As if out of nowhere, suddenly my neighborhood had speedbumps. Not one or two on super busy streets but a lot of speed bumps, including one at EVERY stop sign. It was excessive. There were four in one block. It was annoying. My Dad was pissed. So, without consulting anyone, my Dad hired a contractor to come in and jack-hammer out half the speed bumps he personally had to drive over. No more bumps at the stop signs – just like that.
This memory surfaced with a jolt as I described the slow-go of launching a nonprofit consulting firm grounded in anti-racism. We were having our regular meeting with our Accountability Council, and I was sharing two challenges. I called them Barriers.
The first, white people I know from the nonprofit sector telling me I’m “selling myself short” by NOT doing just nonprofit consulting. I called this issue, this thinking, a Barrier, (AKA Barrier #1).
The second, more important, included some conflicting advice from different members of the Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) community, who were not a part of our Accountability Council:
Some “call-in”my partner and I to do this work as they are tired of working with harmful white folks. Being a person of color doing the work of educating white people on racism is exhausting, draining, and at times, completely unsafe. On the other side, some individuals called us out since we cannot do this work while speaking from lived experience as women of color; something we think and talk about constantly. What they may not realize is this critical point in the work that we do is foundational to our why for the work; Barrier #2. True to form, sarahlloyd reminded me that even this was just a speed bump.
The unsurprising and clear response, “You don’t have barriers in your life. White people really don’t. What you have are speedbumps.” replied sarahlloyd, our Equity Calibrator, and the Principal Disruptor at Soul On Fire, LLC.
White people don’t experience barriers. We experience speedbumps.
Backing up a little, (because white people, often, really like to over-explain ourselves) the mission of my firm is to “fuel nonprofit transformation & excellence through trusting relationship & anti-racist diligence”. My experience thus far is that this mission is heard/read like this.
“fuel nonprofit transformation & excellence through trusting relationship &
When it’s heard like this, somehow the nonprofit part is erased. It’s almost as if our vision for Ampersand Community to connect the two (nonprofit excellence and anti-racist diligence) makes one piece really, really loud. Why is that?
Barrier #1 slows down our conversations with white folks in the nonprofit sector who still do not see the connection between their missions and the racist systems their missions are built upon, and uphold. Among those who are actively engaged in learning and growing in the work of inclusion and anti-racism, most still don’t realize that you simply cannot be mission-focused without anti-racist diligence. White folks, we must do better!
Barrier #2 is actually a welcome slow down. When two of the three Ampersand Community partners lack lived experience of racism and oppression, BIPOC folks challenge our place here and ask probing questions. This is totally fair, and I am glad to talk about it because white people centering themselves in anti-racism work comes at a cost to BIPOC folks, and when people hold me accountable to doing right in this work, I consider it a gift.
sarahlloyd, and the people on our Accountability Council, shared the gift of wisdom and correction in that moment. She is 100% right. We are facing a few speedbumps in getting off the ground. (Hello there, fear, pandemic, scarcity, social uprisings...just to name a few!) But, for us, these are not barriers.
My Dad didn’t hate children or feel he could drive as fast as he wanted on his own damn street. It wasn’t that. He simply thought it was ridiculous to have cars jolted unnecessarily, several times a day, when they were already slowing down as they approached the stop signs. I’m sure he also took issue with the process that the neighborhood group went through, certain that they missed a step in their decision making. Mostly though, he was just pissed about the bumps. So he had them removed! Just like that.
For me and Ampersand Community, this phenomenon of anti-racist being such a big, loud word that crowds out all of the other words in our mission is exactly why we NEED to do this work. The word is not physically bigger, but it does evoke big emotions for most people. It pushes the buttons to fear and defensiveness, almost instantly, and is the crux of our work. People, especially white people, must make anti-racism a regular part of conversation and learning. Anti-racism isn’t a bad word, racism is a HORRIBLE reality!
As a white woman with nearly all the access and privilege in the world, the word is not a barrier. I can simply jackhammer the heck out of it, and return to driving along smoothly without issue. My Dad had the financial means and zero fear of significant community backlash. I’m guessing he also knew enough about the neighborhood’s decision making process, since he had a seat at that table, too. For him, there was no real risk to meet his needs… When I decided to leave my challenging, but rewarding, dream job as an Executive Director for a nonprofit, people told me I was brave. Walking away was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life, but it wasn’t a huge risk. I wasn’t brave, I wasn’t facing any real danger.
I did think my heart was going to break, and I did have to put infinite faith and trust into other people to sustain something critical; something important; something I had nurtured and loved with my entire being. That part felt painful, but it really wasn’t a risk to my reputation, my livelihood (thanks to my partner and our access to generational wealth), or my life. My white privilege made the choice simpler, making leaving the nonprofit sector a simple speed bump on my journey, not a barrier. It created space to do hard things; necessary, life-giving, important, hard things. And to SLOW DOWN, because urgency only worsens the bumps. And to trust that a speed bump will not be the end of me or my journey, and it certainly won’t be the end of this work. So we keep driving, moving at the speed of trust, as we should; in life, in Ampersand Community, in being anti-racist.