On April 22nd, the fourth annual 21 Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge wrapped up. This project with Food Solutions New England was originally conceived as a “network innovation” to spread and deepen the conversation about and commitment around addressing race and racism in food and related systems. This year the organizing team sought to go deeper, noting how much the national conversation has evolved in the past year. And we were heartened by the numbers (over 3,000 people from all 50 states and parts of Canada signed up) and by the quality of the conversation on-line and in different in-person venues where we met people who were participating. Certainly no one is under the illusion that the Challenge is enough, but we have heard that it is changing the way many see their work in food systems. Below you will find some of what was generously offered on-line in response to the daily email prompts and associated resources (readings, videos, audio clips).
History of Race and Racism in the Food System: What is the history you hold in your head (and heart and body) about our current food systems?
“In my work at a non profit in the ‘good food’ movement, we constantly use language like ‘fix the broken food system.’ Reading these pieces on the historical underpinnings of racism in our food system illuminated for me just how much that statement (almost a throw away now) is situated within a racial caste system. To presume that ‘we’ must ‘fix’ a system ignores (by not naming) the racism present in that system. It lumps the goals of racial and food justice in with other, non-racialized issues (like soil health) also plaguing our current system, thereby continuing to perpetuate injustice through silence.”
“The consistent glorification of a food system, broken or fixed, imagined or real, that has systematically ignored the people that make it function, throughout the past and yet still in the present, is something I think I unknowingly participate in. Will naming this, calling it out, help us to change the structural racism that fuels this reality? How? I hope that by learning, studying, reflecting, and communicating that this group can indeed be somehow change-making, but it’s challenging to see a positive horizon when the change to be had is so large and primarily resides in legal, political and social institutions and structures. Forgive me for being still inside a state of feeling overwhelmed.”
The Colonization of Indigenous Land Rights and Food Ways: How does colonization continue to exist in our food systems and how can you support decolonization and celebrate indigenous rights and food ways?
“I just finished listening to The True History & Foods of Thanksgiving. My immediate reaction is shock and shame. I accepted Thanksgiving as an American celebration without ever wondering about its history. The podcast is a great conversation that educated me about how interwoven food, land, location, spirituality and culture are for some traditions within Native Americans. I wish we treated our lands and environment with the same care that many people were able to do before they were colonized.”
“In my state, treaties still continue to be broken with Native American communities, the most recent agreement being broken in 2015. State programs aimed to “help” are rooted in white supremacist ideologies. I think of Audrey Lorde when she declared, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.” Read More
The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, without giving up – ever – trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy? ~Terry Tempest Williams
In Turkey, voters just granted the Prime Minister additional powers. In the US, many people have long been fond of simple solutions. Today that plays out with support of a bombast who is inconsistent and offers solutions that exacerbate underlying problems.
When we work with clients, it also seems like there is a pull to simplicity, especially around issues of diversity and equity.
We field many calls from organizations and networks eager to address issues of racism. In its caricature state, which is all too common, the request is for a two-hour workshop for staff. The hope is that with a few hours of filling smart brains with a new understanding—of the history of racism, or of implicit bias, or levels of oppression—that then things will be okay.
This is false. A two-hour workshop can open some new understanding or potentially be used to make a case for change, but in no way does not even put you on the road to okay.
How is it that smart people believe that a little more in the way of “smarts” will undo a complex historical reality routed in policy, cultural narrative and economics?
Some of it seems to be a wish for easy and for ease. Many white people want the magic bullet or the easy solution to our own racism and that of our country and our organizations. We are not used to acknowledging that it took a lot of work to dig the hole that we are in and that it will take even more work to get out. Hoping that two hours or one day can give a diverse group the knowledge, tools, and understanding to create systemic change is simply a wish for simple.
In addition, there are systems that support the quest for this to be simple. For example, funders may offer relatively small dollars for organizational change efforts or not prioritize learning about systems of oppression at all. The push is almost always for fast outcomes and it seems risky to slow down and support the harder efforts that will ultimately be successful. Many leaders of our organizations, foundations, and government institutions have ourselves benefitted from the structures of racism and are content (wittingly or unwittingly) not to rock the boat.
For people working on systemic change, our job is to communicate that change is both hard and worthy. To want change requires more than a workshop; it is a commitment to put in the time, the dollars, and the effort. We know that effective equity efforts require work on multiple levels.
It may not be easy but it is fun and powerful to see the changes along the way. Change can beget more change. Change includes:
New and deep relationships that expand what is possible and build new ways of being
More equitable hiring and purchasing policies, investing in long term economic change
Policies in an organization that are constructed to undo the bias that is both implicit and explicit in our minds and our organizations.
I will write more in the coming weeks about examples of change as a motivation for those moments when we think oppression, racism, and inequity are solvable in a two-hour workshop. IISC is interested in working with groups that choose to avoid the simple and invest with their hearts and time the work that can lead to meaningful change.
Watching intermittent coverage of the Democratic National Convention my heart softened when I heard New Jersey Senator Corey Booker remind those listening that “Patriotism is the love of country, but you can’t love your country if you don’t love your countrymen.” He went on to define love as ‘being there for each other…empowering each other…finding common ground…and building bridges across differences…’ in pursuit of a common goal. He articulated a beautiful and hopeful vision of a nation of love as a free people, living interdependently. Later on during the convention, Broadway stars gathered on stage to sing the American classic, “What the World Needs Now is Love.”
It gave me a feeling of hope, not necessarily in the Party per se, but in the power of love to captivate the collective imaginations of millions of people who believe that another world is possible, and we can make it a better one for all of us.
