I have now sat in at least six meetings in
which women of color leaders have talked about feeling like an imposter. My
thinking is evolving, but I believe imposter syndrome in racialized contexts is
the experience (almost like a deja vu moment), when people of color feel like a
fraud or, worse, they actually believe they are not capable leaders.
Initially coined by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.
Imposter Syndrome is unique if you apply a
racialized lens because it is so deeply intertwined with assimilation and
Assimilation into white and male work culture
was not something that women of color chose. We were forced to conform our way
of dressing, speaking, working, and being so that white people, and men – in particular – would accept us as leaders,
good workers, and trusted friends. It was an olympic code-switching, and it was
exhausting and soul depleting. But mostly, it was survival. Survival so we
could ascend to positions of leadership, keep a job, and make enough money to
support our families. Choosing not to assimilate came at a huge price.
When you assimilate, you lose a sense of self.
You lose the parts of you that were the “original you,” the stronger parts of
your identity and what made you unique and whole. And before you know it, you
become another version of yourself – watered down, less happy, more anxious,
and constantly questioning your abilities. It’s like catching a wicked case of
internalized oppression in which we walk around feeling bad about ourselves or
feeling like we fall short. It may be a feeling that lasts for a few seconds
and we swat it off to move forward, or it lasts longer, causing serious
emotional pain and worry.
This vice grip of assimilation and
internalized inferiority finds us showing up as half of ourselves in the
workplace. For example, we may have the best idea in a meeting at a particular
moment, but we feel self-conscious advocating for it or even raising it. People
may want us to take on leadership roles but we turn them down, either because
we think we don’t deserve the role or we might fail. Racial imposter syndrome
drains your confidence meter, and confidence is necessary to take risks, lead
and collaborate with others.
One thought leader on this topic speaks to how there is the real you and then there are the masks we wear to hide our authentic selves.
So what can we do about it?
As women of color, I feel we need to embrace
our real selves and discard the masks that assimilation requires us to wear. We
have to surrender our perfectionist patterns and release the internal negative
feelings that we have. We need and deserve a positive and healthy internal
dialogue and stance.
Racial Imposter syndrome prevents women of
color from taking on high profile roles such as executive director in
nonprofits or elected office. I am
convinced as a woman of color that we must confront and conquer racial
imposter syndrome to develop positive self-image and healthy confidence which
will help us to accept and excel in our most desired leadership roles.
Together, we can be free of our masks and lead boldly for racial equity and
I often think the biggest quest for IISC is to
mirror our mission internally. We work to build collaborative capacity for
social justice and racial equity with our clients and partners in the field,
but how do we practice that inside of our organization with intention and
Unconsciously or consciously what leaders show,
allow, and choose to grow are the things that people either imitate or support
inside their organization. IISC is a leader in the field of racial equity and
social justice so it follows that we should mirror transformational practices
for racial equity and justice at home. It’s not about being perfect but it is
about taking deep ownership of our own racism and other forms of oppression.
It’s about bringing to an end comments, behaviors, and practices that call into
question even subtly the worth, intelligence, experience, and dignity of people
of color or other targeted groups. It’s about making sure that all of our
policies are informed by a racial equity lens by asking ourselves how a
decision, policy, or practice negatively impact people of color or other groups
at the margins.
At different points in IISC’s history we have
paid deep attention to our own culture and practices to align them more closely
with the just world we want to create. In recent times that has meant examining
the personal, interpersonal, and institutional interactions that may perpetuate
racial inequity in our relationships and inside our culture and system.
We have examined and adjusted our pay scales to
bring them more in line with our values and to ensure there is parity based on
race and gender. We have restarted the practices of caucuses, in which white staff
gather separately to learn about white privilege and fragility in our workplace
so that they can support one another and take accountability for their beliefs
and actions. In the people of color caucus, staff support each other around
instances of racism by staff and clients and challenge each other to show up
more fully at IISC so that we can challenge the status quo. Both caucuses then
come together in staff meetings to explore our learnings, give each other
feedback, and discuss our aspirations and challenges. We are constantly in
dialogue and discovery.
