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A response to "What can we do, to do better?"

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

A question I am being asked more often lately - is "What can we do, to do better?" - and these days, specifically re: anti-blackness and racism. I figured I would share some of what I have suggested on here - but before getting to it, I would like to preface it with a few important notes.

Before we get in to solution-mode, we must intimately understand the problem, why it exists in the first place, what contributes to it and what perpetuates it. This is the same advice I give to startups and clients I work with - and why redesigning the conventional hackathon model, learning and creating environments and product/program/service development processes has been important. Far too often, we are - too - quick to roll up our sleeves to build before thoroughly investigating the foundations that have existed all along - and the whys, hows, by whoms and - for whoms it benefits. Actioning based off of assumptions - is not ideal - especially when it has to do with our rights of being human. I am aware that what I have listed below are not clear answers. This is intentional. Any work I do with clients, often kicks off with a series of specific questions. For some - these are not easy to answer. It is how one - or teams - answer that is just the very start of any real change or innovation. My hope is that what I share below will marinate deeply within those who will place 'doing better' as a key priority.

"This is about accessible, every day, brain un-hacking challenges we can do that can really make a sustainable and exponential difference.
This is about checking ourselves every day - before a trendy hashtag, after a trendy hashtag - and life in between them."

If anyone is expecting an easy step 1, 2, 3 answer - you are likely not ready to do the work that is needed. This is not a BuzzFeed piece you can scroll through, process and action on all while doing your business on the toilet. This is also not a list of links you can donate to (which are good to act on if you are in a position to) - and then call it a day.

This is about accessible, every day, brain un-hacking challenges we can do that can really make a sustainable and exponential difference. This is about checking ourselves every day - before a trendy hashtag, after a trendy hashtag - and life in between them.

"This is not a BuzzFeed piece you can scroll through, process and action on all while doing your business on the toilet."

There is no IKEA instruction manual on how to do better - even though there are stick figure-like drawings explaining why black lives matter that have been circulating. This is where we are at. Stick-figures.

BIPoCs have never had instruction manuals on How-To Deal With...

  • Not getting credit where credit is due

  • Being followed in the grocery store

  • Strangers reaching for your hair

  • Being fetishized

  • Oppressors in the playground to the workplace

  • Institutional racism

  • The struggles of roots-identity vs. what is valued

  • Micro-aggressions

  • Whitesplaining

  • Others telling our stories, speaking to our needs and capitalizing off of it

The list goes on.

Anti-blackness, racism and colonialism did not happen with a flip of switch. It has been ribboned through the foundation of every system we are a part of for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Therefore, it is important to understand that acknowledging, unlearning and rebuilding is a process - and that it will not be an easy one. It is a life long commitment of being human. It is something that cannot be turned on and off - for the sake of convenience and comfort. Let's be real. For BIPoC it has not been convenient and comfortable. Far from it.

"Let's be real. For BIPoC, it has not been convenient and comfortable."

Let's remember that it is far easier to point fingers, critique and project unto others - than it is to quiet down, be still for a moment and do the hard work, within.

In order to affect change in the environments we are in, the work needs to start internally within ourselves before it is translated in to the external outputs that directly impact and shape others. Organizational design, programs, product or service design, hiring practices, policies, event planning, funding initiatives, etc. Start with - you - and extend outwards. This includes having difficult conversations with ourselves, family members, friends and significant others. I repeat, it will not be easy.

Anti-blackness and racism also exists within non-black PoC communities. Shadeism is a very real thing. As is the Model Minority Myth. Sidebar: If any of you could use some black lives matter resources translated in to Vietnamese, feel free to send me a message. I'm happy to share. Send me any you have come across or created as well.

"Anti-blackness also exists within non-black PoC communities."

Lastly, I am not a historian. I am not an "expert" on race. I am a person with 30-something years of being a young girl, a teen and then a woman - of colour. I am a child of Vietnamese boat people who fled from Vietnam. I grew up in stigmatized, racialized, marginalized and underserved communities. As an adult, I have become perpetually exhausted from navigating and claiming space in predominantly white spaces - and increasingly so. This led me towards asking a lot of questions - which has gotten me in "trouble" in certain spaces when aloud - but it was my way to get closer to the roots. It led me towards learning about the injustices and the systemic design that have been in place for centuries and continue to be fed every day. It led me towards working with many communities. It led me towards understanding how this plays a role in every sector and industry. And it led me towards learning about how important it is to keep learning. Over the past 10 years, I have intentionally been kicking doors down for myself and finding ways to keep them open for others while I am around - and also for when I am no longer here. This is done through program design (and re-design), communications, product/service, and operations.

