by Cherie Hill
Talking about race is not easy, especially in the workplace. The subject is controversial and layered with intense emotions, fear, and discomfort; but for organizations serving multicultural communities, discussing race is essential to cultivating equity and moving social justice forward. For those of us who work with marginalized communities, enhancing awareness around systematic oppression, power, and privilege, enables us to better serve our community. At Luna Dance Institute (LDI) we realize that addressing equity is imperative to ensuring all children have access to developing self-awareness and a deep understanding of culture and expression through dance. We strive to provide a creative and culturally relevant curriculum that helps students see their value and potential. We also participate in training around race and equity and create space for discourse to emerge. In this blog post, I will describe how at LDI talking race and equity have recently developed, and offer a few tips to get you and your organization started.
1) Hire a professional
Race and equity are complex. There is a great deal to comprehend, internally and externally. When looking to expand your organization’s knowledge of race and equity, I suggest hiring a consultant. Consultants know more than you and can provide tools to teach staff about history in relation to equity. Organizations such as the World Trust, and the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond research race and the social construct’s impacts. They offer workshops and consultants to help companies better understand how race plays out on a personal and systematic level. Attempting to unpack race with colleagues can feel scary and overwhelming, but an expert offers a safety net to do it adequately.
Luna faculty worked with a dancer, writer, and equity analyst, Tammy Johnson for two years. Tammy’s training and tools helped staff discover personal and organizational biases and provided support for identifying areas for improvement. Over time, teaching artists began to share personal information regarding their identity and racialized experiences, and I witnessed staff’s commitment to the organization’s mission grow deeper. The organization’s perspectives around equity gained vigor, and our excitement for this process carried over to creating more opportunities for the public to join us. We now host a free panel on equity in dance. The next one occurs this February 23rd.
2). Know and define equity-related terms
The term equity carries many definitions. When discussing equity it is essential that everyone is aware of the terms and their meanings. There are numerous sites that provide definitions for equity terms. The one used at Luna is similar to those adopted by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 2017 Equity Fellows Cohort and the Grantmakers in the Arts. Reviewing definitions used in equity language is a great starting point for participating in conversations around race. If staff shows discomfort around certain terms or dialogue altogether, addressing the discomfort is one way to move equity forward because personal experience is a powerful tool to engage in substantial conversation.
When looking at terms, your group may decide to elaborate on an already defined term or to develop a definition that feels closer to the organization’s mission. While leading a peer discussion on inclusion and its meaning at a recent Berkeley Cultural Trust meeting, a white female voiced concern. She felt that the word inclusion implies a sense of others and privilege. For her to strive to include “others” into “her” organization felt lopsided. This perspective proved useful for our group to develop a group-specific definition of inclusion. We are now working on a meaning that addresses inherent privilege and shared power and leadership.
3) Dedicate time and space for equity conversations
Embedding race and equity is a long, emotional and arduous process that will only end when racism and discrimination are no longer key players within systematic oppression. Building a true anti-racist and multicultural organization takes dedicated time and an openness to engage in critical conversations and evaluations that address progress. Creating space for staff to check in and develop the work is essential, as well as generous support from executive leadership.
Conversations around equity at LDI occur at staff meetings, equity meetings, and in daily conversations. Luna faculty attend conferences and presentations on equity, present about dance and equity, and participate in equity training offered in the community. Staff is now at a place where topics around equity and race organically emerge, and including race in conversations around equity is critical. I gave a sigh of relief when our equity consultant explained that for her the conversation is always race and ___.
In conclusion, knowing our history, and the reasons why oppressed marginalized groups are targets for systematic racism is pertinent to enabling systematic change. It is not enough for an organization to say they believe in equity. Staff must be aware of its meaning and repercussions, and be willing to talk about it. To transform our communities, understanding equity must be fostered, nourished, and allowed to emerge into the organization’s culture. To become an anti-racist multicultural organization, equity must be embedded into practice.
Bio: Cherie Hill is of African, Caribbean, English, & Indigenous descent. She is the Director of Community and Culture at Luna Dance Institute and Artistic Director of Cherie Hill IrieDance. Cherie has presented on dance, race, and equity at the National Dance Education Organization and Alameda County Office of Education conferences. She is Chair of the Berkeley Cultural Trust Equity and Inclusion Committee, President-Elect of the CA Dance Education Association, and an alumnus of the National Guild for Community Arts Education Leadership Institute.