As many DEI practitioners and advocates know, whether you’re representing a particular organizational interest, institutional mission or community-centered agenda, investing in DEI objectives must include prioritizing racial equity. This starts with acknowledging and becoming educated about the ways in which the status of people of color – including employees as well as external stakeholders with whom we are working to realize goals or whom we are serving and supporting in our work – have been and continue to be adversely impacted by legacies of structural and institutional racism that are deeply embedded within our systems. Such realities have led to inequitable outcomes for communities of color with respect to their capacity to access vital resources such as healthy food sources, education, employment, healthcare and housing. While we are seeing an increase in the number of organizations investing in DEI resources meant to enhance workplace culture; improve recruitment and retention rates; attract diverse communities and increasing numbers of sponsors to our brand and more effectively respond to the needs of historically underserved communities, including people of color, without an equally increased investment in processes meant to respond to the reality of racial inequity, we run the risk of perpetuating the very same systems that continue to negatively impact our workplace cultures, business practices, stakeholders and communities.
In addition, when committing to processes meant to challenge the reality of racial bias as well as structural and institutional racism – which invariably influence policies, practices and processes within our organizations, businesses and institutions – it’s important to understand that doing so in the interest of promoting equitable outcomes in the aforementioned areas for people of all races, thereby advancing a system wherein race is no longer a predictor of life outcomes, also means accepting the extent to which we are all implicated in and responsible for such systems – even if unwittingly.
While it can be easily assumed that prioritizing racial equity is something that we do for “others’” benefit, we must be cautious about this way of thinking. Simply put, even as we utilize racial equity tools and take proactive steps to challenge racial inequities with good intention, any organizational commitment to racial equity must start with an awareness of the ways in which racial bias permeates its own culture, perpetuating unjust systems and cultural norms reinforcing white privilege in the workplace and beyond.
As a DEI practitioner and social justice advocate, I am reassured by what we’re seeing as an increased commitment among organizations, government agencies, for-profit businesses and educational institutions in prioritizing racial equity. However, I wonder if such agendas honor and respect the already-existing, community-centered legacies of this work which were pioneered by people of color as front-line advocates for racial minorities, and whether or not these earlier practices inform contemporary, organizational racial equity agendas now being pushed by so many of our institutions. It’s also worth noting that these earlier advocates for racial equity may not have referred to their work as such, but they were engaged in social-justice-inspired objectives meant to respond to the needs of and empower communities of color often without institutional sponsorship or support. Thus, as organizations apply a racial equity lens to their practices, it’s important that they respect the traditions and progress of those whose earlier community-centered investments in such processes serve as models for how they might engage in this work. Doing so would reflect a true commitment to this work and necessitate relationship-building with stakeholders possessing valuable insight into what it means to build the capacity and access of communities of color.
Where is your organization in its DEI journey, and where does its commitment to racial equity show up in its policies, practices and processes?