Unbecoming & reimagining: Leaning into values and fears

This blog post has been a long time coming. I have struggled with voicing my thoughts for a couple of years. I am embarrassed that it took a national crisis and more murders of people of color like Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd for me to lean into the fear and vulnerability to write. I am ashamed that I became afraid to use my voice publicly for justice and equity for fear of losing potential clients when people are losing their lives. I recognize that these fears, while real for me, are a privilege. This guilt, shame, and embarrassment are also privileges — white privilege. I have privilege simply because of the color of my skin, and I need to intentionally and consistently use that privilege to enact change.

I’ve known all of these things. I’m a social worker and evaluator. I chose this path because I want to help organizations use data to dismantle oppressive systems and build more equitable and just programs and communities. And still, I’ve become complacent with my public commitment to my values of justice and equity. As the stakes have gotten higher, I have gotten quieter. Not in my private circles, but certainly in my professional and public ones. I fear that my clients may not know my values. That is disheartening. That is shameful. That is unacceptable.

There’s a family story about how my parents didn’t send me to a certain elementary school for first grade because they knew that I would call nonsense on the motivational posters on the walls. You know the ones I’m talking about—respect, integrity, ethics, community. All wonderful concepts that are easier to say than to actually embody. I fear that I’ve become one of those motivational posters.

I have spent my career making calculated decisions to appear nonpartisan on Twitter and my website so that I can continue to operate in the policy evaluation space. I have hidden my values publicly so that clients will continue to hire me. For the last six years, I have been living in fear that speaking out about what I believe in will ruin my evaluation career before I feel like it has launched. That fear is a privilege. That fear stops now.

In doing so, I have erased the parts of me that make me who I am—an assertive, passionate, tenacious leader and advocate for justice. To quiet that voice is complacency. I’ve been complicit in injustice and the perpetuation of our centuries-old racist and inequitable systems. By trying to appear nonpartisan, I have silenced my voice. By not sharing the work of other advocates, especially colleagues of color, I have also silenced the voices of those working to advance equity and justice. By not diversifying the social media accounts, podcasts, authors, and artists I follow, I continue to live in an insular world.

My decision to appear nonpartisan online has made me an actor in perpetuating the problem. The issues that I care about—homelessness, healthcare, racial justice—and the values that I hold should not be viewed as partisan. They are human rights, social justice, and equity issues. If a potential client doesn’t want to hire me because of my commitment to these issues then they are on the wrong side of history and social justice.

Saying I support equity and justice while not actively taking steps to better educate myself and work towards them in every aspect of my life makes me just like those motivational posters.

I can’t go backwards. I can only commit to moving forward and doing better. I am grateful for evaluation colleagues who share their experiences, learnings, and resources for me to do better. I look forward to having more difficult conversations and realizations about how I have actively and passively perpetuated injustice. I also recognize that this is not my (or any other white persons) moment or my movement. This is the time to listen and learn to communities and colleagues of color, and then use those learnings to enact change. 

Intentionally and sustainably (re)committing to racial equity—rather than engaging in optical allyship and performative posting—will look different for everyone. Right now what this commitment looks like for me is:

  • Recognizing my privilege and not taking advantage of it
  • Reading more about the history of oppression and white supremacy
  • Engaging in conversation about racial equity with white friends, family members, and colleagues
  • Diversifying the social media accounts I follow
  • Amplifying the voices of people of color
  • Donating money to support communities of color
  • Diversifying speaking panels, conference programs, leadership teams, and boards of directors
  • Advocating for policy change
  • Challenging racist language used in conversations, meetings, and materials
  • Disaggregating data in my evaluation work and data visualizations

I commit to leaning into and embodying my values of equity, ethics, authenticity, transparency, honesty, and action. I commit to being and doing better.

My next step? Reading How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. 

What steps are you taking?

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