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Red flower Winchester

Impact of Racism

Deborah Stollery

We at ConSpirita Consulting Network are committed to improving leadership, especially ecclesial leadership.   These times of a global pandemic and a global awakening about racism cry out for courageous and humble leaders.   This series of blogs invite you to come along with us as we humbly, courageously, and consistently undertake the work of self-education about racism in the United States, in the Catholic Church and in our own white, privileged lives.

We continue our education on racism and becoming anti-racist with another look at Dr. Mary-Frances Winters’ work from her book Black Fatigue.  If you don’t recall, she is founder and CEO of The Winters Group, Inc., a global organization development, diversity and inclusion consulting firm.  She has spent the last 36 years developing diversity, equity and inclusion processes for organizations.  She is an author and national speaker on race.  She recently spoke on a webinar presented by Berrett-Koehler Publishers in the “Leadership for a Changing World Online Summit.”

So let’s look at more wisdom from Dr. Winters.

Dr. Winters gave an expanded definition of Black fatigue:  a collective tiredness which is intergenerational.  This tiredness comes from centuries of having to strive for equity and inclusion .  It comes from the daily experience of living black, wondering if my race will have an effect on any situation.  Black fatigue does not go away just because you have money, wealth, status or privilege.  No. It does not respect socioeconomic status because the color of your skin is in every single circumstance of your life, EVERY TIME.  Black fatigue means any mistake a black person makes, even the simple human mistakes we all make, becomes the mistakes of the entire race.  It’s exhausting

How does Black fatigue affect different groups, i.e. men, women and children? 

She made a joke that women want a man who is “tall, dark, and handsome.”  But tall, dark black men are seen as threatening.  White people perceive that the taller he is, the darker he is, the more threatening he is.  A black man in a hoodie is even more threatening.

Women are either classified as a Mammy, Jezebel or an Angry Black Woman.  Black women are the lowest paid workers.  They are looked over for promotion and are the least likely to be mentored by someone up the chain.  And to add to what causes black fatigue, race overshadows gender, so black women often have strained relationships with white women.”

Saddest of all are the children.  Black children are described using what Winters calls a deficit narrative.  That deficit narrative means that white teachers do not believe a black child can achieve what a white child can.  They will look pass them when they raise their hand to answer a question and more black children are disciplined for the same behavior their white friends get away with.  If they don’t achieve in school, authorities say it’s the child’s fault making it something that the child then believes is his problem.  He goes into adulthood thinking he is damaged.  This results in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What were Dr. Winters’ recommendations for us who are privileged White people?

  1. Educate. Corporations need education.  Many corporations have Diversity, Equity and Inclusion departments (DEI) that make little headway in changing the culture of the corporation because they are not supported by leadership.  They are underfunded; some have no budget, and maybe have a department of 1 trying to do the work that is needed to turn around racism in the workplace.  DEI efforts are sanitized and staff told not to use the words “race”, “racism”, “racist”, “white supremacy” … white comfort is more important than black fatigue.  White comfort short circuits efforts at DEI in too many organizations.  
  2. Repair. Fix the systems that perpetuate racism.  This will take looking hard at the words you use, the hierarchy of the corporation, listening to black employees and being transparent about the data.
  3. Listen. Individuals need to de-center themselves and listen.  White people need to stop apologizing for being white.  Apologies don’t effect change.  It’s not possible to advocate for Blacks when you don’t know your own, unsanitized history of white culture and its effects on Blacks.
  4. Speak.  Whites must not stay silent in the face of racist words or behavior by other Whites.  Black people need white voices alongside (not in front of or behind) them.
  5. Collaborate. Collaborate with White people to fight racial injustice.  Recognize black fatigue and don’t add to it – educate yourself with books, podcasts, dialogue.

What are the implications of Black fatigue and the call to anti-racism at the local parish level?  Well, the first implication that jumps out for me is the need for the kind of courage that can only come from the Holy Spirit.

Bucking the system, no matter how unjust, is scary.  It’s risky to advocate for racial justice in many organizations and families.  It’s risky to become an anti-racist in service to an organization where almost all power rests with white men.  But, remember, every human being is created in God’s image and likeness.  Let’s honor the imago Dei by becoming anti-racists.  Let’s do that by praying for the Spirit’s gift of courage and then by doing more of this work, on the way to creating the Body of Christ Jesus intended:  open to all who are His disciples, gifted and graced for Kingdom building, beloved and beautiful.  Dr. Winters is guiding us if we will but go.

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