This is a guest post written by Geno Olison. For more about Geno check out his bio below this post. While this post provides excellent, practical guidance about the work of becoming an anti-racist, the work is applicable to any organization where diversity, equality and/or inclusion is an aspirational value.
I’m pleased to see lots of people are awakening to a strong sense of responsibility to be active antiracists and to help right the wrongs that are the fruit of centuries of racism and inequality.
While some of this work will be done in the public square, most of it will be done within the small spheres where we all have voice and influence.
Some of the most lasting change will come as a result of thousands of people choosing to function as a kind of “speed bump” in the rooms they sit in. Speed bumps bring a level of alertness needed to reduce speed in certain areas.
I’ve learned that there is a certain speed that power and homogeneity enjoy. Homogeneous rooms can be unwelcoming and unaccustomed to opposing viewpoints and to considering the folks that are underrepresented and fall outside of the natural in-group.
This is especially true when it comes to racism, cultural sensitivity and inclusivity. In homogeneous rooms, decisions are made relatively quickly and consensus can come easily. That is, until a speed bump enters the space.
A speed bump may feel moved to represent their own interests or they may speak up on behalf of those whose voices are absent or underrepresented at the table of decision. A speed bump might say things like:
“What about x?”
“Have we considered how this decision will land on y?”
“Have we heard from z on this yet?
“That totally ignores certain generations.”
“There are no people of color in this ad.”
“We haven’t addressed this important cultural moment and this messaging feels tone deaf.”
THIS IS HARD, AWKWARD WORK
These are the kinds of things that speed bumps bring up around tables of power and decision. THIS IS HARD, AWKWARD WORK. It’s exhausting because it feels like you’re always causing trouble. And you are. But it’s GOOD TROUBLE.
Speed bumps can often be disliked or labeled as difficult. Doing this work can be socially and professionally costly and committing to this can be hard. Nobody likes speed bumps…unless they live on the street that people keep speeding through.
Unfortunately, those who are adversely impacted are rarely represented well at the tables where important decisions are made. To the powerless and underrepresented, speed bumps are a necessary disruption.
Speed bumps SLOW THINGS DOWN.
Speed bumps SLOW THINGS DOWN. They make us remember where they are located and force us to budget for their existence. When driving, I remember where all the speed bumps are in my neighborhood, and I prepare to encounter them as I approach.
In the same way, when you start to speak up, people come to the table having anticipated the speed bump’s questions and objections. They know you’re going to ask about how this new idea or decision impacts people of color and other underrepresented groups. They know that you aren’t a safe place to be openly racist or insensitive. This might cause them to think about groups and implications of words and decisions that would have never occurred to them before. They are more likely to check themselves because they know where the speed bumps are and they are forced to slow down. Before long, either speed is reduced or you get kicked out of the room. Either one is ok.
As a speed bump, you have the opportunity to raise the level of alertness. You awaken others to the speed at which things are flowing and how that speed might be adversely impacting certain groups. This is noble work.
Where might you be called to be a speed bump in this important and historic moment? At work? In the classroom? In the boardroom? In your denomination or local church? In your circle of friends? At the dinner table?
BLESSED ARE THE SPEED BUMPS!
This is a guest post written by Geno Olison. Geno is the pastor of South Suburban Vineyard Church in Flossmoor, IL (a south suburb of Chicago).