A Call to Listen
I originally wrote this post as a response to a very important question. “How do white and non-black educators promote self-empowerment through entrepreneurship without invalidating the experiences of Black and Brown people?” How do we acknowledge the reality of systemic racism while teaching about the benefits of entrepreneurial thinking as a path to empowerment?
The events of recent years have put a global 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 not remove the actual agency of Black Americans nor other People of Color who face similar barriers.
When framing the question, it is critical to center the voices and agency of Black and Brown people in America, as framing Black people and People of Color as passive victims of racism is. That’s not to say that racism does not have real, all too often deadly, consequences, but 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.
Telling Hard Truths
Too often, when discussing racial inequity, we (I mean white people) act as if there is a binary system in place where there is an impassible ceiling capping opportunities for Black people and other People of Color. This oversimplifies the issue and erases the efforts and successes of any Community of Color to empower themselves. Like many other social and 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. But, it will not look the same for each of us. Systemic racism exists because our forefathers wove into the fabric of how we interact, how we teach our children, and how we structure ourselves at all levels of society. It is on us to weave a new fabric.
ELI’s work focuses on the person AND the situation, as they are both integral factors in 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 role, as it is one of the most widely unacknowledged factors of our collective “situation.”
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 (in the classroom, the office, or in any team) is asking ourselves and those around us these sorts of questions. The goal should be to hold space for the experiences and ideas of those in the room working as part of a team.
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’d want a team of folks with instructional design, app development, and teaching experience working together to find creative ways of solving a problem. It is unrealistic to expect effective problem-solving from a team that does not include ideas from diverse backgrounds. In much the same way, our societies tend to work best when we give space for diverse opinions and ideas to work together for the betterment of all.
So, rather than focusing on shifting the mindsets of those who 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 to adjust the aperture of our worldview to understand that those who do not experience racism and bigotry daily cannot be blind to its existence any longer.