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Over the years, and through my work as an academic and a consultant to boards, I have cultivated a deeper understanding of race and racial identity. And I’ve done some work to help boards grapple with the importance of diversity and inclusion, as well as the need to bring an equity frame to the way that they are governing and leading their institutions. What I understand now but didn’t then, is that far too many nonprofit boards and nonprofit organizations are what some would call “White space” – dominated by White people, White norms, and White culture.
Of course, for most White people, this is invisible. It’s “normal.” They – or we – notice it only when it’s not there, because we have ventured into spaces that are not “White space.” Spaces that are multi-racial (or simply non-White) in ways that upend White-dominant culture and norms in a way that makes it noticeably different. And – of course – for many White people, this is an experience that they will never have. And so the myth of “White space” as unmarked, or “normal” continues.
And today, as I think about what I can do from where I sit, I feel moved to share some thoughts with my fellow White board chairs about how we can begin to make change.
From my perspective, it begins with self-reflection and learning. We have to do the personal work to begin to understand. There’s no one way to do that, but here are some things that have been helpful to me:
- Consider your place of privilege as a Board Chair as well as unearned privileges you enjoy as a result of your identity.
- Consider your own biases—conscious and unconscious—and confront them. One tool that I know many have found to be helpful is the Implicit Association Test, which is a Harvard-designed resource to help individuals uncover unknown biases within their own mind. (spoiler alert: we all have them)
- Read, read, read! There are so many excellent books, essays, and monographs. Some I have found really helpful include: White Fragility (Di Angelo, 2018); Biased (Eberhardt, 2019); Talking to Strangers (Gladwell, 2019); and Privilege, Power, and Difference (Johnson, 2018).
- Decide what you want to do and how you can change.
- Ask people you know well and trust to help you see yourself. Ideally, this would involve not simply other Whites. If you don’t know well and trust anyone except other White people, this alone tells you a great deal.
Read the full article about reflection for white board chairs by Cathy A. Trower at BoardSource.