As the leader of IISC, I have made it known that
it’s not enough to do your functional job at IISC – the tasks of a particular
role for example – but that it is equally as important if not more so to walk
the talk of collaboration, racial belonging, equity, and justice.
In the future, we will be offering individual
equity coaching to staff so that they can have a resource to impact and grow as
leaders. We will also be deeply infusing equity expectations into our
performance management process.
Some of the questions I think we need to explore
going forward are:
How do we disrupt and interrupt unconscious and conscious racism in
our organization? In our thoughts, behaviors, and interactions, and in those of
others? And how do we still reach for each other to collaborate when we are in
the middle of tough conflicts across difference?
How do we move this internal work into our relationships and practice
with the board of directors and with our affiliate consultants? What is the
most authentic and powerful way to do that?
In what ways we do expect our clients to treat people of color staff
and affiliates with deep respect and on the same level as their white peers?
There are many stories of white consultants working in client systems receiving
better or different treatment than people of color.
Clients pay IISC to design and facilitate
processes for racial equity change in their organizations. If we do that which
we say we do, IISC will always be in an equity change process itself. There may
be fits and starts, victories and back slides, but we will be in it. Embracing discomfort like our clients, making
changes despite setbacks, and taking on tough battles and decisions to uproot
the influence of racism and oppression that surrounds and penetrates the IISC
We will be undone as I shared in a recent blog, but we will be practicing what we
preach and that alignment and clarity will give us the strength and resilience
to keep transforming IISC and of course transforming ourselves.
As I watch the Democratic Party presidential
debates, I am particularly struck by the large number of white males and males
of color who insist they must be candidates for president in November 2020.
Why do they feel it’s their time to step in
when there are plenty of women – including women of color – who could lead this
country as well if not better than they could? When do people with privilege
understand and appreciate that they need to step back so others can step in? A
defiant and powerful act against racism and sexism is to say to yourself, “I
have experienced what it’s like to govern, to lead, and to hold power. It’s now
time for me to support others who have not yet had that chance so we can
experience a different kind of America.”
I have a fantasy that sometime in the fall of this year, all the male candidates – yes all – will host a press conference and relinquish their nominations. If the male candidates actually ceded power, it would change the course of this country because a woman would be elected as president of the United States for the first time in our history. Our culture would see power explicitly and transparently shift to those who don’t typically have it. Policies would undoubtedly look very different if approached through a gendered and intersectional lens.
But I don’t want to just make this a challenge
to presidential candidates. It’s a challenge I want to make to us all,
especially those of us in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. There are
many great leaders holding onto their positions, titles, or spheres of
influence, not realizing that doing so comes at the price of denying others
Some provocative considerations include:
If you have been in your position
for at least five to seven years and think it’s yours until you leave the role
or retire, you aren’t ceding or sharing power.
If you aren’t sharing your
relationships with people who have power and resources with others who have
less privilege, you aren’t ceding or sharing power.
If you are reading this thinking
you don’t have power, ask yourself if you have ever been in a position of
authority or responsibility. Are you in one now? Do your decisions affect
others as well as institutional or organizational policies? You may not feel
powerful but chances are you have power.
There’s reward if we step back to make room
for others to step in. We will get to observe and follow the leadership of
others and learn new ways of doing things. We will know that we proactively and
willingly contributed to shifting power unlike some of our ancestors or
predecessors. We will feel the sense of relief and humility that comes from
knowing that we are not the only ones who can answer the call of duty or lead
an organization. And if we allow others to lead and to lead fully, we will be
able to restore our energy for other ways we can contribute to the work that
remains so important to us all.
I think about this as a woman of color leading IISC. Although I am female and a person of color, I am older and I have had the opportunity to hold many positions of authority. I think about how I can support younger people to lead IISC. It scares me to think about leaving my role one day, what I might do next, how I would make it financially. But then I remember all the privilege I have earned over my fifty years. I have gained connections to money, connections to recruiters and other opportunities, and I have many family members who love and can help me.
