A Public Sector Guide to Talking About Race

If the echos and chanting for equity haven’t rang clear in the last seven years since the Black Lives Matter movement emerged in 2013, we are rest assured that they have now been heard across America. The recent protests emerging in hundreds of cities across the country have made it impossible for local and state governments to ignore the rallies for justice dominating our streets. I’ve had countless friends and colleagues (and some strangers) reach out to me, now desperate to have the right words and subsequent action to support one another during this intense racial reckoning.

For those public sector partners who are looking for guidance on how best to approach this moment with the commitment it will take to answer the calls for justice in our streets here are some suggestions on what comes next:

Develop your own language and capacity

So you’ve just realized that race is a major factor in the lives of your colleagues and constituents. It’s important to first question what privileges you may be afforded that have made it so that you haven’t had to be aware of the implications of race and oppression in people’s lives. It doesn’t make you a bad person to have these privileges, but it is our responsibility to shift our consciousness to acknowledge what advantages we have within the systems we exist in so we can shift power to those who are stripped of it. Take time to familiarize yourself with key concepts, build your own capacity to recognize how race shows up in the systems you are part of and in the lives of people around you, namely the communities in which you may serve.

Below are some resources that might get you started:

What is Systemic Racism, Race Forward

Talking about race without talking about power is useless

Three Personal Practices for Racial Equity

Organizing for support

This shift in thinking is a great place to start but that must also be followed by action. Next you must find your people. It is important in this work to find allies who are willing to carry the torch with you because it’s difficult work to carry alone. Anything worth doing is best done in community. It’s important for racial equity work to be cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary because you need various lenses, perspectives and access to power to move this work forward. Organizing means finding those who are in the coalition of the willing and engaging those who are in the waiting room of the hesitant. Mobilize and energize your community. Give direction to the coalition of the willing through developing a shared analysis and resource sharing, mobilize the hesitant and band together to push against those who want to maintain the status quo. Organizing is crucial so there’s people at the party who can celebrate our victories and joy because it’s not all suffering. It is about moving forward towards collective liberation.

Below are some resources that might get you started:

Organizing for Racial Justice History Timeline

Everything worth doing is done with other people

Lessons on Anti-Racist Organizing Across Government and Community

Getting organizational support

Understanding how to navigate power or structures of authority and accountability that exist within your organization is essential to move this work from an idea to reality. It’s critical to do an analysis of who you need on your side versus who you need out of your way to make that happen. Understand the motivations and limitations of those who might want to benefit from the world as it is or the “status quo” so you can create strategies to move past their opposition..

Below are some resources that might get you started:

Connecting at the Crossroads: Alliance Building and Social Change in Tough Times

Practices of Accountability

The important thing is to do something. Start small and let it grow. Use your power with your people to ask critical questions at key decision points on how you can use your role and authority to respond and advance the demands for racial equity. It is not about doing the biggest thing but it is about our collective ability to advance a movement.

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