Day: August 4, 2020

Reflections on White Allyship

REFLECTIONS ON WHITE ALLYSHIP

Following our June event with Christian Picciolini and Arne Duncan on anti-racism and Unpacking White Privilege, we have been diving deeper into what it means to reflect, rethink, and check the implicit bias we each carry. In order to find an entry point into this conversation, it’s often easier to start to see more clearly your own situation through the words and experiences of others. Below are reflections from four White women, each on their own journeys of unlearning and understanding.

Reflecting on White Allyship – What it is, What it Means to Me

Reflecting on White Allyship - What it is, What it Means to Me

by Mary Ann Pitcher

I’m a 54-year old White woman, a Chicagoan, a fellow educator to many of you I am guessing. For decades my commitment has been to transforming our Chicago high schools to be places that welcome, support, inspire, challenge, and engage students, supporting them to see and create visions for their future selves, particularly our Black and Brown students who have been so severely marginalized by our system. While my commitment to social and racial justice in education remains strong, my perspective on my position and power is shifting as I wrestle with the skin that I’m in and the current social and political context: how can I believe that education is the ‘great equalizer’ when we see countless instances in which those who have been through the education system still face racism and injustices daily? What is my role in reproducing this inequitable and oppressive system? How do I show up as a White ally in such an explicitly atrocious time of White supremacy and anti-Black racism?

I like to think of myself as a White ally though in all honesty it’s a journey, a life-long one for sure, and I have to grapple with the fact that I can easily absolve myself from fulfilling that responsibility if I’m not vigilant, and that I’ll never fully arrive…On my journey over the years I have experienced movement in my own consciousness and allyship, though much more movement is necessary:

  • Moving from being non-racist to anti-racist. My neutrality in simply not being racist is insufficient to say the least, harmful most of the time. Continuously recognizing the racism that inherently lives in me helps me to understand the need to explicitly combat it by working to become anti-racist. You may have seen this graphic in this link. Andrew M. Ibrahim created it (modified from the covid-19 graphic, original author unknown) to hold himself accountable. I revisit it regularly to do the same.
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  • Moving from performative allyship to authentic allyship. I strive daily to understand what being ‘authentic’ means for me and what it looks like. I love this graphic by Seerut K. Chawla which helps me reflect on my allyship and when and how I show up.
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  • Moving from understanding racism as the burden of people of color to understanding it as a White people problem; and that our humanity and liberation are inextricably linkedThe words of James Baldwin say it all for me:
    • “The truth which frees Black people will also free White people, but this is a truth which White people find very difficult to swallow.” – No Name in the Street
    • “And I repeat: The price of the liberation of White people is the liberation of the Blacks – the total liberation, in the cities, in the towns, before the law, and in the mind.”
    • “There appears to be a vast amount of confusion on this point, but I do not know many Negroes who are eager to be “accepted” by White people, still less to be loved by them; they, the Blacks, simply don’t wish to be beaten over the head by the Whites every instant of our brief passage on this planet. White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this — which will not be tomorrow and will not be today and may very well be never — the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.” – The Fire Next Time
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  • Moving from reading, and listening, and talking to There is so much to learn and read and understand…I’ve got a lifetime of catching up to do…and while I must continue to engage in reading and listening and talking, I must move to action!
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  • Moving from ally to co-conspirator. Bettina Love talks about White people as co-conspirators. She charges us to take risks, to put ourselves on the line. This clip moves me to act!

Call to Action

While allyship is a process and a journey, I/we as White people have got to do better NOW. I/we’ve got to get with it, stay in it, and stick with it. Not letting go when it becomes uncomfortable, or is inconvenient, when life starts to return to ‘normal’ after covid-19, when we stop seeing protests in the nightly news. Calling on us to not be this:

“Racists are counting on you to continue doing nothing. They are certain that before long, you will return to your blissful state of denial, where racism is somebody else’s problem. And you will not disappoint them. Racists know some of you better than you know yourselves.”

We can and we must be this!:

Happy Birthday, Ahmaud. Your murder was so egregious, we just might get the cross-racial coalition we need, which is the only strategy against racism that ever truly works. Rest peacefully and don’t worry.