I breathe and I remember I will be perfectly
On June 11, 2019, IISC successfully celebrated twenty-five years of
building collaborative capacity for social justice and racial equity. It was a
beautiful and soulful party with over 200 supporters at the historic Hibernian
Hall in Roxbury, Massachusetts, a largely Black and working-class community in
the heart of Boston. It was IISC’s first time planning an event of this
magnitude, let alone celebrating such a major milestone as our quarter-century
As you know, part of IISC’s core and signature contribution to the
field is that we bring people together to collaborate, lead, and design processes
for social change and racial equity. Therefore, like a true IISC’er, I have
been pondering some questions. What did
we learn about collaboration, racial equity, process, and leadership through
this event? What did this event teach or re-teach us about collective planning
There are five observations that come to mind. Not so much about the mechanics of the event (get a great event coordinator is the short answer to that!), but rather about the important intentions around the event.
Clear collaboration got us through every challenge. It was important for us to have a clear purpose for our event, a set of shared values to guide our planning, and a collective vision for our success. Our willingness to share leadership brought wisdom and effective action to our task. We also understood that our collaboration could be efficient. At IISC we remind people that not every decision needs to be made by consensus and this was true in our process. In the case of our event, we delegated the role of planning the event to a committee of diverse stakeholders by role, age, and race that could work nimbly with a relatively small number of constraints such as budget. Other than that, the sky was the limit. We solicited input from each other and other stakeholders as we went along so that we could harness the collective genius and perspectives needed to make this a truly special and unique event. When we hit a block or wall, we would ask the group, what do you think?
Women of color leadership makes the difference. At IISC we are challenging our clients and ourselves to make and honor spaces for women of color to share their voices, to lead, and to flourish. Our event coordinator was a Black woman and at any given time, 70% of the event committee was comprised of women of color. These women of color brought intersectional approaches to everything, making connections between IISC’s equity values and our event vision and execution. We ensured that we had diverse voices on our event stage, and that we hired people of color, women, and Boston residents as vendors. Women of color have often had to make do with very little and to work on every task from bottom to top. With that, our skills kicked in, helping us to nail the small and big details. Collectively, we turned over every stone to solve every challenge along the way.
Set an inspiring goal. At IISC, we promote facilitative leadership, and a major facet of this kind of leadership is inspiring people with vision. We decided to set a fundraising goal that was a stretch but not one that would strike fear in us if we didn’t meet it. We chose a goal that if reached, would allow us to accomplish what had otherwise seemed impossible: a goal that would provide long imagined funding for innovation and product development. And we not only met our fundraising goal, we shattered it!
RPR works. At IISC, we talk about the three dimensions of success in any collaboration. Tending to relationships, designing artful and meaningful process, and achieving results. At each stage of our work as an event committee, we made space for each event committee member to personally check in about their lives and to learn about non-IISC interests and pursuits. We made sure to have focused and detailed meeting agendas with strong facilitation so that we could process all the event details before us and achieve our desired outcomes. We focused on achieving results. We set targets of $125,000 in fundraising and 150 event participants, and we exceeded both our goals. All three dimensions were essential to our event’s success.
5. Speak and show your values. At IISC our values include equity, networks, shared power, and love and we made sure our event program directly reflected these values. Event participants not only walked away knowing something about IISC’s historical accomplishments and what we do here at IISC, but also about the values that hold our work. Our special 25th anniversary video and program speakers spoke to racial equity, the value of networks, and of love as a force for social change. We had three tiers of event ticket prices along with scholarships, so that we could meet our fundraising goal and still make the event accessible to everyone. Our values were also displayed by hugs, laughing, dancing, and making connections between people around the room. It’s no fun to work on racial equity and social justice if you don’t get to live out and experience those actions and values.
There are many more lessons to learn, but this I know: love, commitment, collaboration, adaptability, connection, and ambitious goals had everything to do with our success. It’s actually hard to accept that our planning has come to an end. Our event planning committee members loved working with each other and experienced a sense of accomplishment that we hope to replicate throughout the organization in the next twenty-five years!
