Black Lives Matter: getting to "yes" in [niche hobby group]
June 26, 2020 11:06 PM   Subscribe

Can you point me to a document to guide me through the process of increasing inclusion and diversity within an organization? Ideally I'd like to get us to the point of saying "Black Lives Matter", making a formal statement/process around inclusion, and taking specific actions (scholarships, training, etc). But there's a lot of ground to cover between here and there -- and judging from the strong emotions that have surfaced in our conversations so far on this topic, that ground is a bit of a swamp!

My niche expensive-outdoorsy-hobby group has not issued an official statement -- either from our local chapter or from the international organization -- saying that Black Lives Matter. For that matter, there has not been any official statement around inclusion -- the party line is to stay "apolitical". However, some of us have been trying to convince everyone else that this stuff is important. It has started a conversation, but with mixed results. People were inspired, people were upset, feelings were hurt, the conversation was allowed to run for a while before being deleted so no one was immortalized saying something they regretted, and the official response was:

"We as a board have been watching and listening without contributing. We are now in the process of figuring out how to address the concerns of the members. The board is considering the following issues:

1. Adding an ethics statement into the by-laws.
2. Having membership meeting to address the issues in person.
3. Determine how to make [Hobby Local Chapter] more inclusive."

We are located in a major U.S. city. I, a white cis woman, in a local group that is overwhelmingly white and Asian (there are no Black people or Native folks in our local chapter) have been tasked informally by a respected leader in the organization (who is also not to the point of saying "Black Lives Matter" yet, but is open to learning) with coming up with a framework for starting conversation and action around diversity. I think I have been asked to do this because I somehow managed to make my points in an online forum without also totally alienating everyone?

Are there online guides, books, or documents explaining how to do this well, and common pitfalls?

Below I have listened a rough outline of possible goals, in no particular order. It might take us actually *doing stuff* together (many members are people who see themselves as "action-oriented, not big talkers") and having it go well to make official statements more palatable to people. I have also listed things I forsee as being problems / snags in the process, that I'm looking for extra guidance on -- specifically, I'm looking for links to written guides on the subject, or possibly your personal experience if you've already been on this journey.

Initial rough list of goals, subject to change:
(1) Getting the organization to admit that racism exists,

(2) Formally take a stand against racism in writing, ideally by saying "Black Lives Matter" if we can get to that point (which I'm not optimistic about but you can't win if you don't try), but also issuing some sort of formal inclusion policy (which I AM optimistic about), possibly with a grievance procedure or code of conduct (ahh! the grievance procedure bit terrifies me because I expect it would be contentious! but how effective is a code-of-conduct without enforcement?) and

(3) Various concrete steps that address said racism, which could possibly include the following or other things we haven't thought of yet:
- listening exercise with a call for contributions from people of color in our hobby / organization, to be published in our international journal, with options for anonymity or a pseudonym for those who want it,
- article in our international [hobby] journal about our own chapter's process exploring these questions
- reach out to the Black [Hobby] Association (exists, separate from our org, I know no one there) for input and possibly (only if they're enthusiastic about it) having a representative as the guest speaker in a Zoom lecture, along the lines of other topical Zoom lectures we've been doing lately
- raise money for a Black [Hobby] Association training and gear scholarship fund (probably not super contentious, people who are upset about this will just ignore it)
- create our own scholarship / loaner gear fund for underrepresented folks (potentially more contentious since it includes our organization's name and some folks might think it's "unfair")

Concerns / stuff I am looking for guidance on:

(1) I don't want to end up being a gatekeeper and hoarding power in the conversation. However, we need some leadership here, and the actual formal leadership doesn't really know what to do. Our conversations so far as a full community have made it clear that some sort of smaller group needs to do some front-end work on this. My hope is the smaller group can convince leadership, and leadership can help us work with the recalcitrant folks.