I’ve enlisted the antiracist White people, and with them we are unstoppable. The racism that killed you doesn’t stand a chance. It’s just a matter of time now.”

Mary Ann Pitcher is currently serving as an education consultant and coach. She co-founded and co-directed the Network for College Success at the University of Chicago (NCS), a high school network and research-practice partnership that supports leaders in improving their schools with a particular focus on supporting students through graduation and postsecondary preparation, access and success. Prior to NCS, Mary Ann co-founded and co-directed the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School of Chicago and taught English and co-founded a small school at Harper High School, Chicago Public Schools. Mary Ann has a Master in Education in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Illinois at Chicago and thirty years experience working for equitable learning environments and outcomes for students in Chicago. She continues to examine and strengthen her own equity stance, knowledge, will, and skill as a White educator.

Self-Portrait of a White Woman​

Self-Portrait of a White Woman​

by Jen Brown

Why now, White people?
Why now, White woman?
Why now, Jen Brown?

Scrolling on my phone through the crowds of half-masked White friends and colleagues in full streets.

Passing White family portraits in my hall so many times a day in close quarantine quarters.

Vainly staring at my own zoom image for too many hours of meetings.

Past time
to spend more time
asking myself questions.

The more in focus and closer it gets, the more uncomfortable it gets for me to keep my eyes wide.

It was easier on me to feel part of the earnest ‘we,’ wagging fingers at a racist bogeyman or idea ‘out there.’ Self-righteous anger. Our eyes trained to a place of othering.

Too slowly and circuitously, our ‘we’ came to seeing and naming the racism and anti-Blackness  our own institutions and systems wrought. More self-righteous anger at the unveiling.

There are deeper truths in gazing at our collective self-portrait but still easier to not look for myself in the second row, third from the margin.

A harder moment is staring at my own framed self. In stillness. Almost under force of repetitive aching headlines and sorrrowed chants to not avert my eyes downward.

How was I raised? When I was old enough to make my own choices, which did I make? Whose voices are on my bookshelf spines? If I thought I was doing ‘the work’ at work, why was I running that meeting? Whose leadership did I support? What power am I afraid to share? What history do I continue? What do I do with my power to choose, power to ‘go home’? I could end a day of ‘working on equity’ but whose story of racism am I telling? Am I telling mine? Who have I held myself accountable to? What is my White son learning from me? Can I self-consciously look inward and out at my Whiteness benefitting me? What do I do with this privilege to look or to look away? What will I ask of myself next year, next ten?

I reflect on what’s mirrored before me. It’s embarrassing to be exposed by this self-portrait and discover about myself what others have experienced in me for my near half-century.

I have to look, to account, to ask forgiveness, to do more. Radical honesty calls for understanding that my feelings have nothing to do with the murderous impact of anti-Black racism.

Pictures capture split moments but not movement.

I stare back at my serious eyes knowing this discomfort is a practice and a reminder, not an end. This is not about a neat resolution or answers that I do not have. 

I must see the injustice and beauty in my world at the same time. This is about love and also knowing that being kind and loving doesn’t reimagine or rebuild a new justice.

The more I look, reflect, question what I had not questioned before,

The more I see that this self-portrait is still a work in progress.

Jen Brown is Director and Co-Founder of the Alliance for Research in Chicagoland Communities (www.ARCConline.net) at Northwestern University. ARCC aims to catalyze and support community-academic research partnerships that lead to health and equity and our work is led by a community-academic participatory governance structure. We are thankful to Chicago Beyond for the ‘Why Am I Always Being Researched?’ guidebook. Jen was a 2019 Chicago United for Equity fellow. Find her at @JenBrownARCC on twitter.

Liz Dozier of Chicago Beyond: 5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country

This article ran online at Authority Magazine on August 4, 2020. By Jason Hartman

Aspart of our series about 5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country, I had the pleasure of interviewing Liz Dozier.

