October 30, 2019
“How will we ally ourselves with other communities of color? What is our role in a racial narrative that has typically remained restricted to Black and White?” — Katerina Jeng and Krystie Yen, on the increased representation of Asian Americans in U.S. politics.
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Women often find themselves taking on office housework—tasks like planning events and trips, taking meeting notes, and even cleaning up the office. And when women don’t act as expected, they can be labeled as “difficult.”
However, getting bogged down with menial tasks interrupts the work women are hired to do, and doesn’t help them get ahead. One woman explains, “We may look at that as an entryway...I’m being a team player...but, overall, there’s no value to that.” Being relegated to office housework is also a big reason why women leave companies.
Some women are pushing back on this expectation. (Take, for instance, the woman who responded, “Are your hands broken?” when asked by her male colleague to take notes). But rather than asking women to solve the problem themselves, we can look to their male colleagues and those in the upper ranks, who have the power to create long-term solutions.
To start combating sexist expectations about office housework, consultant Keith Ferrazzi suggests designating one day a week to “channel your inner anthropologist.” You can do so by tracking the ways women in your organization are treated differently than their male colleagues.
Dr. Gregg Suzanne Ferguson asked a group of African American teachers what it’s like to work in schools named after Confederate leaders, like Stonewall Jackson Middle School. The teachers said they see the names as indicative of white supremacy and white privilege. They have to manage the mental and emotional effects of the environment the names create. Dr. Ferguson points out that back in 1894, the United Daughters of the Confederacy ran a campaign to name the schools this way. She characterizes the names as “white supremacy disguised as nostalgia.”
Public use and display of names like Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee are environmental microaggressions. People of color working and learning in these environments relive histories and experiences of racism. To get an idea of what that feels like, check out Carlos Basabe’s moving depiction.
If you work in a building named after a racist figure, advocate to change its name. If you get pushback because of the cost, know that some schools opt to rebrand existing names. For example, Lee Elementary School is now named after philanthropist Adelaide Lee. Advocates are also pushing for Stonewall Jackson Middle School to become Social Justice Middle School. Students in schools that changed their names report having “a priceless boost in pride.”
Across the country, most elected prosecutors are white and male. However, a new study shows that the number of women of color in prosecutorial positions has increased by 50 percent since 2015. And while prosecutors often run unopposed, when they are opposed, “women of all races and men of color are more likely to win.” According to the report, the challenge is to diversify prosecutorial positions in predominantly of-color areas, like California.
As Premal Dharia, a criminal justice fellow at the Reflective Democracy Campaign, says, “Those who are most vulnerable to prosecutorial bias and misconduct are also the most under-represented in prosecutors’ offices. We cannot expect the policy changes we need to address race and gender bias in the criminal system to come from those who guard the white male status quo.”
Dharia’s quote highlights the crux of the argument for diverse representation in all fields. Decision makers must have intimate knowledge of the lived realities of marginalized communities to effect meaningful change and discourage bias.
In your organization, do key decision makers reflect the racial, ethnic, gender, and class makeup of employees and/or students? If not, consider ways you can propel lesser-heard voices to positions of power. For example, if a student of color wants to run for class president but lacks confidence, support her by outlining her strengths. And if your LGBTQ+ coworker deserves recognition for their hard work, emphasize their contributions in your next meeting.