These past 18 months have provided me with the opportunity to learn several important life lessons. Many of these have been around the issues of systemic racism. I deepened my understanding of how the narratives I was raised on were false and did not paint a true picture of the foundations of this country and how white people have leveraged institutional racism and white supremacy policies to retain and grow their power.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, I immersed myself in reading books like How to Be an Anti-Racist, The Color of Law, and I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. At the same time, I was learning about the pain and anguish of what it is like to be Black in America through my colleagues at LINC. The messages they shared about their experiences were excruciating and really woke me up to their pain.
At LINC, we are deeply invested in our values, including trust and equity, and we spend time creating safe spaces to grow and learn. Recently, I volunteered to join LINC’s Equity Planning and Communications Committee as the next stage in our ongoing equity work. Part of our work is to redraft LINC’s statement on racial equity, one in which we affirm our strong focus on racial equity to support the most marginalized students. After a lengthy discussion of what we wanted to include, based on our fundamental belief in targeted universalism, to lift up every student, a question was posed about who wanted to take the first stab at creating the draft statement. I felt hesitant, uncomfortable, and believed that as a white woman it was not my place to write our racial equity statement. It was then when a colleague, who is a Black woman, pushed me out of my comfort zone and suggested that I take the first stab at it. I felt my heart race and my insides get knotted up in anxiety. There's this uncomfortable space where white people feel confused about when to speak up for fear of not allowing voices from people of color. But then she said, “People of color don’t have the playbook on this work,” and I realized that often as white people engaged in equity work, we sit on the sidelines and expect our colleagues of color to lead us. She also said, “equity is not a spectator sport,” which inspired the title of this piece. At that moment, I realized how faulty that paradigm is and that we all need to engage in equity work and take risks to build a more equitable educational system and society where every person can flourish and have the support and opportunities to reach their full potential.
So, several days later, I sat down and researched the concept of targeted universalism. This approach makes so much sense:
Targeted universalism means setting universal goals pursued by targeted processes to achieve those goals. Within a targeted universalism framework, universal goals are established for all groups concerned. The strategies developed to achieve those goals are targeted, based upon how different groups are situated within structures, culture, and across geographies to obtain the universal goal. Targeted universalism is goal-oriented, and the processes are directed in service of the explicit, universal goal.
Then I set out to draft our updated LINC Racial Equity statement. It was a challenge, I felt scared to mess up, but I am so glad I was pushed to grow and learn from this experience. With some reluctance, I shared my draft. And to my relief, it was greeted with support and enthusiasm as well as constructive feedback. We are working on our final draft as a committee now, and I think we all learned how to break unhelpful norms and push each other as part of this process. It was a truly generative LINC experience and my understanding of why we must prioritize racial equity grew exponentially. I look forward to unveiling our new statement for you soon. I encourage all of you to get off the sidelines in your own organization or school’s equity work and take a risk. As white people, we need to be in this work side by side with our colleagues of color to make the change we all strive for.