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Creating Community with and Across Groups of BIPOC

There is a high likelihood that you may be the only or one of a very few BIPOC employee(s) at your workplace. This is isolating. You may also find yourself in an environment where there is an unspoken expectation that you represent the needs for all BIPOC groups ...

Published onSep 12, 2022
Creating Community with and Across Groups of BIPOC
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Building an Anti-racist Culture

There is a high likelihood that you may be the only or one of a very few BIPOC employee(s) at your workplace. This is isolating. You may also find yourself in an environment where there is an unspoken expectation that you represent the needs for all BIPOC groups, and this creates very awkward and uncomfortable situations. Approaching work from a solidarity framework may help us to better understand and to overcome the racism and strange situations related to race that we encounter at work. Because systemic racism seeks to highlight differences rather than find similarities, this type of framework can facilitate the coming together of BIPOC employees so we can find support and validation in what we experience as individuals. 

The building of an antiracist culture calls for all members to cooperate and engage in acts of solidarity. This is much easier to propose than to actually make happen. Different racial groups' historical contexts and conditions vary greatly and BIPOC members may find it very difficult to look at racism outside of our own lenses and without comparing injustices. And of course, we each come to work with our own individual histories and understandings of how the world works. 

Because our workplaces are centered and structured around whiteness, it is important that as BIPOC colleagues we bring support and empathy for each other. In spite of the many differences there may be between and even within racial/ethnic groups, there are many commonalities. For example, we share experiences of not being fully accepted or feeling that we are different because of our race. This is powerful and it creates a commitment and political will to change/bring down hierarchical and power structures based on racial identities. 

Engage in a Solidarity Framework

Solidarity asks us to reflect upon and identify points of commonality. And this can allow us to learn and grow from points of difference, rather than keeping us separate. Increased solidarity across racial groups in scholarly communication could possibly illuminate new ways of nourishing and affirming racial identities, cultural strengths, and ways of knowledge that could radically change our field.

A solidarity framework allows us to:

  • Use and seek to learn more about the diverse stories of migration, integration, and assimilation within the larger contexts of colonialism, imperialism, and conflicts to understand systemic oppression and racism. This can be a lot to unpack. Luckily, there are numerous resources available to us. Web searches for terms like decolonization or settler colonialism or sugar plantations or opium war bring us to a vast number of resources. If you're inclined, start with an area of history that you're interested in. But do know that there is no expectation for you to return to school and complete another degree. Simply being aware that human history is full of stories of exploitation and harm allows us to reconsider the past through another lens and brings a wider perspective.

  • Reflect upon colorism and whiteness within your own communities and how power and privilege are linked to both.

  • Consider your power and privilege at work. Reflecting upon various aspects that may give you more or different power than other racialized groups may help you to understand how your work experiences may be different. Think about how that may differentiate you from your BIPOC colleagues and what each of you brings to your workplace because of these differences Some concepts to consider may be: 

    • Being a member of a so-called model minority. This is a myth that portrays Asians as a polite, law-abiding group who have achieved a higher level of success through some combination of innate talent, working harder, not complaining, and immigrant striving. It is harmful. It ignores the diversity of Asian cultures; posits Asians as perpetual foreigners; erases the racism, both historical and current, faced by them; and reinforces anti-Blackness by entrenching race-based differences between different racialized minorities. In the workplace it also serves as another way to keep different communities from coming together in solidarity.

    • Being a native English speaker. As most of us are likely working for English-language publications, being a person whose first language may not be English is something that can easily be held against you, no matter your proficiency.

    • Other aspects that may make give you certain power or privilege can be belonging to a particular economic class, religion, or sexual identity. 

  • Consider how your communities have benefited from Black liberation movements.

  • Take ownership of studying and unpacking your own histories and biases. 

  • Strive not to flatten or diminish the histories or experiences with racism of other groups. 

  • Consider how your place of work reflects white privilege and power.

  • Is privilege and opportunity viewed as a scarce resource where there are winners and losers? Who are the losers? Who are the winners? What ways of knowing and behaving are accepted and encouraged? And what is excluded and lost in this exclusion? 

  • Seek to understand and involve others--do not take on battles for others without consultation or being asked to do so.

  • What would happen if white centeredness was moved to the periphery?

  • Do your workplace colleagues believe in and trust in the agency of BIPOC members?

Elevate Commitment and Accountability

All of this requires a lot of work and energy. Feeling overwhelmed by this is normal. Like most large projects breaking things down into smaller components may help. Also do not expect solidarity to happen effortlessly and quickly. Part of this work involves being reflective and curious. Because trust, loyalty, and mutual concern are crucial, approaching bridge building with authenticity may help. You will likely encounter BIPOC colleagues who are not comfortable with or are resistant to conversations around race. Forcing someone into being your ally against racism is not likely to be the most successful strategy. Stepping back and building a relationship with humility may be a better approach. With time and comfort, asking colleagues questions about when they first become aware of their race, how their identity has affected their life experiences and world view, or how their identity has affected their experiences at work may be ways to begin a conversation. But do note that there is an incremental nature to building solidarity so don't expect quick wins and do be mindful of your own self-care as you build bridges.

In your day-to-day work:

  • In meetings and in staff encounters, pay attention to who is talking the most. Are certain voices privileged, encouraged, or given more space and time than others’? Is anyone talked over, dismissed, ignored?

  • If BIPOC voices are lost/ignored, are you able to amplify these voices by reiterating what was said by your colleagues and using their name, so they also receive credit? This approach used by women members of the Obama administration is one that can be replicated. 

  • Do you actively listen when other BIPOC colleagues speak?

  • How do you engage and support BIPOC colleagues when at work?

  • Are there opportunities for you to promote other BIPOC colleagues' work and/or amplify their needs? 

  • Have you reached out to BIPOC colleagues in your field?

  • How do your BIPOC colleagues know you support them?

  • If racist incidents occur in your workplace, record them as best as you can. If you are a witness, please check in with the victim. 

  • Are there ways you can build trust, relationships, collaboration, or knowledge sharing with BIPOC colleagues?

  • How might you engage in more face-to-face meetings with other BIPOC colleagues?

  • Are there opportunities you have to incorporate the research and works of BIPOC colleagues into coursework, training, or supervision?

  • At large meetings and conferences, are you able to attend sessions where BIPOC colleagues are presenting?

  • Model and praise antiracist language and actions.

  • Seek mentorship from different racial or ethnic groups.

  • Provide mentorship within and outside your cultural community.

  • Would an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for BIPOC employees be something that could be useful in your workplace? ERGs create safe supportive spaces for employees of color. More information and a guide about ERGs are available from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. However, considering the small number of BIPOC staff in most scholarly communication workplaces, there simply may not be enough people to consider a local ERG. If that's the case, would it be possible to set something similar to an ERG through a parent organization or a professional organization? Luckily, because of the pandemic, meetings with folks from different time zones is now commonplace.

References

Blum, L. (2007). Three kinds of race-related solidarity. Journal of Social Philosophy, 38(1).

Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (2021). A Guide to Building Feminist Intersectional Solidarity. Ottawa: ON Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women. https://www.criaw-icref.ca/images/userfiles/files/IntFemSol(1).pdf

Li, A. (2021). Solidarity: The role of non-Black people of color in promoting racial equity. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 14(2), 549-553.

Miles, M. L., Buenrostro, P. M., Marshall, S. A., Adams, M., & McGee, E. O. (2019). Cultivating racial solidarity among mathematics education scholars of color to resist white supremacy. The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 10(2).

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