For a preface, that ended up not being preface-y. I'm not sorry. See below for some questions to ask and considerations to ponder and investigate:

I shared this Tweet thread on May 31st. Below this, are more questions I'd like to put out there. Consider starting inwards - and then - outwards. These apply at all levels. In fact, we - must - apply these at all levels. Individually, socially, professionally, the organizations and communities we contribute to, governments, etc.

Of everything we consume, are healed by, wear, move to, enjoy - do we know which have been inspired by/are rooted from black culture? And if not black culture, do we know which they are inspired by/are rooted from? Is there a discrepancy between this and the choices we make every day?

Who has authored and designed what we know to be true, the rules we follow, the constructs - and who benefits? Who will we choose to learn from and have design our experiences?

In all environments, ask the questions: Who is not here? Who is missing? And why might this be the case?

Who is at our design and decision making table when we create products, programs and initiatives? Who is facilitating? Who is mentoring? Who are in positions of power and considered to be thought leadership?

Who are we celebrating, putting on pedestals, funding, hiring, compensating

How and with whom are we choosing to spend our money?

Where and how are we allocating our funds? Who do budget items serve? Who are we hiring? Who are our policies designed for? Who might it exclude? Here are some considerations and things to think about:

See colour. Doing so requires understanding and acknowledging the systemic racism that has existed. Not doing so, could mean contributing and perpetuating white supremacy.

Understand how systems design and power structures work and the relationship between the two.

Know the difference between equality and equity.

Racism is not for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour to fix. Do not contribute to systems of white supremacy by thinking or expecting this. This also means stop sharing those Anti-O and Anti-Racist workshops, articles, podcasts and tips to the BIPoC in your life. Instead, send it to those who lack melanin. Do not have the expectation for BIPoC to educate you for free. This is work. It is not charity. It is not owed. Those who choose to offer advisory and professional services that either directly or indirectly touch on racial equity, compensate to account for everything it requires to make it even more comfortable for those whose comfort has always been prioritized.

Acknowledge that everyone has blind spots and biases. But know that not all blind spots and biases have been treated equally.

Be mindful of the space you are taking up.

Watch the saviourism.

Be aware of the history - and ongoing efforts - of knowledge, perspective, wisdom, culture of BIPoCs being capitalized off of. Give credit where credit is due. Again, compensate.

Learn about some of the horrific events in the history (and very much so, the present) of our country and the role this continues to play today.

Understand ongoing colonial efforts that have and continue to exist as frameworks for how we learn, how we create and lead organizations, policies and procedures, what "success" means, who's discomfort we fund and validate, how we design experiences, products and services.

Learn about what code-switching, tokenism, gaslighting and whitesplaining is.

Understand the relationship between racism - and capitalism. ...And COVID and food insecurity and our climate crisis and technology - and everything. Every sector. I digress.

There is a lot packed in each of the above. I encourage you to read them again and again - and again and again. And pause with each point. To do this, there is nothing you need but you - and the respect and love for others and yourself - to answer with truth.

If anti-oppression and liberation education is something you would like to consider for your group, community or organization, there are many facilitators who have been doing incredible work well before hashtags and conferences around "Diversity, Inclusion and Equity" existed. Someone I recommend is Rania El Mugammar. You can learn about her workshops here.

If workshops are not your style or if you are not yet ready for this, there are many ways to learn and confront ourselves. Art is a great example of this. If you follow me on Instagram, I often share some works from those whom I am lucky to call my friends and collaborators who ribbon in anti-oppression/oppression, anti-racism/racism and anti-blackness and black excellence in their works. Artists have been doing this for hundreds of years.

The truth is - there have always been reasons and opportunities to face these questions head on. Yet another loss of life is not it. This is not the way.

"There have always been reasons and opportunities to face these questions head on. Yet another loss of life is not it. This is not the way."

We have the ability and responsibility to create change. Yes, you too. Especially you ⚡️.

Now, scroll back up and start at the Twitter screenshot. Read through and process again. I will be doing the same.

I hope this has been helpful. I hope you will sit with this. I hope more questions have started to unravel.

If you have any questions for me, feel free to reach out.

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