Liz Dozier is Founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond, a social impact investor backing the fight for youth and racial equity. From education to activism, Liz Dozier has spent her career working tirelessly to disrupt the culture of inequity that is often pervasive in urban neighborhoods. During her tenure as principal at Fenger Academy High School, Liz and her team turned the school from one of the most violent and underperforming schools in Chicago to a leader in restorative justice practices, academic interventions and social emotional learning.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Liz Dozier: I grew up between the suburbs and city of Chicago in a predominantly white neighborhood. My family was the only Black family that lived in our neighborhood of Crestwood, Illinois. My mom is white and a former nun who actually met my dad while she was ministering to men in prison. A significant part of how my parents came together, in addition to the neighborhood I grew up in, influenced a lot of what I think and do today personally and professionally.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Liz: In the 5th or 6th grade I read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. I devoured it. I was able to view several aspects of my own experience through the lens of the main character who was also a little Black girl growing up in White dominant culture. In the novel, she had several home issues and through the influence of Dick and Jane characters believed that somehow her life would be better if she was White with blue eyes. Growing up in a predominantly White neighborhood at a time when many media images were White centered, this sentiment resonated with me. As a young adult I came to understand how racism and exclusively dominant culture narratives and images can destroy one’s self-confidence and self-worth. Through that experience, I also came to understand the power of new and inclusive narratives.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

Liz: In the Bible, the book of Genesis Chapter 37 tells the story of Joseph who is someone that went through many trials and tribulations — slavery, imprisonment — and goes on to become very powerful and revered. Prior to this, Joseph had a dream that one day his brothers would be his servants. When he shares the dream with his brothers they respond with the quote, “Come now, let’s kill him. Let’s kill this dreamer.”

Joseph, who came from nothing, went on to save Israel from a seven-year famine despite his doubters and detractors. This struck a chord with me because I too have dealt with people who judged my dreams and tried to convince me that those ambitions were too big or audacious. His story is a powerful lesson to hold steadfastly onto your dreams and not be deterred by the limited imaginations or expectations of others.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Liz: Leadership is about being courageous enough to make tough calls for the benefit of the people you are serving. When I was principal at Fenger High School, we had many challenges. At the time it was known as one of the most violent and underperforming schools in Chicago, with a 19 percent dropout rate. During my tenure the dropout rate decreased to two percent, along with double digit increases in the school’s attendance and graduation rates.

These wins didn’t come easily. They resulted from a series of tough and sometimes unpopular decisions. Through those experiences I learned that leadership isn’t a popularity contest or a race to be the most liked or the most admired. True leadership is about making difficult choices that are firmly rooted in your values and reflect your commitment to the greater good.

In life we come across many people, some who inspire us, some who change us and some who make us better people. Is there a person or people who have helped you get to where you are today? Can you share a story?

Liz: For me that person is my Dad, who is the reason why I’ve chosen the career path that I’m on. He grew up touching all of the systems that we at Chicago Beyond are fighting to disrupt: education, foster care, criminal justice. These systems that were supposed to provide a quality education, healthy home, rehabilitation — they all failed. To this day my Dad cannot read. Because all of those systems failed — systems that are undergirded by structural racism — he never got to truly live his full life. Yet at 70 years, even with the barriers he’s encountered, my Dad is one of the smartest and most caring people I know, and the one who inspires me most.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a series of unprecedented crises. So many of us see the news and ask how we can help. We’d love to talk about the steps that each of us can take to help heal our county, in our own way. Which particular crisis would you like to discuss with us today? Why does that resonate with you so much?

Liz: Systemic racism is the cancer of our country. Racism is insidious in nature and, like a cancer, it spreads and kills individuals’ potential as well as our collective possibility as a country. Racism doesn’t allow us to be who we set out to be in our Declaration of Independence. This is an issue that resonates deeply because of my own experiences dealing with and talking about racism growing up, during my time working in the Chicago school system, and now with the work we’re leading at Chicago Beyond.