(2) Some of the loudest opposition to saying "Black Lives Matter" or addressing racism in our organization has come from a few Asian-American members. Obviously the Asian folks in the org are not a monolith. But there are several Asian members who are very vocal in saying, "I have not experienced any discrimination in this group, therefore there is no racism," and/or clearly feel angry and erased by the conversation itself. And as a white person, I really have no idea how to interact/respond. I want everyone to be included, and I definitely don't want non-Black POC folks to feel erased at all. But I also feel like it's really important for us to discuss racism in general and also against Black folks specifically. Has anyone else had to deal with this sort of issue, and how did you handle it?

(3) Who will organize the stories from the listening exercise for publication? Who will write the summary article about our process and what we learned? This is the kind of thing I am good at -- is it appropriate for me, a white woman, to do either of these? There are no Black or Native folks in our local organization, one Black person in a neighboring organization we're friends with that's a 3-4 hour plane ride away, and generally few Black and indigenous folks in our group throughout the U.S. and internationally. (Obviously, this is one of the problems we're trying to solve -- addressing racism and making the group more welcoming and inclusive.) I don't want to push work onto folks I've never met or only met once in a way that feels like extra pressure, or tokenizing. Is it okay if I'm organizing the submissions for publication, but not writing the article? Or does it depend? (If someone emerges who is a person of color who's super excited about this task, obviously I'd want to support them instead of doing it myself.)

(4) Should we have an internal grievance process? Is that a thing we even want to get into, or is it a can of worms? What about community standards for leaders and their behavior? Does that extend to their personal pages? I think it should, but currently I'm outvoted. (Some of this conversation started because one of the board members posted racist shit on his personal Facebook page. He is still on the board and has not apologized or discussed it publicly at all. Lots of people like the idea of keeping the group "apolitical". My point has been that just like coronavirus, this is an issue that affects the health, safety, and happiness of our hobby buddies, and so we need to address it.)

(5) This is an expensive hobby, so there are financial issues too. Do we try to address this with some sort of scholarship? How do we structure such a thing, and who counts as underrepresented?

(6) There are also specific historical racism issues around why there are fewer Black people in this hobby. Should that perhaps be in the article, or otherwise introduced to folks? How do we go about educating each other?

(7) Argh how does any of this even work? What do I do? How do I "pick" people to be involved without gatekeeping, when the org is uncomfortable with an open call for interested folks at this point?

Please help me, Metafilter.

I'm specifically looking for formal written guidebooks / how-to documents, advice from folks who have been down this path already, perspectives from people of color on any of these questions and on best practices generally, and perspectives from white folks working in primarily white/Asian organizations on racial justice issues especially in the U.S. and Canada.

Thank you.
posted by cnidaria to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't have any practical advice/suggestions, but reading your long list (and thinking of similar work that needs to happen in groups I'm involved with), do you have any budget? I'm guessing not, but if you do, then I think you'd be able to access some real and concrete help with this.
posted by plonkee at 2:25 AM on June 27, 2020


The Smithsonian's comprehensive portal Talking About Race has a swathe of resources, toolkits and actions to help you work out starting points and follow-up.

The section on being a person committed to equity deals with many of the areas you've asked about.
posted by freya_lamb at 3:32 AM on June 27, 2020 [2 favorites]


Check out this resource: https://www.nationalassembly.org/resources/awake-to-woke-to-work-building-a-race-equity-culture/#:~:text=The%20%E2%80%9Cawake%E2%80%9D%20stage%20is%20classified,only%20representative%2C%20but%20truly%20inclusive.
posted by postel's law at 5:54 AM on June 27, 2020


Best answer: I don't have any practical guidebooks, but some possible questions about your specific situation. Starting with this --

> reach out to the Black [Hobby] Association (exists, separate from our org, I know no one there) for input ...

What work have you already done to learn about the Black association?  Have you looked into the history of the association, when & why it was formed, who formed it? Read articles about the Black association? Used this information to think about what Black people who participate in your hobby might get out of being a member of that group, that they can't get from your group, and whether your group is capable of providing that?

Have you already searched for and read essays written by Black people about their personal experiences with your hobby, or articles quoting them? Identified and learned about notable Black people in your hobby, how they got started, what they love about your hobby, what challenges they've faced trying to participate in your hobby?