IISC is about to celebrate 25 years of service and my
husband and I just celebrated 27 years of marriage. One of my colleagues asked
how being part of IISC has influenced my marriage. I tell workshop participants
all the time that using at home the collaborative methods and mindset that we
teach will make it easy to use them at work. They will also make your home life
better because they are rooted in values that are all about building up others
and working together toward important common goals. Sounds like family life to
When I’m on my best behavior at home (as a mom, wife,
sister, daughter, daughter-in-law) I use lots of what I have learned and teach at
IISC. It’s also true that when I’m on bad behavior, I’ve usually forgotten or
laid aside what I’ve learned. Here’s a sampler …
Distinguish content and process. Use appropriate
processes for the outcomes and people you’re working with. Pay special
attention to process and how people are relating to one another.
Be clear about my role in the conversation. Am I
participating? Just facilitating? Coaching?
When I am a participant, bias toward asking
questions that build understanding and help ideas to emerge. Engage with what
others are saying rather than just advocating for my own ideas.
When coaching, ask questions and share
observations that help the coachee to gain insight. Before giving advice, be
sure the person wants it.
When I’m just facilitating, don’t do the work
for the group or turn the conversation toward me or my ideas. Help them to
think it out.
In all cases, inquire before advocating. And
then inquire some more!
Be clear about who’s the decision maker and
involve others appropriately in the process. Remember that even when I have the
authority to make a decision, I will still want to consider ways to involve
others who will be affected by that decision. And, be sure to explain my
Remember that big agreements are often built
through a series of small agreements.
Remember IISC’s collaboration lens:
Networks – Remember that my family is part of a
broader network. Cultivate relationships, build the capacity of everyone in the
network to be strong, contributing members, build a gift culture.
Exercise “power with” rather than “power over.”
Again, even when I do have power over (as with a small child), bias toward
building the person’s power to discern and act on their best motivations rather
than just imposing my will.
Work for equitable outcomes, matching my
strategies to the individual needs. Recognize that people will experience the
family and the world differently based on their identity.
Nurture the love that does justice. Deeply honor
the humanity of everyone, even people we disagree with.
When in conflict, don’t be overly wedded to my
position. Reveal and encourage others to reveal the underlying interests and
look for common ground. Explore options without commitments before trying to
move toward an agreement.
Be clear and specific about feedback. And only
offer it when you are genuinely committed to the other person’s improvement.
Make sure to give reinforcing feedback as well as constructive feedback.
Remember where you are in the open-narrow-close stages
of building an agreement. Don’t start to narrow (analyze options) too early or
good ideas may not emerge. Don’t close (make an agreement) until you’ve got all
the ideas on the table and have thought them through together.
And, of course, many of our norms for
collaboration: Remember it’s ok to
disagree. Listen for understanding. Enable empathy and compassion. Take
space/make space. Keep it real. Keep it here. Take responsibility for impact,
regardless of intent.
I’m curious about what’s on your list folks!!
Years ago, I used to joke (only half kiddingly) with Ron and
Susan Kertnzer, who were affiliates and former staff of Interaction Associates who
were married to each other. After participating in a workshop that they
facilitated, I thought we should create a workshop called “The Learning
Marriage and the Facilitated Family.” The skills we teach could strengthen some
basic building blocks of our society. And, if we would learn and use these
skills at home, using them at work would be second nature! That idea never got out
of the discussion phase. Who knows whether it’s an idea whose time will
From the start, we and our partners at FSNE (including the backbone team at the University of New Hampshire Sustainability Institute, the FSNE Ambassadors, and members of the FSNE Process Team) knew that the main value of any kind of leadership development program would be in the people that came together and the relationships they built with one another. From there, we were interested in creating opportunities for those involved in the program to cultivate connections with other values-aligned change agents in the region. In addition, we looked at giving people an experience of different and diverse places in our region (rural, urban, coastal) and to see their work in a regional context. Lastly, we wanted to offer an opportunity for participants to hone their skills as collaborative/network leaders and equity champions.
