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Review: The Anti-Racist Organization by Shereen Daniels
A must-read book for businesses committed to equity
When I heard that Shereen Daniels was writing a book, I knew I’d have to buy it. I’ve been following her on LinkedIn and elsewhere for a couple of years now, and I expected that her book would provide the direct, actionable advice she regularly dispenses on her social media channels.
I’m happy to say that “The Anti-Racist Organization: Dismantling Systemic Racism in the Workplace” did not disappoint. In it, Shereen manages to be simultaneously welcoming and uncompromising. As a personal bonus, since I’ve watched so many of her videos, I could hear her voice in my head as I read, like a kind of DIY audiobook.
I read the Kindle edition cover to cover in just a few days. It’s extremely readable, and filled with information you can use no matter where you are in your anti-racism journey as an organization.
The book is divided into 7 chapters.
1. Entering the Global Race for Racial Equality
2. Moving Beyond Conversations
3. Defining Meaning
4. Starting From Where You Stand
5. The Four-Factor RACE Model
6. A Sustainable Future Needs Equity at the Heart
7. Where Do We Go From Here?
Shereen sets the tone from the very start by specifying that centering white comfort won’t help you build an anti-racist organization. In addition, it’s important to be able to name the key problem - racism - rather than dancing around it with diversity, equity and inclusion language. As she says: “if you don't confront the roots of what excludes people due to their ethnicity, if you fail to challenge your own preconceptions of what racism is and what it isn't, and if you use your discomfort as a convenient barrier to block change, this is exactly how we've gotten here today.”
Who is This Book For?
This book is for leaders who are willing to be bold and direct, and to act - much like Shereen herself. Shereen makes the point that within an organization anti-racism has to be “an ongoing leadership practice that judges every company decision against its potential racist or anti‐racist impact, one that is visible to colleagues, stakeholders and clients, actively guiding the organization towards greater equity.” And to do so means sitting with and working through your own personal discomfort (a great lesson for would-be allies as well).
As expected, Shereen pulls no punches, highlighting the gaps between what people and companies say, and what they actually do - and urging them to do better. For example, she points out that Black women are often left out of gender equity initiatives, and that a belief in meritocracy hides the workings of systemic racism. She also discusses internalized oppression and the fact that many Black people in positions of authority aren’t able - or indeed, willing in some cases - to disrupt the status quo.
To do this work, Shereen says, you have to be ready to challenge your assumptions and have direct and difficult conversations. “if you need ten conversations to get to the point of being comfortable about saying Black, it will take another five hundred years for racial equity to advance anywhere.”
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Tools, Assessments and Models
While the first half of the book sets the scene in terms of approach and language, many organizations will find the assessments and models even more useful. First, Shereen asks you to assess where you are as an organization in your anti-racism journey, with four possible levels. I’ve picked out a relevant quote from each section.
Level One: A Compliance Issue: “Bold for you could be anything from having the conversation to not stuttering over the word ‘Black’ or wincing at the thought at having to talk about racism and racial equity. In public. With no notes. Or a teleprompter.”
Level Two: Intent to Be Inclusive Level: “An umbrella concept for Level Two leaders and organizations might be that there is comfort with inclusion but discomfort in specifically talking about race.”
Level Three: Strategic Focus and Specific Commitment: “Advancing racial equity is an identifiable personal mission of a Level Three leader. In Level Three you have moved out of the diversity and intention arena and into visible inclusion and transformative action.”
Level Four: Public + Private Accountability: “Level Four is Level Three with the addition of accountability, both public and private, with you leveraging your influence to effect positive change across your entire ecosystem”
The Four-Factor RACE model is also excellent. RACE stands for:
Recognize the problem
Analyze the Impact
Commit to Action
Empower for Change
For each section, there are questions to assess where you are and what you need to do next. These aren’t diversity checkbox questions, either. Shereen invites leaders to assess why their organizations work well for white people and how they’re using their privilege to create equity.
Finally, Shereen talks about allyship in the workplace, and rounds out the book with 10 key principles to remember in creating an anti-racist organization.
Why This is a Must-Read
Any leader who wants to be truly anti-racist and lead an organization built on anti-racism will find this book a valuable guide. It’s all the more valuable because you can return to it time and again to assess your progress and focus on new priorities as you get closer to your goal. Frankly, it’s a must-read.
7 standout quotes from the book:
Finally, I always like to share some of the quotes that stand out most to me. It was hard to pare it down for this book, as there was so much wisdom., but there are seven of the best:
“Racism is one of the best manmade systems every created. Over five hundred years later it is still doing exactly what it was designed to do. And it feeds off our apathy, compliance and obedience. It rewards insecurity, superiority and scarcity.”
“…when the white world started seeing Black people as less than human, as the ‘savage antithesis’ to the rational white man, it changed the way white people thought about justice, about politics and about economics.”
“There is absolutely no correlation between increased numbers of Black colleagues and a decrease in the existence of racism and racial discrimination.”
“Who acts as your independent voice of challenge, to make sure you don't mark your own homework, so to speak? Who can you confide in? Who can you trust?”
“It's systemic because it is a pattern that is replicated in organizations all over the world, in territories with a history of chattel slavery, colonialism and/or imperialism.”
“This is why anti‐racism and racial equity is sometimes so challenging, because we are used to operating from a place of self‐interest, taking actions that directly improve things for us, or the majority. Here, you and your peers will be required to do the heavy lifting, knowing that the payoff won't be immediate, there is no gold star or certificate of recognition at the end and your Black colleagues are not going to trip over themselves in gratitude…”
“Can we acknowledge that pressuring people to validate their lived experience – whether it is about their racial identity or other identities and characteristics that make up who they are – is reinforcing our power, our truths and therefore we become part of the system called racism, destined to keep doing the work is was originally designed to do. Because what we're saying is their lives don't matter unless we validate…”
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2022. All Rights Reserved.