This is likely a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

Liz: The crisis of systemic racism has evolved to this point because we’ve never fully addressed and reckoned with our history as a country. Black people were brought to the U.S. essentially as physical assets and were enslaved for hundreds of years. Even when slavery “legally” ended other measures were intentionally put into place that did not allow for true freedom and the pursuit of the American Dream. From Jim Crow to mass incarceration, we have denied the realization of that dream to our fellow citizens. The remnants of these deliberate measures still remain and still impact the masses. Until we as a country truly acknowledge and address our history through truth and reconciliation, we are never going to heal. This is why we are at the current boiling point.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience either working on this cause or your experience being impacted by it? Can you share a story with us?

Liz: At Chicago Beyond we’ve been leading conversations to help people unpack what White privilege is and how to become anti-racist. Some people may ask, “Well what can I do? I’m just one person at one company,” or, “I’m just one person in my neighborhood,” or, “I don’t even deeply know any people who are Black.” Through these conversations, we’re providing people with actionable steps towards dismantling systemic racism.

Recently in the LA Times, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar described racism as being like dust in the air. He said that like dust, racism seems invisible until you realize you’re choking on it and it’s not until you let the sun in that you realize there’s dust everywhere. In order for us to get rid of racism, we have to shine light on it. These conversations are an attempt to keep shining the light and to challenge us to do better.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

Liz:

1) Educate yourself and then use what you’ve learned to help educate others. Through our anti-racism series, we’ve been hosting critical conversations with anti-racist leaders, as well as creating toolkits that people can use to begin incorporating these practices into their work, their organizations and everyday lives.

2) Recognize the power of voting and why it truly matters. Paying attention to elections at the local and state level are equally, if not even more, important than federal elections. The people we vote into our local and state offices determine what resources either go into or are kept out of certain communities. Additionally, we must be informed on the ways in which systemic racism is embedded in our legal institutions, which impacts our voting systems and the rights of Black people and people of color to fully participate in our democracy.

3) We must become comfortable with being uncomfortable and remove ourselves from the neutral ground of silence and inaction. The iconic writer and author James Baldwin once said, “We live in an age in which silence is not only criminal but suicidal… for if they take you in the morning they will be coming for us that night.” In other words, to be silent is to be complicit. If we fail to speak out and take meaningful action to stanch systemic racism, America’s future and our ability to truly heal and recover as a nation will never be fully realized.

4) The voices and stories of people and communities directly impacted by explicit and systemic racism must be centered. The people in society with power and privilege must speak out for those who have neither. We must use our platforms to amplify and highlight their lived experiences.

5) We must recognize how implicit, unrecognized biases show up in our funding institutions, and in our research and analysis. Those of us who are working in philanthropy, grantmaking, social impact investing and venture capital are uniquely positioned to facilitate change. Chicago Beyond has done extensive research and produced guidebooks on this very topic to help cross-sector leaders be more racially equitable and inclusive in their own policies and practices.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

Liz: Yes, I think we as a nation are capable of coming together to tackle systemic racism head on and begin dismantling institutions and policies that have excluded so many Black people and people of color from reaching their fullest potential. This is especially so for our youth, which is what also makes me optimistic. Our young people today, the Z Generation, have been awakened and are mobilizing for change every day — in their own homes, neighborhoods and cities. The path forward has always been shaped by our young people and they continue to give me great hope that a brighter future lies still ahead.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Liz: I want our young people to know that racism in all of its forms, while complex, is not insurmountable. If we value our freedom and the freedom of other human beings, we all must be in this fight. Our young people have such an important role to play in changing the trajectory of how we talk about and address issues of race in this country. I also want our youth to know that we will all have different roles to play and there isn’t just one right way to take action. Some of us will be out there protesting or writing legislation; others may be the storytellers and helping amplify voices through various forms of media. We each have a responsibility to make America live up to the ideals that it promised to all of us.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Liz: Michelle Obama is my first reaction because she’s magical in every sense. However, I really respect the work of the wonderful author and academic Ibram X. Kendi, who has written extensively about racism, particularly his book How to be an Anti-Racist. He’s been very influential to me and the work we do at Chicago Beyond.

How can our readers follow you online?

Liz: We invite everyone to visit ChicagoBeyond.org to learn all about our work backing the fight for youth and racial equity. You can also find us on Twitter at @chicago_beyond and on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram at @chicagobeyond.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!