Ask Me Anything – Racial Equity Transcript

On November 28th, 2017 CommunityWise and members of the AROC Working Group hosted an Ask Me Anything live-chat on Facebook. Below is a transcript of the questions and responses.

Question 1
I have a question about representation. When asking a certain group of people or individuals to present, perform or speak on a panel, how can a person prevent tokenizing said group or person, when their intention is to create diverse representation?

Answer 1
What a great question to ask about diversity and representation. Our response is long! Not to be intimidated it’s chalked full of helpful information.

Lets start with a definition:

By definition, tokenism is the practice of making only a symbolic effort to include people who are from marginalized or underrepresented groups, like women, or people of colour, in order to give the appearance of equity without ensuring that people have the opportunity to be full and equal participants.

First of all, diverse panels are really important. There is almost no topic out there that can’t be spoken to from diverse perspectives. If we have trouble finding those perspectives, it’s important to examine how diverse our networks may actually be and, simply put, try harder to folks of diverse identities. There are always systemic challenges in doing this, but starting to acknowledge them is a key part of anti-racist organizational change.

Once you have diverse people on your panel, it’s important to make sure they are truly included: that they have equal and adequate airtime and are not spoken over by other panelists. Try to direct questions to them, as they may not automatically be included by the panel or the audience. The role of the moderator of a diverse panel is to manage all these tensions and deliberately counter-act them (i.e. interrupt when one panel member is taking up too much airtime; and ensuring panel members are paid equally for their participation).

For further information on how organizations can reflect on their relationship with racism, check out CommunityWise’s Anti-Racism Organizational Change (AROC) Resources, and Tools, and the Unlearning Channel Podcast. Specialized Anti-Racism training can also be requested through CommunityWise by emailing

Question 2
As a white person, is listening the only response when a person who is not white says that they don’t experience racism? Thanks for having this ama!

Answer 2
That’s a great question! It’s important that the point is not to convince them that they do experience racism, but to hear their perspectives, so listening is an important starting place. It’s also possible to ask what racism means to them, understanding that it can mean different things to different people. Direct acts of overt racial violence are certainly one form of racism a person can experience, but it’s not the only form, and approaching the conversation with curiosity and openness is important.

Also, gaining awareness about the impacts of racism can be a sensitive and sometimes hurtful process for people who experience it, and not every person in every situation is going to want to have that conversation. Please try to understand that while some people may be willing to talk about their own personal experiences of racism, no one is under an obligation to.

For further information on how organizations can reflect on their relationship with racism, check out CommunityWise’s Anti-Racism Organizational Change (AROC) Resources, and Tools, and the Unlearning Channel Podcast. Specialized Anti-Racism training can also be requested through CommunityWise by emailing

Question 3

One thing I struggle with is feeling like (and being told) I’m simultaneously “too brown” and “too white” at the same time, and it makes most social interactions difficult for me. It’s also difficult for me to provide a meaningful and succinct answer when I am asked about my identity. Any tips on how to reconcile this?

Answer 3
Thank you for this important question about boundaries and respect when sharing your own racial identity.
It is hard because in these one-on-one interactions you have so little control over how the other person will react, or choose to frame follow questions. It is unfair that you have to feel you need to justify your identity; and it is not your responsibility to affirm your identity beyond what you feel comfortable. To paraphrase Mel Vee, Poet & Unlearning Channel Co-Host , “When someone asks me about my racial identity, I just give them the answer I feel comfortable with. They should just accept the answer I give them, whatever I say with no other follow up questions.”
Question 4: I want to start talking about racial equity at my organization but…I don’t know where to start”
Answer 4:
It’s a hard topic to begin to navigate alone, in a non-profit where you may have not had intentional conversations about race before. Starting small can help you begin tackling this elephant of a topic.
1) Evidence. Identify the parts of the organization that are already committed to the notion of racial inclusion (i.e. mandate or a statement of principles). Reflect on how many folks from ethnically and racially diverse background are in leadership positions, and making decisions about the direction of the organization.
2) You must accept that achieving ethnic and racial equity at your non-profit is part of a learning process. Your organization is at a different place than other organizations and different issues may come up as you begin this learning process. You and your colleagues may make mistakes, and unearth conflict you were not prepared for. This is normal, important and healthy in the process of organizational change. This is where vulnerability comes in – do not expect perfection but do encourage bravery to ask tough questions.
3) Start Reading, Listening and Watching. Read the Anti-Racism Organizational Change Project Resources and Tools for Non-Profits. There are plenty of additional readings, videos and podcasts that are included in the AROC Resource and Tools Doc that can help you on your ethnic and racial equity learning journey. Checkout the Unlearning Channel (Available on iTunes, Soundcloud and TuneIn Radio, AROC’s own podcast on journeys through ethnic and racial equity in non-profit organizations featuring local and international experts on this topic.
4) Engage others. As you are learning, reflecting and becoming more aware you may invite other members of your team, supervisors, volunteers and board members into targeted conversations on the topic. Ask them their opinions of equity to gauge if they are ready for further training on the topic. Invite them to take the Organizational Change Self-Assessment to assess their perspectives of ethnic and racial equity. Encourage frank and honest conversations so your colleagues can share their knowledge while being open to learning. Again, using vulnerability as a tool: not everyone has to be perfect but, is willing to expand their understanding of ethnic and racial equity.
5) Increase Capacity. Organize a training session to help increase your organization’s capacity for understanding ethnic and racial inclusion. The AROC Training Manual provides just that. You may want hire a skilled facilitator to help deliver this training to gain the most out of the content. If your organization is interested in addressing organizational racism and becoming more racially equitable, anti-racism training is a critical part of the process. The AROC Advisory Group offers trainings to organizations that would like to take this first step. If you would like to invite the group to train your team, please contact for more information.
These are just the beginning steps. The AROC Resources and Tools provides a host of additional tips, strategies and resources that you and your organization may benefit from.

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