My journey to understand systemic racism began three years ago when I took a Courageous Conversations TM training sponsored by Leadership Austin and the City of Austin. I admit to being apprehensive about spending two full days in a large room with people I didn’t know, taking a course I was certain I needed but questioned how much.
As a woman I have experienced discrimination in pay and position or felt the heat of inappropriate stares or comments. But nothing prepared me for the personal reckoning after hearing my fellow participants who identified as BIPOC talk about everyday situations that left them feeling disrespected and discriminated. Imagine someone second-guessing your choice of clothing or tone of voice, or worse, denying your loan or charging you more for it.
During one exercise we rated our life experiences with such things as being placed in grade-level classes and not AP, access to a downpayment on a house, finding our likeness in movies and books, and many more every-day situations that didn’t make me blink. Based on our scores, we took our spots around the room. My peers with black and brown skin were positioned directly opposite. Their answers to those questions reflect a constant set of challenges while my answers reflect the ease with which I move through life. That’s when it struck me, white privilege is real.
That began for me one of the most painful and fulfilling revelations in my life. As a mother raising a daughter with a conscience, but also as a consultant to nonprofits that serve at-risk populations, I need to be more educated about the challenges people of color experience. I will never walk in their shoes, but I have a responsibility to respond to incidence of racism, to identify bias when I see it, and to help change the culture where I live, work and worship.
Since that first training, I continue to read, listen, and take classes on DEI. I am not afraid to step into awkward situations with people who don’t look like me and who will share their perspectives. My pledge is to help clients break down those systems of injustice and build equity into everything they do. The work never stops.