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How to become an anti-racist leader

In June, Torch co-founders Cameron Yarbrough and Keegan Walden published Torch’s statement on systemic racism in an open letter. I supported Cameron and Keegan in crafting this statement and helping them understand how to deepen their commitment to anti-racism work. 

On July 15th, 2020 one of the next steps in Torch’s commitment to anti-racism work took place as they launched a public 4-week course on Becoming An Anti-Racist Leader: Strategies and Action Steps for a More Inclusive Workplace.

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Written by Dr. A Breeze Harper

My course co-teacher and co-founder of Torch, Dr. Keegan Walden were excited to bring this course to a broad audience again on August 26, due to the overwhelmingly positive response to our first offering. The course included strategies on how to demonstrate anti-racism within an environment that is focused on growth mindset and humility. We focused on delivering this course without creating cancel culture, but instead welcoming the understanding that we’re all on a spectrum in understanding what anti-racism is, how it operates, and how we want to engage with this concept as a leader. 

Personally, I’ve been doing diversity, equity, and inclusion work for about 15 years. I have a master’s in educational technologies from Harvard, focusing on race and gender equity in cyberspace. Additionally I have a PhD from UC Davis, focusing on cultural geography and critical studies of race. I’ve spent time researching how, in the development of the United States over the past 400+ years, the phenomenon of systemic racism continues and significantly impacts the workplace. 

The Course: Becoming an Anti-Racist Leader

What’s exciting about this course, is that it’s held in an environment where we recognize that most people are going to be at the beginning level of understanding what it means to even be an anti-racist. The idea of anti-racism is a pretty new concept. A lot of people that I’ve spoken with who are my clients or my students say, “I’m not racist. I’m a non-racist.” 

However, that’s actually different from being an anti-racist. A non-racist is passive. It’s maybe recognizing that there is a problem with racial injustice or lack of racial inclusion, but without speaking out or taking action. Being hush-hush actually isn’t neutral; it works to uphold the systems as they are.

On the other hand, anti-racism is about action. It’s understanding that there are problems of racial injustice and inequities in your workplace and you must actively work to create a more equitable and inclusive space. 

While the term anti-racism is gaining more traction today through renewed interest in books like Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Anti Racist and other bestsellers like Me And White Supremacy, this course is not a book club or a repeat of these books but it is complementary to them. 

The guiding questions we’ll be exploring over our four-week course are: 

  1. What does it mean to be non-racist vs. anti-racist?
  2. How is ‘equity’ (vs. equality) a better model for antiracism?
  3. How do race-neutral or non-racist frameworks promote exclusion?
  4. How do I begin integrating anti-racism practices into my professional life?
  5. What are a few first steps for beginners?
  6. How can I continue the work of anti- racism beyond “first steps?”
  7. How will I know if I am succeeding in this work?

Learning example: Writing anti-racist job descriptions 

What this course will teach you is how to begin to understand the policies, practices, and structures that create a racially exclusive environment in the workplace so you can create a more inclusive environment. 

One example of this starts at the very beginning of a workplace relationship – writing job descriptions for recruiting.

Many of my clients will give my team a job description to review. After a first pass, we’ll recognize that there are particular words that are more exclusionary. In one instance, a client was looking to use the phrase “influential networks” as part of the candidate requirements.

Usually, it’s not the case that in historically marginalized communities in terms of race and ethnicity that you’re going to find a high number of people with these conventional influential connections. So we then discuss if there is a way to reframe this so that it’s not off putting to those historically marginalized, Black, Indigenous and People of Color, who may not have those types of connections, but still have expertise. 

Examples like this demonstrate that you may not even recognize certain words and phrases that can be exclusionary. It isn’t that you or the client in this example don’t have good intentions about wanting to have a diverse pool of candidates. They just don’t have the tools yet to frame a job description that will garner a more diverse candidate pool. 

When you become more literate in what it means to be anti-racist and you start reading or creating things like job descriptions, you’ll become more aware of the political, economic, and social factors that have suppressed or denied resources and privileges for certain racial groups. 

In taking this further, it’s not just about creating a way to recruit, but then how do you create policies, practices, and strategies to retain these particular diverse candidates? 

Take the next step in becoming an anti-racist leader

Anti-racism has to be something that everyone takes on within an organization. It’s not one thing that’s relegated to human resources – it’s a shared responsibility. How it shows up across departments and leaders may differ, but there is a role for everyone. 

Dr. Walden and I are here to help you inspire anti-racism as a leader in a way that’s not cancel culture, with the understanding that most of us are at a beginning level in literacy around what we mean by anti-racism, in creating an inclusive environment. As one of our first course participants said, “This is the best structured and most informative anti-racism training I’ve done.” 

This course, for leaders at every level of the organization, included four, one hour live sessions and that leveraged Torch’s platform for contain additional material to support the time in between classes and provide the ability to communicate with other course participants.   

Together we can be on the more just side of history as we enter this period of anti-racism and how to integrate it as a professional in the workplace.


Missed the live version of Becoming an Anti-Racist Leader?

Sign up for our virtual, self-paced course today.

Help your teams incorporate anti-racism as a guiding principle in your leadership and organization.