Here is our working and ever-evolving definition of network leadership:
Network leadership operates from the understanding that connection and flow is fundamental to life and liveliness and that the nature and pattern of connection in a system underlie its state of health (including justice, shared prosperity and resilience). Network leadership strives to understand, shift and strengthen connectivity; facilitate alignment and resource flows; and create conditions for coordinated and emergent action in the direction of greater health and belonging at different systemic levels.
The board and staff of Interaction Institute recently gathered to learn from others working to bring about racial equity and to talk about how we build a board structure that supports or propels our work in new ways. To start the day, we did an icebreaker I called, “Reclaim for Liberation.”
A colleague planted this seed. What are the qualities or traits we once had that have been taken from us—by family dynamics or trauma, by histories of oppression, or as we have become adults and try to live in the dominant culture? And which of these do we actually want back?
Sometimes, as we are reaching for liberation, we find ourselves fighting against what exists. What we need more of is the vision of what we are heading toward. And sometimes, we imagine that we need completely new tools and skills and ways of being to get to our vision. What if we actually know (or used to know) most of what we need for transformation?
Growing up in this culture and transforming ourselves to fit, particularly as women and/or people of color and/or queer people, we shed things that are not only elemental to us but deeply important for our ability to move forward. Much of this is related to how white supremacy impacts our ways of being and asks most of us to be much smaller than nature would have us be.
When we did the exercise below, people told each other short stories of what they wanted to reclaim for the journey. The words that came up included play, song, dance, carefree, silly, laughter. And then the members of each small group used their bodies to create a sculpture embodying the words and feelings of their group.
It would have been even more effective if we then had kept those ways of being fully present throughout the day, particularly when more challenging conversations emerged. I would like now for us to practice bringing those skills into difficult conversations and see if they help us to speak and solve together.
Try this meditation and share what you see in the group. Do more possibilities or new pathways forward emerge as a result?
Reclaim for Liberation
Allow 20-30 minutes, ideally.
Let people know that in this work for liberation we sometimes feel that we don’t have all we need for change. And perhaps some of what we need we have lost on the way or was taken from us. We are going to spend time individually and as a group reclaiming some of the lost qualities that can be important to us now.
1. Start with a guided meditation (5-6 minutes to set up and lead people in and out)
Ask people to take up space in the room; to spread out; can stand or sit
Get planted—feeling souls of feet on ground, butt on chair if seated; close eyes or soft gaze
10 deep breaths
Feel your body planted—feel the souls of your feet touching the ground, feel your hands resting on your legs or by your side
Roll each shoulder back—breath into your full breadth, feel connected to those around you
Hear the sounds of the room
Breathe to elongate—feel the roots shooting down from feet, up from the crown of the head reaching toward the sky—feel your full length and integrity
Ask people to travel back in years; begin to imagine a place you felt joy or lightness, a sense of freedom
What sounds do you hear?
What are you seeing around you?
Are there any smells?
Are you inside or outside?
Is this a place you recognize or a specific setting that is important to your childhood?
Are there people around you or are you alone?
Play in this space, enjoy the feelings.
Is there a piece of yourself that is present that you may have left behind? Is there a feeling or essence of that self that you want to bring forward and reclaim? Is there something (playful, clear, relaxed) that may be useful for your liberation today?
Draw people back to the room – come back into your body, hear the sounds around you, become more conscious of your breathing again, take time to come back into the room, and – when you’re ready – open your eyes.
2. In Trios (8-10 minutes) [decide in advance if there are any instructions needed about how to form trios—such as with people you don’t know or with whom you work less frequently]
Each person gets a minute to share the quality that you want to bring forward. Ask yourself: What did I see in my younger self that might serve me in my liberation work today? Share a picture, words or a posture.
Each group decides on a way to share back with the full group—encourage a physical sculpture or representation that captures everyone’s words or the quality of what was shared
3. Share back with group—up to 1 minute per group.
4. Ask people to call out some of the other words or feelings they want to carry into the day. You may want to capture some on a chart so you have a visual for your time together.