These three moments with these three individuals in recent months have stuck with me. Each of them is part of a multicultural group of folks working to integrate racial equity in their work – whether it be for youth in the juvenile justice system, for children and adults to get quality and affordable dental health care, or for people with HIV. They got me reflecting about what it takes to move racial equity work forward in multiracial, mostly white, collaboratives and institutions. And about how much I love the challenge of moving this work forward in settings where talking about race and racism is NOT the norm.
“I was taught not to say the word ‘white’ in front of white people; you’re the first white person I’ve heard talk about being white and challenging racism.” — Youth activist (Native woman) in New Mexico
Two years ago, the Food Solutions New England (FSNE) Network Team, with support from IISC, committed to putting racial equity at the center of its work in trying to bring the six state region together around a vision of a more sustainable food system. Since formalizing that commitment with more than 150 delegates at last year’s annual Food Summit, and taking it to other food system-focused networks by invitation, the FSNE Network Team has faced the big question – Now what? How to deliver on this commitment and in a regional context? At the very least we continue to deepen our learning around and commitment to equity, modeling for and learning from and with others, growing and strengthening our understanding and action. A sub-committee of the Network Team, of which IISC is a part, has put together a racial equity plan consisting of various areas of activity, including education, communication, convening, network weaving/organizing and curating tools and resources for food system advocates at all levels (organizational, community, municipal, state).
One step that has just been launched is a bit of an experiment, and takes the 21 Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge from Debbie Irving (author of Waking Up White) and Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. (founder of the White Privilege Conference), and turns it into a virtual community of practice. The ongoing challenge of the Network Team is to figure out a variety of means to keep knitting the network, and to keep communication and learning flowing. This is where the proliferation of social media tools and collaboration platforms has been extremely helpful. Read More
For the past three years, IISC has been privileged to partner with Food Solutions New England, under the convening of the Sustainability Institute at UNH, to develop a regional network to support a more just and sustainable food system. As part of this effort, we have pulled together a remarkable and dedicated Network Team, the members of which have taken it upon themselves to be champions, connectors, and strategists for this effort. Having released an ambitious Food Vision, FSNE is now reaching out to diverse partners across New England to make it a reality. The post below originally appeared on the FSNE blog, and is written by Network Team member and CEO of the Witness Project of Connecticut, Marilyn Moore. Marilyn is a strong advocate for racial and health equity and lives in Bridgeport, CT. She was recently elected to the Connecticut State Senate where she is Chair of the Human Services Committee and Vice Chair of the Environment Committee. Her message and ongoing work speak to the importance of putting equity at the center of our efforts to create sustainable systems for food, health, and economy.
More than 15 years ago I began educating women about breast cancer mortality and early detection. Most of my outreach centered around African American women who suffer the highest mortality even though the incidence is higher in white women than black women.
As a lay person, I find that what I don’t know allows me to look at issues from a common sense approach and ask those dumb questions. If every woman gets screened early why are their outcomes so bad? Sometimes the reason is the state of their health and when it is poor, they have poorer outcomes.
After educating over 15,000 women and witnessing first-hand how much they suffer through cancer and sometimes die, I learned that many of their outcomes were poor due to their overall general health. African Americans suffer from high rates of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Some of these women are battling more than one disease at a time. When a friend, who had her first chemo treatment, died at age 42 from a heart attack, I learned she was also diabetic and her diet lacked fresh fruits and vegetables.
We are surrounded by food deserts, the bodegas where most inner city people without transportation shop, don’t offer many healthy choices. Fresh fish, vegetables, and fruits are not available, cost prohibitive, and in the corner stores, unattractive. Urban communities need more local, affordable, and culturally appropriate foods.
As we look towards producing 50% of our food in the New England states by 2060 we must be mindful that if we are going to be inclusive, we must consider those who suffer the greatest health disparities. It’s not only about the right foods being available, but that we all have access.
We partnered with a foundation as they built a network of leaders who shared a deep passion for their city. In the beginning, many of the leaders wanted to do something together quickly. We encouraged them to pause, build deeper relationships, and see what emerged. Read More
Last week, Curtis Ogden wrote about the power of narrative to build engagement and shape the action in networks. We’ve also been taking a deep dive into the role of narrative in racial healing. That is, focusing on the need to expose and transform the deeply embedded narratives about race that allow racism to persist through unconscious bias, individual behaviors and micro-aggressions, institutional practices, and structural arrangements in this society. The report “Telling our Own Story” describes the ways in which narratives about race have shaped the U.S. culture and values, and laid the foundation for social structures based on false stories about the value of people based on a racial hierarchy. Here are a few opening ideas. We hope you will read the full report.Read More
In “networks-as-change,” effectiveness is grounded in affectiveness.
In an essay that I continue to revisit, the poet/essayist/novelist/farmer/ conservationist and champion of overall sanity, Wendell Berry, talks about what he calls “the turn towards affection.” Having spent many years reflecting on and pushing back against the unfortunate demonstrated human tendency to despoil landscapes and “the other,” he takes a strong stand for both deep rooted connection and . . . imagination: Read More
8/14/14 Update: Sadly the list of names in this post has grown in the past week with the deaths of Eric Barnes and Mike Brown. In both cases it appears that aggressive policing of minor offenses escalated, resulting in deaths that did not need to happen. #blacklivesmatter
I find the fact that we need a conversation called #BlackLivesMatter disturbing. But it’s a badly needed conversation and one that needs to catalyze effective action. It’s urgent that we create a context where it’s no longer “understandable” that someone could be afraid enough of an unarmed black person to justify killing him or her.