentional barriers from outside parties. Imagine the innovation possible when one group isn’t weighed down with daily fear and anxiety in every area of life. During the upheavals of 2020, I counted the number of hours I experienced sadness and depression (a new experience and thus initially hard to identify,) while stomaching microaggressions, fear when my brother would run errands and more. I noticed my white counterparts were in more free mental spaces, had more elevated moods, and spent more time at work because they weren’t in bed crying. Multiply that by millions and understand the mental, emotional and naturally economic impact of racism and inequity. This is in addition to systemic strongholds. If barriers were removed, internally and systemically, we could all contribute at our highest capacity for a greater world. It starts with mindset and is accelerated by collaboration and strategy.
- What do you believe are key barriers to reaching racial equity?
TS: I love this question because it acknowledges that there are barriers. The very first barrier to overcome is acknowledging that there is a problem. Sadly, I have a few non-ethnic colleagues who believe that racism is over and that Blacks and other people of color are treated fairly in the United States. I don’t particularly believe that they are racist by any means but they do have a vision problem. What they see and what I see are two distinct experiences. I suspect this is the same “vision” problem that a nice percentage of non-BIPOC people share. Which brings me to the second barrier, which is education. How do we teach them? What creative ways can we share our perspectives and work together towards embracing change? These barriers are precisely why Zakiya and I created the Racial Equity Forum.
ZL: Absolutely, Tony. Barriers to racial equity are many and deeply rooted. If I had to pull out just a couple of key ones from a more than 400 year body of work, I’d start with two; the systemic issues of funding of neighborhood schools and infrastructure, and individual mindset. I started with education and funding because that issue is connected to so many others, from the school to prison pipeline, the creation of food deserts in underfunded communities which impacts health outcomes, and the rise of crime connected to poverty. While this isn’t my personal Black experience in America, I’ve experienced the shadow it has cast in every area of my life, and of course I’ve seen the true effects in the lives of those I know and love. This “fall out” leads to mindset. If white America and the leaders from that community believe that the suffering of others is purely their own doing, the toxic cycles will continue. This mindset perpetuates an “other” mentality and deepens the divide. A great exercise for the readers here is to ask yourself; how much more do I accomplish when I feel safe and valued? Are there structures outside of my own power that seek to limit my advancement? What are they and how does that impact my daily life?” Let’s take that mile-long walk in another’s pair of shoes.
How does it apply to you in your life?
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