5. Decide as a group how you will keep pulling in these useful ways of being. This can be particularly useful if you have decisions to make or tensions to address. Ask people to consider an embodiment of their word or quality before engaging in such a conversation.
As I’ve worked with a variety of social change networks to launch or transition from one stage to another, I’ve been guided by the following formula:
Form follows function follows focus
My experience is that many groups and initiatives can get very concerned about structure – How will we make decisions? Who will be members? What is expected of them? What do they get in return? These are important questions, and they deserve a fair amount of time tending to them. What can bog many groups down at this stage, however, is that they have not sufficiently sorted out the functions of the network, how it creates value, if you will, which has important implications for form. And if the group is not clear on its focus (purpose, animating goal, mission), this can be that much more perplexing.
So I’m spending more and more time with networks sorting out their core “jobs,” with a few additional guiding mantras, including:
Do what you do best and connect to the rest.
The value proposition of change networks in my mind is that they add value to a broader landscape of activity, not that they come in and try to take over. Even if this is not the intent, groups can spend little time figuring out what already exists “out there,” what efforts are underway, what other collective efforts are operating. This lack of awareness risks creating unnecessary and unhelpful duplication and competition. Read More
This is a repost of a third in a series of posts on power, facilitation and collaborative process that former IISC Senior Associate Linda Guinee wrote back in 2010. Last week we reposted Linda’s piece “What is Power Anyway?,” which followed a new post by a few of us on power and meetings. Enjoy!
More about power and group processes. There have been a mountain of books written about the “bases of power” and the “types of power”. I’ve done some work to try to boil it down – and find thinking about this very useful in moving forward the conversation about how to address power issues in group processes.
In the 1950s, French and Raven put out a proposal about five “bases” of power, which others added to. Bases of power are what gives a person or group power. French and Raven came up with these five:
Reward Power – power that comes from the ability to reward the other party for complying
Coercive Power – power that comes from the ability to punish the other party if they do not comply
Legitimate or Normative Power – power that comes from accepted group, community or societal norms or values which are generally viewed as “legitimate”
Referent Power – power that comes from being identified with a person or group (for example, so and so gains power by being friends with X or being a member of Y group)
Expert Power – power that comes from the perception that the person or group has knowledge
Ecological Power – power that comes from being able to control one’s social or physical environmental in such a way that the modified environment induces a desired behavior or prevents an undesired behavior.
Power. Networks. Love. These three aspects of the IISC’s Collaborative Change Lens were not the official theme of the Victory Institute’s 2017 International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Leaders Conference, but they were woven throughout everything that happened there.
The Victory Institute works to get LGBTQ people into elected and appointed office. Their annual conference brings together elected officials, leaders, and advocates for three-days. The content of the conference focuses on skill-building, information sharing, and formal and informal networking.
The first gathering of this group took place in 1984 with about a dozen people. Attendee John Heilman, city council member of West Hollywood, described the gathering as “more like a support group” than a conference. It has now grown to a convergence of over 500 attendees from all over the world.
The reclaiming of power is central to the mission of the Victory Institute: “LGBTQ Victory Institute works to increase the number of LGBTQ people in public office and to provide programming, service and other support to help ensure their success.”
Why do we need more LGBTQ people in public office? With characteristic wit and bluntness, former U.S. Representative Barney Frank, the first person in Congress to come out voluntarily, said, “If you are not at the table, you are likely on the menu.”
The data tells the story this way: there is a direct correlation between the number of LGBTQs in elected office and the inclusion and equality of a jurisdiction’s policies.
In traditional ways, conferences tend to have a strengthening effect on networks. At plenaries and breakouts, attendees of the Victory conference had opportunities to connect around shared interests and maybe even to flirt a little. But the conference used the opportunity of the traditional schmoozing times to amplify traditionally marginalized voices. There was a “Leading in Color” reception which lifted up people of color, an International reception, and a Women Out to Win reception. The Institute also strengthened their pipeline for young leaders with the Victory Congressional Internship Meet & Greet.
