Why Should White Leaders Develop Antiracism Skills in Affinity Spaces?

image of a zoom meeting with 8 participants, all white, zooming from various home and office environments

Summer 2023 cohort of Think Again’s Antiracist Development Group

Think Again’s Antiracist Development for White Leaders is for executives, managers and other leaders who are committed to moving to the next level of personal and organizational equity work. This 8-week, small-group cohort program is a place for learning, reflection, peer support, and action, based in frameworks of intersectional social justice and challenging white supremacy culture. By addressing how we do our leadership work and confronting common patterns rooted in oppressive systems, we can strategically move organizational culture and practice toward alignment with antiracist values. 

The goals of the program include: 

  • Give white people in leadership positions opportunities for vulnerable reflection, outside their workplaces (where such vulnerability may not be possible or appropriate)
  • Introduce frameworks like white supremacy culture and implicit bias to help them make choices and adopt policies and practices aligned with antiracist values 
  • Support participants to practice noticing, naming, and transforming white fragility / privilege defense mechanisms
  • Provide space for participants to debrief and exchange peer coaching about antiracist work in their own organizations
  • Provide monthly drop-in space for ongoing peer support and accountability 
  • Ensure accessibility to a range of organizations via a sliding scale payment model

Why invest organizational resources into white leaders? Isn’t this the opposite of antiracism?

In addition to supporting the leadership of people of color, white people need to reflect on their experiences of whiteness and confront their position within systemic racism. This requires introspective reflection that can be messy and vulnerable, and that leaders usually cannot do within the everyday workplace – at least not  without consequences for them and/or those whom they supervise. This kind of learning is often best done with other white people, where we can learn from each other’s experiences – and from the published wisdom of leaders of color – while minimizing the harm we might do to colleagues of color in our messy learning processes.

Learning together in a group with people who share a particular identity is called an affinity space. Affinity spaces can be important for people of color, and for specific groups of people of color, too! 

All white people can benefit from affinity spaces focused on antiracism, and Think Again can facilitate such groups within an organization when that’s appropriate. But these don’t work as well for organizational leaders, who need to be cautious about how their participation might impact people they supervise. Yet it’s especially important for leaders to engage in this kind of learning, because their power as supervisors, decision-makers, and representatives of organizational expectations and culture give their actions disproportionate impact. Supporting people in leadership to recognize how organizational power magnifies the impact of their actions and to discern best practices to minimize harm and maximize antiracist approaches, is the backbone of this program. 

Participation in the Antiracist Development Group is most effective as one part of a multi-pronged organizational DEIJ approach that includes all-staff training in antiracist concepts and practice in multiple affinity and mixed spaces that meet the needs of all the different people of color as well as white people within the organization. It should not be the only antiracism work you fund – but it can be an impactful investment in your organization’s shift towards greater equity.

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