No More Passes for Assimilation

We sometimes...maybe more often than we care to admit...make excuses for assimilationist (which as you will see below is still racist) behavior.

Let me explain. Ibram X. Kendi provides a (not THE, but A) deeply contextual definition and explanation of what it is to be antiracist in both Stamped... and How to Be an Antiracist. In the latter, he presents an extrapolation of what it means to be racist, specifying segregationist and assimilationist actions as types of racist. Here’s his textbook definitions (but you really have to read the book and talk it through with people to get into it):

racist: one who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea

segregationist: one who is expressing the racist idea that a permanently inferior racial group can never be developed and is supporting policy that segregates away that group

assimilationist: one who is expressing the racist idea that a racial group is culturally or behaviorally inferior and is supporting cultural or behavioral enrichment programs to develop that racial group.

antiracist: one who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea AND one who is expressing the idea that racial groups are equals and none needs developing, and is supporting policy that reduces racial inequity

Now back to my point about assimilation allowances.

I had a great discussion in one of my team coaching sessions the other day. We were discussing whether or not Google’s corporate mission (to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful) was antiracist or... We also got into conversation about whether Google needs to/should have an antiracist mission and foundation.

Now, I have had this convo with other teams, some of whom had very strong opinions that yes Google should indeed have an antiracist mission and foundation. I hadn’t really stopped to think about it before because the purpose of the activity is to get the people talking about it and apply that fervor to their own foundations. But after this more recent conversation, and during a long warm shower where my thoughts roamed from our water bill to antiracism at Google, it turns out I do have a strong opinion about Google's corporate mission being antiracist.

First, some more context to that conversation I had with a team the other day. We talked about how words like universal are actualized as Western and white. And how there are clearly marginalized populations of the globe left out by the words in the statement. One person questioned, is Google doing all it can to ensure things are truly universally accessible? And, that even if they are working to do so, they clearly started with a particular constituency in mind, clearly demonstrating they aren't antiracist.

We also talked about Google’s scope and that perhaps Google wouldn’t be Google and have such a far reach (though still not universal) if it was explicitly antiracist. We also talked about how the mission statement isn’t the end all be all but what about Google‘a actions? I mentioned that I have friends, one of my besties, that works at Google and from what I hear, they, like all orgs, have work to do around being antiracist. We didn’t really land on a particular stance but the conversation was informative and thought provoking.

So, back to my shower moment. I started to think that maybe we--I---let Google off the hook by allowing the conversation to move on with Google being seen as assimilationist at best and thinking they wouldn’t be Google if they were explicitly antiracist. It's basically saying, in order to be a global billion dollar company you can’t be antiracist. But why didn’t we say, one shouldn’t be a global billion-dollar company so that they can instead be antiracist?

Shouldn't we push back more often and encourage assimilationists and assimilationist thinking to take the harder, less profitable route and do what’s on the side of justice?

How many times have you let something like that slide for any number of reasons? These moments of unintended permission to be complacent and therefore not antiracist. How effective are you at recognizing these moments? How often do you talk back to them? My good friend and brother Dr. Winston Benjamin recently shared a post that I think sums this up:

We (collectively, the U.S. and the world) need more practice engaging with the rhetoric and pedagogy of freedom and liberation. In other words, we ain't got enough skin in the game at this point.

Ive said this before and I will keep standing on my soapbox about it: we👏🏿are👏🏿working👏🏿to👏🏿undo👏🏿centuries👏🏿of👏🏿(internalized) oppression👏🏿. Years of policy, court case after court case, beliefs, laws, intentionally constructed systems with racist leadership. We can’t move forward if we don’t pause long enough to understand where we are and where we‘ve been. There is urgency because truly lives are at stake. But There’s no race or finish line or competition. It's ongoing. Because even when we reach liberation, we are going to have to work and learn and undo to keep it a reality.


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