The feeling of love was palpable throughout the conference. Because of the bullying and harassment we’ve experienced, no one knows better than the LGBTQ community how much humans need to be celebrated and cheered. Whenever someone announced they were running for elected office, the audience burst into applause.
The spirit of love and humility was also present in a frequently repeated quote from Danika Roehm, the transgender metalhead stepmom, elected as the first openly transgender person to the Virginia Assembly – the first to serve in any state legislature actually. Roem won against Robert Marshall, the sponsor of a bill to restrict public bathroom use by transgender people, who referred to himself as Virginia’s “chief homophobe.” After the election, when asked if she had anything to say about Marshall, Roem said, “I don’t attack my constituents. Delegate Marshall is my constituent now.”
“We must make just and liberated futures irresistible.”
Toni Cade Bambara (via Adrienne Maree Brown)
At IISC, we are asking ourselves what we are trying to accomplish by helping the ecosystem of organizations, networks, and leaders pursue racial equity. Are we clear what we are fighting for? I believe we need to imagine what a society without oppression would look like in order to be able to explore this question. If oppression were a thing of the past, what would the world be like? If white supremacy and the drive to dominate didn’t ravage our cultures and minds, what would be available to us?
At IISC, we talk about the “Fourth Box,” the box that remains after we have eliminated inequities and achieved human liberation. I believe equity will exist when enough people and structures in societies have successfully dismantled the tools and ideology of oppression. But what is the liberation that follows after the breakdown of oppression? The word “liberation” can get a funny reaction in some quarters because it sounds like a 1970’s throwback civil rights expression, but it’s a deeply important concept.
What if liberation is the personal and transformational freedom that comes when our society is no longer rigged for the few – those who share similar characteristics or benefit from systems to concentrate their power?
What if liberation instead created a society that is centered on the notion that all human beings naturally belong in this universe? A society in which people live with autonomy, resources, creativity, inspiration, love, and human connectivity that makes life joyful, meaningful, and in alignment?
If we were to be fully liberated, what would that look like? I believe we would simply have time for being human. We would naturally spend time with those around us, appreciating their gifts and uniqueness. We would create play, laughter, and art in the ways we did as children but with the knowledge and insights acquired from our adult experiences. We would bring to human beings around us the power of presence – the relaxed unrehearsed connectivity that brings forth love and harmonious existence with all things living. We would build a fortified earth that yields food, sun, beach, ocean, sky, moon, mountains, lakes, clouds, and a vibrant and healthy climate to all.
We will soon be spending time at IISC examining our racial justice approach and methodology. It is my hope that we will start from the premise of the world without oppression and then think about how we can best help our clients and networks discover what that looks like, feels like, tastes like, and sounds like. Let’s suspend time and give people the opportunity to imagine themselves free from oppression and the tools they were taught to dominate others so they can live into practices that transform our world.
What would it look like to design racial equity interventions by helping people envision the end of oppression?
“We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand.”
– URSULA K. Le GUIN
Image by Stephen Bowler, shared under provisions of Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.
A note on the quotes below (and the Le Guin quote above): I am grateful for the beautiful piece by Evan Bissel, “Frames for Life, Liberation and Belonging,” which appears in the Othering and Belonging Journal. This piece lifts up some central elements of an emerging and humanizing narrative for our times, with focus on themes such as transition, liberation, belonging, commons, interconnection, abundance, sacred, curiosity, play, and place. I strongly encourage readers to check it out, to sit with the piece and let it soak in, and to share it.
This post follows the thread of a conversation that has been evolving across events I have been involved with the past few months, and a bigger and broader conversation that is clearly informing it. This is certainly not a new conversation, but there seems to be a renewed or perhaps more public vigor to it, at least in multi-racial and multi-generational social change groups and initiatives with which I have been involved.
It has cropped up in a network leadership program where a discussion about the difference between working for equity and working for justice pointed in the direction of the need to pursue liberation, and not simply inclusion and accommodation in fundamentally harmful systems. Read More