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Equity Challenge: It 's been a challenge, all right!
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VIEWPOINT: EQUITY CHALLENGE

Equity Challenge: It 's been a challenge, all right!

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I finished the 21-day Equity Challenge and, I agree, it was a challenge. For several reasons.

First, there was a lot of material to process and think through, with emphasis on "think."

Second, I felt internal pushback against some of the presentations, particularly those on being an "ally" and "asset framing" — two terms introduced in the last week that were new to me.

Third, while I have finished all the readings and podcasts, the real challenge begins now. What am I, as a concerned Quad-Citizen going to do with this knowledge, this enlightenment, to affect change for the better?

Because if I/we don't, we will continue to live in a divided, inequitable society with disparities in education, income and health, and that does not promote the common good.

So, about those terms.

Being an "ally"

If we want to get more diversity within our companies, we're going to have to work at it, the speakers and authors said. And we're going to have to do it not because it is the thing to do, or to check a box, but because we really believe that we are missing out by not having the input of people who look and think differently from ourselves.

And that will take admitting that "we" don't know it all. That "we" can learn from people who we regard, consciously or unconsciously, as "under-privileged." (See how this requires hard mental work?)

For starters, it would be good to have Black people on a company's board. And not just one but perhaps three.

This is where an "ally" comes in. Being an ally means "someone who makes the commitment and effort to recognize their privilege (based on gender, class, race, sexual identify) and work in solidarity with oppressed groups in the struggle for justice. 

"Allies understand that it's in their own interest to end all forms of oppression even those from which they may benefit in concrete ways."

It's that last part that made me swallow hard. Give up my benefits of privilege? Ouch!  

To be a good ally, one must commit to day-in and day-out work and understand that the role is a journey, an evolution, not a destination. It is "a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people," Sheree Atcheson wrote in Forbes magazine.

One of the Challenge articles was titled: "What people of color want from white allies":

  • "Respect us"
  • "Find out about us"
  • "Don't take over"
  • "Provide information"
  • "Don't take it personally"
  • "Teach your children about racism"
  • "Speak up"
  • "Listen to us"
  • "Don't assume you know what's best for me"
  • "Talk to other white people"
  • "Interrupt jokes and comments"
  • "Don't ask me to speak for my people"

The Challenge suggested that if you want to agitate for change, you should recruit a couple of other like-minded people and work on agitation together rather than trying to go it alone.

And get guidance. The Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce offers an extensive Diversity, Equity and Inclusion "tool kit," for example.

"Asset framing"

This was introduced by Trabian Shorters, a New York Times best-selling author. His message is this: In general, philanthropy — and by this I understand him to mean organizations dedicated to betterment such as United Way — tends to define people by their deficits, such as "at risk," or "under-privileged."

This, he argues, is "deficit framing" because it focuses on what's wrong, not on what's right. And this, he says, "creates powerful, lasting, negative associations that make engagement and equity harder to achieve.

It is "defining people by their challenges, ignoring their aspirations or contributions, then remediating them to be less burdensome on society," he states.

No, that is not the intention. But that is the result.

Instead, Shorters created the term "asset-framing," or "defining people by their aspirations and contributions before acknowledging their challenges and investing in them for their continued benefit to society."

A Black teen, for example, doesn't go around thinking of himself as "at-risk," or "low-income," he thinks of himself as someone who wants to "get through and graduate high school."

So if you are a philanthropist, you should say you are "helping students who are striving for an education to overcome difficult environments and achieve their dreams'" rather than you are "helping at-risk youth in high crime neighborhoods to stay on track and avoid becoming negative statistics."

Here is where I felt myself pushing back.

Yes, I know words matter. 

But while newspaper reporting, I have received any number of news releases that, in my opinion, use mumbo-jumbo. My impulse is to say (as I was trained), "Let's cut the crap. What does this really mean? Oh! It means you are helping at-risk kids? Well that I understand."

Shorter's stance is that I'm wrong on this and that it is not enough to find a nicer name for "at-risk youth." He wants to get rid of negative framing all together.

In a video, he says that "if you haven't bothered to acknowledge" a person's aspirations before you define them in a deficit way, then you are making that person an object, a "thing" to be dealt with.

"You need to start by recognizing people have aspirations, people have value before you showed up. We all want the same thing. We all have a shared destiny."

He also is not a fan of "gap data." That is, data that show disparity in areas such as education, health and housing between groups.

Yet that is what United Way has done by compiling and making available statistics showing gaps between Black and white Quad-Citizens in those areas.

And I think that's good.

Shorter says this "reinforces that one group is inferior to another."

But I don't see it that way. I think the statistics are eye-opening. They need to be shared. They need to be addressed.

Shorter ends his video by pointing out that the millennial generation, those born between 1980 and 1996 (or so), "is a generation even bigger than the baby boomers, and they are the most diverse generation in the history of America, and in their watch the narrative is going to change."

"You," he said to his audience," are part of the last generation of Americans that will have a white majority."

If that doesn't make you sit up and pay attention, I don't know what will.

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