Dismantling racism is the place to start in creating system shifting networks

Dismantling racism is the place to start in creating system shifting networks

Almost two years ago, I invited folks from Change Elemental to be part of the Network Weaver Consultants page. Susan Mistra, a co-director, explained that the site didn’t feel welcoming to people of color since all of the 10 consultants listed were white. Realizing I hadn’t even noticed that propelled me on a journey that continues to this day.

I quickly realized that we must center dismantling white supremacy culture in our networks in order to become networks that shift the system toward liberation for all people. Effectively addressing racism, and other forms of domination like patriarchy and ableism, are not add-ons to our work in networks but rather the place we must start!  It is impossible to interact in new ways without being aware of and dismantling the dominant culture.

I started reading everything I could about racism and it really opened my eyes. I made a pledge to do all my consulting partnering with a person of color, and through that built relationships with many wonderful consultants of color from whom I have learned so much and with whom I have had so much fun!.  They joined the Network Weaver Consultants page and the monthly community of practice which is co-led by women of color. Over 30% of the consultants on the consultants’ site are now POC.

I also brought together a group of consultants of color called Equity Catalysts who are working with me on blog posts, creating a bibliography of materials on dismantling racism/hierarchy/white supremacy culture (see link below) and helping networks develop strategies for proactively working on inclusion and dismantling racism.

I also realized that few of the blog posts at www.networkweaver.com were from people of color. To encourage more POC to write posts and to express how important it was for all of us to hear from them, I offered a small honorarium for posts. We have received a dozen responses which will be appearing every other week in this blog. 

What I have learned so far in this journey is that racism is both structural and a result of our culture. Let me explain each of these. First, racism is structural. The Aspen Institute defines structural racism as “a system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity.”  I have listed some examples in the footnote; for much more detail check out the bibliography below. 

But recently, influenced by Tema Okun’s work on dismantling white supremacy culture, I realized that the culture we were raised in is characterized by practices that separate us from others and reinforce hierarchies: being judgemental, perfectionism, and feeling urgency are just a few of the behaviors she describes. This correlates very strongly with my calls to create a network culture or mindset:  a world that is good for all of us requires that we interact with each other in new ways: embracing all our differences, accepting others completely, and collaborating as peers. But microaggressions by whites against POC are rampant: I noticed myself talking more than my share and interrupting POC, for example. And, in the same way that fish swimming in water find it hard to notice and talk about water, we as white people raised in a culture of white supremacy are unaware of the myriad ways our behavior reinforces structural and cultural racism.

We all are damaged by white supremacy or dominance culture. All of us! And as Resmaa Menakem points out in his wonderful book My Grandmother’s Hands, we need to work together in communities, with the support of others, to heal ourselves. 

How can we all begin on this journey? Here is a short list of ideas, though I hope others will share activities they have engaged in to begin this shift.

  • Read!  We have put together a first draft of resources here. Please add additional resources in the comments below. In the coming months we will work on annotating many of the resources.
  • Attend or organize workshops on dismantling racism or healing.
  • Form a book club or study group in your workplace or neighborhood to discuss the readings/books and support each other in shifting your behavior.
  • Make a pledge to work in mixed race groups when you facilitate or coordinate a gathering or workshop.
  • Form a healing support group using suggestions from My Grandmother’s Hands.
  • Read and appreciate the blog posts by POC.
  • Share resources in the comments section here.

Remember, we need to go slow to move quickly!  We need to take time to increase our awareness, heal ourselves, and shift our behavior – for it is this that will enable a new world to emerge. We need to help and support each other in this journey. The very act of doing this together begins the co-creation process for a world of wellbeing for all.

Please join me in this journey.

  1. https://assets.aspeninstitute.org/content/uploads/files/content/docs/rcc/RCC-Structural-Racism-Glossary.pdf
  2.  As john a powell points out “Only 12.3 percent of white children and 10 percent of white adults live below the poverty line, compared to 37.1 percent of black children and 22.6 percent of black adults. While whites average almost $117.000 in assets, Black and Latino families have less than $2000 in assets.”   https://belonging.berkeley.edu/john-powell-presents-manchester-new-hampshire-new-england-community-action-partnership  POC face massive discrimination in mortgage and housing markets. The black homeownership rate is 38% compared with 66% for whites, and conditional on owning a home, house values for blacks are roughly 50% of that for whites (Shapiro, Meschede, and Osoro 2013). For the average American, home equity is their largest asset and greatest determinant of wealth accumulation and intergenerational wealth and the black household’s ability to accumulate home equity is severely limited due to their home values. Additionally, research has found that blacks pay more for mortgage loans, auto loans, and other goods and services (e.g., Black, Boehm, and DeGennaro 2003;Cheng, Lin, and Liu 2015;Clarke, Roy, and Courchane 2009;Munnell. Practices such as redlining-denial of services and/or increased pricing based on the racial composition of an area-continue to attribute to homeownership disparities. From https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264555748_Racial_Discrepancy_in_Mortgage_Interest_Rates  African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whiteshttps://www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/  A research study by NIH tied racial discrimination directly to a 6 year shorter life expentency for African American men. Results suggest that multiple levels of racism, including interpersonal experiences of racial discrimination and the internalization of negative racial bias, operate jointly to accelerate biological aging among African-American men. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5407682/

One thought on “Dismantling racism is the place to start in creating system shifting networks

  1. June, this is so great to read! Our local Minneapolis St. Paul Network Weavers Community of Practice has for the past 3-4 years now been focused on racial justice. It’s been a critical centering and grounding for us. We’ve learned a lot about decolonizing the network weaving tools we might think of as “neutral” and tapping into indigenous ways of knowing which are so often in alignment with network weaving principles.

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