CRT moves us from seeing racism as situational violence, or racially motivated behavior and language, to a complex, historical system that perpetuates disparity and disproportionality, consciously and unconsciously. It is critical to any Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion curriculum.
Recently some inaccurate statements about Critical Race Theory (CRT)-informed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) curriculum were made publicly. Specifically, the comment was made that CRT is racist and sexist propaganda. Not only did the messenger refuse to acknowledge their own privilege and complicity, but they dismissed the research data and very real lived experiences of those who encounter harm and even death due to systemic racism. This misinformation did not just come from anybody, it came from someone who has the power and responsibility to lead and protect -much like yourself, as an organizational and/or business leader. As a Critical Race Theory scholar-practitioner who coaches organizational leaders on institutionalizing DEI, and also a Black woman who experiences systemic racism and sexism, I am obligated to mitigate the harm this misinformation causes – especially when it comes from those in leadership.
What exactly is CRT?
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is rooted in legal history and analysis of data that illuminates disparities in arrests, convictions, and sentencing based on race. CRT states at its premise that racism is inherent and inevitable in American society (not genetically inherent to any gender or ethnicity) and thus must be actively confronted and disrupted to affect racial equality. In a nutshell, this country was literally built on systematically disenfranchising non-white peoples through physical, ideological, economic, and legislative brutality based on the social construct of race. This is evidenced by the disparities and disproportionality we see but do not often stop to ask, “why is that”? There is no inquiry into how and why white men historically have had the highest positions of influence and income, as if that is just the natural order of things. No examination of the privilege afforded to white men through centuries of exclusion of womxn and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) who had to work hard and also endure additional barriers based on gender and race. Critical Race Theory is derived from data-driven research, not opinion. It recognizes and validates lived experiences of BIPOC directly impacted by racism. It also takes into account Intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberle’ Crenshaw, attorney and activist, that describes the lived experiences of persons with multiple and compounded oppressed identities.
CRT moves us from seeing racism as merely violent, racially motivated behavior and language that may be situational, to a complex system that perpetuates disparity and disproportionality, consciously and unconsciously. If we as leaders want to do better for and by our diverse teams and stakeholders, we have to acknowledge that we must unlearn the centering of and preference for Whiteness that necessarily diminishes the existence, contributions, and freedoms of BIPOC.
I offer you the following recommendations to get clear on your intention, intellectual nutrition, and investment as it relates to the success of your own diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts within your business or organization.
· Determine what your intention is in participating in DEI training: is it to equip yourself and your team on how to establish and maintain equity within your organization, or how to best meet the needs of your diverse customers and stakeholders? If so, you will need to first recognize that disparities and disproportionality based on race exists, and you must make a proactive effort to understand why that is, and what you have in your power to do about it. By ignoring or refusing to educate yourself on systemic racism, you are complicit in perpetuating it. What exactly is your desired outcome, what will be different as a result of DEI training? If you chose DEI curriculum that is not rooted in data-driven theory such as CRT and does not offer actionable steps, and most importantly you set no consequences for not achieving your DEI goals, you are merely participating an informational seminar on trauma trivia. Be deliberate and intentional.
· Diversify your intellectual nutrition: How balanced are your sources for information on diverse communities that differ from your own? How does this manifest itself in your personal and professional life, and specifically in your leadership style? How do you know what you know about diversity, equity, and inclusion? Is it from your personal experience, courses you took, books you’ve read, or from diverse friends, family, and colleague circles? If not, where or from whom will you learn? Examine what systemic barriers exist to diversifying your organization or business, and how you will address these. Learn what unique challenges diverse staff and customers face that you have some control over, then develop a plan to address these.
· Decide what you are willing to invest or risk: from a personal perspective, are you willing to suspend your learning conditions? Are you okay with being uncomfortable, being vulnerable, not being centered in the discussion, listening more than talking, seeking more to understand than to be understood, being tasked with managing your own emotions that may come up? Learning, like growth, can be painful but it is necessary to lead your team by example. From a professional perspective, are you willing to invest resources to diversity, equity, and inclusion? Will you earmark a budget for professional development or hire an expert? Will you diversify your philanthropy efforts to support causes and organizations that directly benefit communities affected by systemic racism? Will you risk delaying your hiring timeline, increasing your recruitment budget, and revise your outreach strategy if your candidate pool is not diverse? Will you share the social capitol of your established brand with an up and coming womxn or BIPOC-owned business by partnering with them? These are all actionable investments to advance DEI beyond just awareness and talk.
The work of unpacking and unlearning exclusionary behavior, whether intentional or not, is not the burden of those excluded. Those who benefit the most from hierarchal access to resources and freedoms created by systemic racism have the most work to do, and leaders have an even greater obligation to create equitable organizations and businesses. The recent groundswell of awareness and action coupled with Critical Race Theory provides us with the data-driven roadmap to guide us to a diverse, equitable, and inclusive future.