The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery—which, while highly visible and in quick succession under especially horrendous circumstances, are just three in a long line of countless lynchings and killings of black and brown people by violent white supremacists (often from within the ranks of the police)—in juxtaposition with Amy Cooper (a white liberal) trying to weaponize the police to kill Christian Cooper, a black birdwatcher in New York’s Central Park, plus the fresh police brutality inflicted in the response to protests and demonstrations in cities all around the U.S., plus the disproportionate infection and death rate from COVID-19 among people of color, all has me reflecting on my whiteness, my white privilege, and whether my espoused values (diversity, inclusion, justice, etc.) are actually manifest and evident in the work I do in the world.
As someone involved in higher education (i.e., teaching and mentoring graduate students), evaluation, including evaluation capacity building (ECB) and research on evaluation (RoE), and so-called international development in Senegal, I’m in all sorts of spaces and places where on the surface I’m ‘doing good,’ to ‘make the world a better place,’ but the starkness of the suffering, injustice, and terror unleashed on black and brown people—among them students, colleagues, workshop participants, and community partners with whom I have the honor of interacting—each and every day in this country demands a response.
From my position of extreme privilege, I knew that ‘silence is violence.’ Prompted by an essay by Nylah Burton in The Independent (available here), I was reminded of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s scathing indictment of white moderate liberals in his ‘Letters from a Birmingham Jail:’
“Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
This reminded me of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s point:
“… there’s no such thing as being ‘not racist.’ We are either being racist or antiracist. And in order to be antiracist, we must, first and foremost, be willing to admit the times we are being racist.”
Which had me thinking: I am that white moderate that MLK so rightly despised. Where’s my anti-racist work? I can espouse values of equity and inclusion but where’s my praxis. If I can say this I can also ask my fellow white people, where is yours? This is not white guilt, just awareness and responsibility.
Reflecting further on my beloved field of #evaluation, I wondered what am I doing to challenge the reality of #EvalSoWhite (the topic of a recent Eval Central UnWebinar with Dr. Vidhya Shanker)? This, along with another UnWebinar with Jara Dean-Coffey on being more of her true self in her work and using her power to speak truth, made me stop and ask, What am I doing to live out, promote, and advocate for #EquitableEval?
I have been trying to learn, and will hopefully continue to learn, thanks in large part to the guidance, patience, and generosity of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) who, through their (usually unpaid) labor, teach white folks like me how to do better. This all prompted a twitter thread, when Jara wrote “Looking forward to your answers – note there is not a singular response.” My tentative response …
Here’s what I am trying to and will increasingly do. It is inadequate, incomplete, and probably wrong in some ways:
- Educate other white people in #eval or other contexts about racism, white privilege, etc. by talking to them and sharing reading material. Sadly, this means I should post on EvalTalk in reply to the periodic older white male snowflake posts, which arrive with disturbing frequency
- Educate myself, dry my own #WhiteTears, when racist things happen, so I don’t add to the emotional burden of BIPOC already suffering from the situation
- Speak up in all white rooms and anywhere to demand substantial BIPOC representation. Substantial = equal, fair pay; decision-making power
- Speak up quickly and clearly in any #eval, academic, or other context where I witness microaggression, overt racism, institutional racism, etc.
- Continue to recruit, fund, and mentor graduate students of color in #eval, using guidance on the nuance of how to do so well from @AyeshaBoyce and also @MiChicana4ever’s Collectors, Nightlights, and Allies article
- Mentor #YEEs from Senegal and other VOPEs serving the global community of young evaluators @EvalYouth
- Cite BIPOC, especially women, and add BIPOC, especially BIWOC to my syllabus
- Use editorial and conference organizing opportunities to promote and feature writing and presentations from BIPOC, especially women
- Find ways to implement the three @EquitableEval principles in my #eval, #ECB, and #RoE work
- Critically reflect on my own #WhitePrivilege and mistakes I’ve made so anti-racist values become more thoroughly part of my praxis and life
And lastly, provide direct financial and material support to BIPOC-led anti-racist causes (e.g., the bail-out fund for protestors in Minneapolis).
Thank you Jara, Vidhya, Leah, Andrea, Nicky, Geri, Dominica, and so many more for helping me learn. My learning journey will continue. Most recently, it continued when I was able to join Libby, Tiffany, and Deven with their Radical (Re)imagining (@RadReImagining) initiative, for a conversation on being more human and bringing our values into our work, here.
Note: Writing about what I am doing or am trying to do feels self-aggrandizing or self-serving. But one thing I’ve learned from these amazing BIPOC guides is that we white people need to start learning from each other, too! If we stay quiet out of guilt, shame, fear of saying the wrong thing, or fear of whatever else, I’m not helping anyone! We need to get over that. So that’s what I’m trying to do here.