Has the Black association already been doing the work, for years, of promoting your hobby to Black communities, diversifying the hobby, putting the structures in place to create a safe and supportive environment for Black people who want to participate in your hobby?  Where they don't have to deal with shit like this --

> Some of this conversation started because one of the board members posted racist shit on his personal Facebook page. He is still on the board and has not apologized or discussed it publicly at all. Lots of people like the idea of keeping the group "apolitical".

Or this --

> a respected leader in the organization (who is also not to the point of saying "Black Lives Matter" yet, ...

Or this --

> But there are several Asian members who are very vocal in saying, "I have not experienced any discrimination in this group, therefore there is no racism," ...

Or the other members of your group endorsing these attitudes (whether loudly or through their silent complicity)?

If you have not already educated yourself by seeking out and reading essays by Black voices about their personal experiences with your hobby, or articles about racism or anti-Blackness within your hobby, then I'd think that would be a place to start. I am certain these articles already exist and predate the current moment -- you don't need to issue a "call for contributions from people of color in our hobby" before you start listening.

Perhaps that would help you and your group understand how anti-Blackness manifests in your hobby specifically, rather than society generally. Though frankly, if your group doesn't even believe racism exists, this situation is probably well beyond the capabilities of well-meaning but untrained volunteers.
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 5:54 AM on June 27, 2020 [7 favorites]


I see you there, and I identify with that desire. I struggle with effective Anti-racist response in my own communities (trail running, by example). Your description of your hobby matches mine: financial barriers to participation, lots of White Fragility [1], historical racism in White Spaces, processes, policies.

Warning: Anti-racist work is uncomfortable. Your organization cannot make these changes without discomfort.

To your immediate ask of books and resources, I don't have one. If you want to see examples of how White orgs are tackling this, look no further than Metafilter itself to see the challenges, pitfalls, etc. There is plenty to learn there.

What does Black [Hobby] Group propose? How do you bolster them? Are you willing to take their leadership and humbly be in their space and their struggle? What support do they want from the 'official' hobby group? I hold the racist idea of White Rescue that sometimes leads me to thinking I know more than the affected group.

I hear lot of desire to change others and remove their racist ideas. I have found it more effective to work on my own racist ideas as a White Person [1]. How do I move toward effective Anti-racism? What processes do I control, that I can change from racist (further inequality based on racialized groups) to Anti-racist?

I observe that much of what you propose requires mandates from leadership. If you want to do this from the top, then you need to become the top. How do you get elected?

[1] White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
posted by gregglind at 5:54 AM on June 27, 2020


Best answer: As a black man, I want to emphasize what cdefgfeadgagfe said. The fact that a black organization exists for your hobby points to systemic and historic racism within the hobby. Learn about the black group first, work on the anti-blackness inherent to your group (from your respected leader to the Asian anti-blackness/model minority stuff).

I honestly would not join your group. I refuse to be a part of a group that expects me to justify my existence. And that's exactly what all of these micro-aggressions do. They force people into a defensive position. I understand your goals, but it also seems that the black group was created to address the issues that you have.
posted by anansi at 6:15 AM on June 27, 2020 [8 favorites]


Best answer: Also, BLM does not erase non-black POC. However, there are quite a few non-black POC who are very anti-black.
posted by anansi at 6:17 AM on June 27, 2020 [3 favorites]


Response by poster: Thanks for all of the info so far! It's really helpful.

Clarification: the Black Hobby Association currently does not have a an active leader / chapter in my geographical area. (It's listed as a vacant post on their website.) They don't offer training in my area. But at least according to my reading of their website, they have a presence in some regions. This is one thing I wanted to reach out to them about, when I get to that point - get their guidance on what actions would be the biggest impact, figure out if they have any members in our area, and if they have a scholarship fund we can fundraise for.

We have one Black member of another chapter who is a plane ride away from us, still in the region that's not served by the Black Hobby Association.

I've been informally doing some hobby-specific reading and listening to podcasts on racism in the hobby and related hobbies -- thanks for suggesting that, I think it's worth making a guidebook with links is for people who want to self-educate.

