“A social movement that only moves people is merely a revolt. A movement that changes both people and institutions is a revolution.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As we enter the month of February, Black History Month, which follows on the heels of MLK DAY, I have been reflecting on the accomplishments of Dr. King and others in the Civil Rights Movement. This year we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, yet I am mindful of how far we still have to go towards racial justice. Racism continues to permeate every facet of our society. It impacts individual People of Color struggling against racial micro-aggressions and individual White people who continue to reap the benefits of White privilege and White supremacy. Racism also manifests in our society’s culture at large, imposing dominant White cultural ways of being on everyone and distorting, discrediting and destroying People of Color cultures while simultaneously appropriating them. Finally, racism continues to get lived out in the policies, practices and structures of our institutions as evidenced by outcomes like the Achievement Gap in education (more aptly called the Opportunity Gap) and health disparities.
Crossroads organizer and trainer James Addington likens the ever-present and simultaneous manifestations of individual, cultural and institutional racism to an electromagnetic force field that is very difficult to penetrate. He shares a story of a friend of his who found herself in a meeting where she was the only Person of Color and the only woman. She, for the life of her, could not make herself heard. No matter how hard she tried to bring her voice to the table, she was continually ignored and dismissed, or someone else got credit for her ideas. She described the experience as similar to being surrounded by a force field from which she couldn’t break free.
The metaphor of racism as an electromagnetic force field is powerful because once the problem is identified then we can begin working toward a solution. Racism is a structural problem that requires a structural solution. There needs to be an injection or intervention into the force field of racism that will weaken its power over us; that will heal us and restore community. Since there are at least three ways racism manifests itself, individually, culturally and institutionally, there are at least three ways to apply an intervention.
Some racial justice activists and organizations utilize individual interventions. Generative Somatics is an organization that makes a distinction between oppression and suffering, that the former is externally created and the latter is internal. They argue that many organizers for social justice tend to focus on systemic oppression and neglect self-care. They argue that committing to practices that acknowledge and interrupt “conditioned tendencies” developed in response to stress and trauma, can open us up to more healthy and appropriate ways to respond to individual suffering and more effectively struggle to end racial and other oppressions.
Other organizations challenge cultural racism in our society. For example, Race Forward does a tremendous job of shifting worldviews and language around race and racism in the media. Their Drop The I-Word campaign is just one example of the many ways Race Forward strives to generate a cultural shift in the way our society thinks and talks about race and racism. Oyate is a Native organization that sells books and provides trainings and reviews in order to ensure that Native lives and histories are portrayed with honesty and integrity. 18 Million Rising is another organization that challenges cultural racism by exposing and debunking cultural stereotypes through focused campaigns like #NotYourAsianSidekick.
Crossroads applies our intervention into the force field of racism at the institutional level. We don’t think that an institutional approach is the only or even the best way to eliminate racism, but it is a necessary component to racial justice. It is what we, as Crossroads, offer to the movement. Of course we also address individual and cultural racism, but we do so in the context of institutions and systemic racism. Part of the reason we choose to focus on an institutional intervention is because institutions are where individuals and culture come together. Institutions are made up of people who make decisions and enforce policies and procedures and our society’s cultural values and practices get lived out in our institutions. Our institutions also create, manage and distribute the resources necessary for life. As Robette Dias, Crossroads’ Executive Director, likes to put it, we have replaced the life sustaining nature of the land with institutions. Today, people in the U.S. gain access to the stuff of life through accessing institutions. The problem is that our institutions don’t create, manage and distribute resources equitably to all people and all living beings.
The injection Crossroads offers to diffuse the force field of racism is an antiracism intervention. Our method of intervening and disrupting uses a variety of organizing strategies, workshops and organizational development tools to transform institutions into antiracist multicultural institutions that are life giving for all. To learn more about Crossroads’ antiracism intervention in institutions go to www.crossroadsantiracism.org or call us at 708-503-0804.