Kristell Caballero Saucedo, Racial Equity and Inclusion Fellow, Minneapolis, MN
Reflecting on the experience I had during the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and the racial equity and inclusion work I do as a fellow in the field of philanthropy, it frustrating to hear the same discourse around the themes of inclusivity and commitment to social justice over and over again, without real action.
As a woman who migrated to the United States from a developing country and finds herself at the intersection of identities that have been historically silenced, I feel angry and frustrated that the work for inclusion as well as diversity is moving slower than sloths move. It is irritating to see institutions, that claim commitment to combating social justice, have internal systems in place that exhibit exclusion and lack of representation at the decision making table. It is frustrating to see individual who claim to be “woke” do all talk but not act when needed because that risks their personal stability.
I acknowledge that perhaps for some having conversations about social justice forces us to reflect internally and identify the ways we have contributed to systems of inequality. However, that is not a legitimate excuse. We cannot stand where there is work to be done without showing a commitment to action; the work needs to be done.
As Keiko Nowacka OECD Development Center stated during one of the sessions, “formal and informal social norms and practices restrict or exclude women and consequently curtail their access to rights, justice, and empowerment opportunities.”
As individuals we must use our agency to challenge these norms and practices, if we are truly in fact invested in creating change. So I urge you to ask yourselves, “What am I doing as an individual, in the position that I find myself in, to challenge injustice in all the communities I am part of?
In her book titled “Why are the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race“, Dr. Beverly Tatum uses a metaphor where
“active racist behavior is equivalent to walking fast on the conveyor belt. The person engaged in active racist behavior has identified with the ideology of white supremacy and is moving with it. Passive racist behavior is equivalent to standing still on the walkway. No overt effort is being made, but the conveyor belt moves the bystander along the same direction as those who are actively walking. Some of the bystanders may feel the motion of the conveyor belt, see the active racists ahead of them, and chose to run around, unwilling to go to the same destination as the white supremacists. But unless they are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt—unless they are actively anti-racist—they will find themselves carried along with the others.” (11)
For me, bystander actions are a way we tacitly consent to systems of oppression. Being an actor does not mean that you have to be one that goes to marches, protests, or that you have to be a poster child for the word “activist.” When I say change, I mean to use voice and intervene when someone makes a –ist/-bic (racist, sexist, ageist, homophobic, xenophobic) remark at your house during a family dinner or at your job during a coworker lunch, for example.
I also mean for you to talk to your supervisor at work and ask about the hiring practices and why there few people of color or women in your organization. Question the narrative of deficit we place on people that live under the poverty line or communities of color. Use your voice to ask questions about norms and systems that do not make sense! Not speaking out against the oppression of people sends the message that I think it is okay for communities like my own and people who look, think, or speak like me to be oppressed.
So I ask you, what is your level of commitment to social justice, and what is the message you want to send? Actions DO speak LOUDER than words, my friends.