There is a hobby group in Washington DC who is way ahead of the curve on this and I think it makes sense to get their input too.

Respected Instructor had discussion asked for feedback on improving in this area. He wants to be better but is honestly not sure what he can do other than "being open to train everyone" - which is obviously not all he can do. I see this as a possibly an opportunity?

If we try this process and fail, I am open to leaving the org. I'm trying to ride that line of staying to try to make change versus leaving because the org doesn't reflect my values.
posted by cnidaria at 6:58 AM on June 27, 2020


Response by poster: anansi - I really appreciate your both your comments. I totally agree on the fact that anti-Black racism exists from non-Black POC and that's exactly what I'm seeing.

I just have no idea how to address it. I feel more comfortable disagreeing vehemently with other white people, but when there's an Asian member who's really angry and saying that I'm erasing her lived experience by claiming we have racism in our org, I really... Don't know what to say to that, other than that I disagree? Someone else tried to gently suggest that other people (of other races) may have a different experience in our Hobby Group than her, but then she got even more angry and started calling everyone racist for suggesting this.

I'm not sure if there's an easy solution here. And honestly this whole effort may end with a splinter group, but I want to at least make an effort to change hearts and minds before I give up.
posted by cnidaria at 7:08 AM on June 27, 2020


Response by poster: Also my own background: In the past, I worked at several historically Black social justice and community organizations in Chicago with numerous Black people in leadership roles. I'm new and less comfortable with the dynamics of approaching anti-Black racism as a white person in a primarily white organization with very few Black folks involved or even visible.
posted by cnidaria at 7:12 AM on June 27, 2020


Best answer: I think you should do this work, but some of the items on your list are going to have limited impact without changes in your board. If even your "respected leader" friend isn't 100% behind you, I worry you're being set up to fail.

Yes, you need an enforceable code of conduct, but IMO a code of conduct is only as good as the board that enforces it. For a cautionary tale, see last year's Romance Writers of America implosion, in which the RWA's Code of Ethics was used to punish author Courtney Milan for calling out racism.

Similarly, I don't see how you can write an article about "our own chapter's process exploring these questions" as long as you have a vocally racist board member. Or offer scholarships, knowing that those scholarship recipients will show up and find themselves in a hostile environment.

I think the advice you've gotten above is good - getting your organization to "yes, racism exists in Hobby" is the first step. Also, I think it is okay to reach out to your One Black Hobby Friend - framing it as letting them know what's happening, while making it super clear that you have no expectations of them.
posted by toastedcheese at 7:23 AM on June 27, 2020


I was part of a situation somewhat like this a while back, although in our situation we were pushing for explicit statements around inclusiveness around both race and queerness. That ended up creating some complicated tensions, as some people could have handled one but not the other. In our case there was support at the national level but also a lot of handwaving about letting local groups handle things as they saw fit, and our local group had decided not to care about the guidance from national.

Honestly in this case, after several months of banging my head against that wall, I decided that not only did I want to be part of a group that I could not talk around to a basic acceptance of people not already like them, but that it would be cruel of me to drag the group kicking and screaming to that most minimal level of acceptance such that other marginalized people might then join the group under the assumption that statement meant a real commitment that did not actually exist. I left, and I don't regret it, but I also don't regret making the attempt.

I hope your situation works out better for you, but you may want to think ahead about what the point is where you would walk away. It would be good to know what that point is before you suddenly hit that wall.

You're getting good feedback here but one thing I'll mention since I don't see it above: If you move ahead with getting a guest speaker from Black Hobby Association - find a way to pay them for their time and expertise. Even if you don't usually do it for guest speakers. Think of it less as a guest lecture re: the hobby and more as professional consultation re: your organization's current antiracism process, if that creates less of an issue with "but we never pay our guest speakers!" Don't ask Black people to take on training a group that you know will be at least partly hostile to them, for free.
posted by Stacey at 8:32 AM on June 27, 2020 [7 favorites]


Best answer: My suggestion as a latinx person who is not Black is that you simply contact the Black organization and offer yourself and anyone who doesn't need to be "worked on" as free volunteer labor in order to help get the local chapter going. Offer your training materials, offer to train people up, offer to pay for hosting, etc.

