An entrepreneurial mindset can unlock anyone’s potential. However, the path towards fulfillment does not look the same for everyone. How do white and non-black educators promote self-empowerment through entrepreneurship without invalidating the lived experiences of Black and Brown students and entrepreneurs? How do we acknowledge the reality of systemic racism, while teaching about the benefits of an entrepreneurial mindset? Some have pointed out a paradox in these discussions that we will attempt to detangle in this piece.
Our Thoughts, Refocusing Our Mindsets
The events of recent weeks have put a national spotlight on the systematic racism that bars Black Americans from achieving the levels of safety, happiness, and success seen by their white counterparts. This is a reality with many layers of complexity, and there is no one panacea that can solve each issue. However, it is important for each of us to understand our own innate abilities to impact meaningful change in the world and to not remove the actual agency of Black Americans, nor other People of Color that face similar barriers. This work begins with a reframing of our own mindsets as educators, coaches, and advocates.
When framing the question, it is critical to center the voices and agency of Black and Brown people in America as it is harmful and racist to frame Black people and People of Color as passive victims of racism, as we see in some media and political narratives. That’s not to say that racism does not have real, all too often deadly, consequences. It is more to point out that, when discussing these issues, we need to be mindful to not spread infantilizing narratives about Black and Brown people, but instead elevate, listen to, and learn from their voices.
A critical point here is to highlight examples of everyday entrepreneurs from a plethora of communities. Provide examples of Black entrepreneurs in your community, have them video chat with your class or those you are coaching, and facilitate conversations about their journey that include their strategies for success and self-care.
The Problem with Historical Racial Narratives
Too often when discussing the empowerment of Black communities, we act as if there is a binary system in place; where there is an impassible ceiling capping opportunities for Black people. This oversimplifies the issue and erases the efforts and successes of Black communities to empower themselves. Like many other societal issues, we cannot sit idly by waiting for political leaders to make changes; they often won’t without public pressure. Nor is the problem as simple as policy change. Every person has a role to play in dismantling or upholding systemic racism. However, it will not look the same for each of us. Systemic racism is woven into the fabric of how we interact, how we teach our children, and how we structure ourselves at all levels of society.
ELI’s work focuses on the person and the situation, as they are both integral factors to how our mindsets are constructed. When we work to deconstruct our mindsets and reframe how we view our own agency, discussions of race and white privilege should play a central role. The influence of race is one of the most impactful factors of our collective “situation.” As such, we have to acknowledge the real-world consequences of these narratives and look at how they affect individuals and communities differently.
But How do we Shift our Mindsets?
We might understand the issue of systemic racism when that is the expressed topic of discussion, but how do we shift our mindsets to enable real change? It starts with conversations, and with asking complex questions. How are we holding space for differing views, making sure that cultural and personal differences are respected, and holding each other accountable for allowing our biases to distort our views of the world, and for sometimes causing harm to others? Part of creating an entrepreneurial environment is asking ourselves and those around us these sorts of questions.
Here is an analogy we have been discussing lately:
When building an app to assist teachers in the classroom, you wouldn’t want a computer engineer designing the whole thing. Rather, you would have a team with a wide variety of experience working together to creatively solve the problem. Teachers, instructional designers, as well as app developers or computer engineers will all bring something to the table. Similarly, societies function better when diverse opinions and ideas are heard and valued to work together for the betterment of all.
So rather than focusing on shifting the mindsets of those that face racism daily, it is imperative that we first focus on transforming our own mindsets. We must understand that society cannot persevere and prosper if we do not learn from and lift up the voices and experiences of marginalized communities. In the fight for a just and equitable playing field for all Americans, we need to focus on what we can change individually and collectively, starting with our own mindsets.
To sum up, the questions of equity and racial justice are exactly why we all need to start learning and unlearning through books, films, and most importantly through conversations. In these experiences, we have to center narratives that we may not be familiar with. We need to adjust the aperture of our world view to understand that those of us that do not experience racism and bigotry daily cannot be blind to its existence any longer.