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Nico Carpenter Post by Nico Carpenter

By Nico Carpenter on June 18th, 2020

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So You Want to Be a More Anti-Racist Organization. Now What?

Big Ideas | Anti-Racism/Anti-Oppression

Maybe you’ve recently published a statement in support of Black Lives Matter and committed publicly to begin working towards being an anti-racist organization. Maybe folks internally or externally are asking what changes you plan to make after seeing that statement. Maybe you think that you’ll have your staff go through a full staff training and will be “done with it.” Maybe you’re a white person in an organization who thinks that it’s not something you need to worry about because it’s something that some other department needs to figure out.

That’s not enough. If we are committing to being anti-racist organizations, we have a lot of work to do that touches every organization and every department. There is a lot of rightful skepticism about statements companies are making right now, so how can we as organizations work towards making sure these statements are not hollow or performative?

Artist Nina Chanel Abney wrote a recent Instagram post that highlights this really well. In the post, Nina writes, “Care for Black life does not happen just because you rush to communicate it in a mural or on a tote bag. It is not just the inclusion of people of color as a viable consumer market or in your advertising campaigns. Care for vulnerable populations is a life-long commitment, an orientation toward justice that must be consistently revisited and renewed. What will your care for Black life look like 6 months from now? One year from now? In a decade?”

If you as an organization want to become more anti-racist, you have to spot those leaks. So where do you start?


Examine How Your Organization Functions

Before we can work at patching leaks, we need to know how to find them. Policies and processes are one of the main ways we directly or indirectly communicate how we work. I think of policies as being written, and processes being things that organizations do without necessarily saying we do them. 

It’s easy for a lot of people to think that they don’t have any control over what happens because they see anti-racism as something on top of work, instead of embedded into work. If we shift that thinking, suddenly so many of us have things we can start to change tomorrow or next week, or push to change next year.

At work, there is a wide range of things you can do, at every level and in every department. If you were to think about your organization and your position in it, what are the things that come to mind that are policies and procedures that you could take a closer look at? Take time to think about anti-racism in all of the work that you do. 


Support Your Front Line Team Members 

Organizations fail to realize that when they put out public announcements, often staff who are responding to phone calls and emails will receive an influx of messages. Sometimes they are positive, sometimes they are outright aggressive. Think through if you have the support in place for staff who are communicating with the public, especially if this team has more people of color in your organization than other teams. What does your staff need to be able to respond to possibly negative messages, both professionally and personally? 

Support jobs tend to be entry-level positions, and when organizations work on bringing in POC employees these are the positions that get filled first. If you are putting out a policy that will result in a racist backlash, you might be harming your POC employees. 

In 2016 we published our Negative Customer Service Interaction Tactics document, and Courtney Harge wrote a blog post explaining how it came to be and how it can be used within our organization. Maybe there is something similar you can look at doing within your organization, or maybe you just want to iterate on ours.


Create Spaces Within Work For Healing and Accountability

At Fractured Atlas, we have race-based caucusing so that our colleagues of color can have a space to heal outside of the whiteness present in the workplace, and so that white folks can do our own learning without burdening our colleagues of color. I mention this because I’m hearing so many stories about predominantly white organizations not knowing what to do and then burdening their employees of color, and particularly their Black employees with coming up with solutions (and without asking if it’s something they want to do or offering additional compensation for the additional work). As white folks, we need to stay accountable to our colleagues of color but we also need to do work ourselves, in every department and team. 

Caucusing is one way of committing to regularly building anti-racism conversations into the work day and building in forms of accountability. Caucusing isn’t the only way to do this, but it is one way we do this. We’ve shared our practices in the past in this post about why and how we caucus and in this post about what kinds of resources the White Caucus educates ourselves with.


Create Multiple Ways for Team Members to Communicate

Caucusing might be one way, but we need to make sure that there are multiple ways for people to address interpersonal and systemic racism within your organization. Make sure to have official channels to report discrimination, but also think about having different and broader options for your team. 

One way is to have the option for people to submit anonymous questions for staff meetings. Maybe you have people who don’t feel comfortable giving their thoughts in real time or with their name attached. Another option is to repeat that there are multiple people who you can talk to— for example people’s managers, people in leadership, or the People team. 


Bring In An Outside Facilitator

Often it’s necessary to bring in someone outside of the organization to lead conversations. Sometimes it’s hard for organizations to have conversations internally and it helps to bring in an experienced facilitator to lead conversations and commitments to action. 

If you’re looking for more guidance or have questions like how to find someone, how to figure out what your organization needs, and what to budget, this piece So You Want to Hire an Equity Consultant gives a lot of helpful information and questions you can ask yourself before reaching out. 

If you go this route, please remember that a lot of organizations have newfound urgency to get training on their calendars. Be respectful of educators you’re asking and be okay with delayed communication or people saying no. 

You’re not going to fix systemic racism within your organization after one workshop, so make sure you have plans for progress checks and continued work even after the workshop or training is done.


Review Your Policies and Procedures

Now that you’ve taken a look at your own organization and gotten some suggestions for some places to start, it’s time to take a look at your organizational and team policies and procedures with an anti-racist lens. 

Here are some examples of policies and processes to help you start:

  • Hiring structures
  • Remote work policies
  • Meeting structures
  • How you measure success within an organization and how you decide when to promote
  • Sick and vacation policies
  • Communication tools
  • Compensation

This is by no means a complete list, but it hopefully gets you thinking about how you might bring some anti-racist practices into your organization and team. If you’re looking for ideas of how to change up some of these policies, Aorta has great toolkits, handouts, and guides for things ranging from meeting facilitation to Board assessments to hiring.

What are you going to commit to researching or taking action on this week at work? How about next week? How about next year? This work is more than a workshop. It has to be woven into our organizations. What are each of us going to do to make this happen?

Anti-racist work is ongoing work that requires ongoing education. Here are some resources for learning about anti-racism in the arts and nonprofit sectors.

More posts by Nico Carpenter

About Nico Carpenter

Nico Carpenter (they/he) works on the People team at Fractured Atlas, where they find ways for tools and processes to better align with the organization’s purpose. Prior to joining Fractured Atlas, Nico worked for a variety of arts organizations including MoMA PS1, Walker Art Center, and Heidelberger Kunstverein, and he still has a particular love (and skepticism) for museums. They also serve on the board of Fireweed Community Woodshop. Originally from Minneapolis, they received a BFA in Art from the University of Minnesota and continues to stay creative through knitting and sewing clothes. He is currently in too many book clubs, but still finds time to read books about organizational culture for fun.