In other words, see yourself as a resource for them, rather than them as a resource for you.

Frankly, I think more harm can be done than people realize when a group with shitty, racist attitudes goes out of its way to "welcome" Black people who are then treated poorly, unsupported, and/or microaggressed upon. At this point, I think trying to "recruit" or put yourself out there as a "diverse" organization that fully means "Black Lives Matter" is going to be, effectively, deceptive.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:18 PM on June 27, 2020 [3 favorites]


If you are trying to address "racism," and (non-Black) Asian or Asian American members of your group are pushing back because they have not felt racism against them in your hobby, and are telling you that you are ignoring their lived experiences, then instead of naming this problem generally e.g. racism, maybe you should acknowledge and name it specifically e.g. anti-Blackness or (if you prefer) anti-Black racism. If you feel discomfort replacing every instance of "racism" with "anti-Black racism" when you discuss this issue with other members of your group, maybe you should figure out why you're feeling that. Don't dance around the problem by pretending people in your hobby treat Black and non-Black POC the same, when clearly they don't.
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 2:12 PM on June 27, 2020


For help with the white-on-white anti-racism discussion, check out David Campt's work.

You're doing good work. Campt has some support for the tough relationships.
posted by alittleknowledge at 4:33 PM on June 27, 2020


Best answer: Also, Cnidaria, I hope that my comments did not come across as attacking you. That was not my intent. These issues are just so common and so frustrating, it's often difficult for me to not let that frustration creep into my tone.

I think that contacting the black org and seeing what you personally can do (not your group, they ain't ready yet) is a good idea. Meanwhile keep pushing back against the racism in your group. That's a hard fight.

I've really got no advice on how to address the Asian member's anti-Blackness. I'd personally tell her to go eat a box of dicks and to stuff her model minority complex deep up her ass. But that's just me. Realistically, you can't do that. Good luck.
posted by anansi at 7:17 AM on June 28, 2020


I applaud your intent here, and I have a couple of thoughts that I hope are helpful. For reference I'm a white woman too.

First, I would definitely not try to recruit Black people into your group in its current state. anansi said above that he wouldn't want to join your group based on what you've said about it here, and I think it's reasonable to assume the same would be true for other Black people. Your group has a board member who's openly racist! It would be a kind of cruel trick (and I think honestly wildly unethical) to try to bring in Black people to your group, when you know for sure they will face racism and gaslighting.

So if you want to attract Black people, you need to tackle the racism problem first.

Second, I agree with people upthread who've asked you to be sure to pay for any diversity advice you get from anyone who's BIPOC. White people are constantly asking BIPOC people to do anti-racist work for us for free, which is not fair and which kind of piles insult ('help us for free!') on top of injury (the actual racism).

There are some good ideas upthread about supporting the Black organization, rather than asking them to support you. And I would also say: if it were me (and I know this is very personal and context-dependent), I wouldn't waste any more time on the group you're involved with now. You are being extremely patient, and IMO overly so.

An openly racist board member would be a dealbreaker for me. I would resign from the group, and I would tell them why. Honestly that is your best shot at making change IMO, and it also protects your own reputation. You shouldn't be affiliated with an organization that tolerates racism.
posted by Susan PG at 9:13 AM on June 28, 2020


Response by poster: Still reading all these thoughtful responses and taking them in -- thank you all so much! I marked a few "best answers" but honestly they're all really helpful. I have not had a chance to work through any of the links to resources yet, but I'm looking forward to exploring them.

anansi, not at all! I appreciate your comments very much. (And frustration is more than justified!)

I really like the idea of reframing this is as how I (and fellow pro-Black Lives Matter folks in my hobby) can be a resource for the Black Hobby Association, rather than seeing them as a resource for us.

Also, as ya'll encouraged me to do, I did some deeper-dive Googling and found two other Black hobby-related organizations doing really cool work! They are not in my area, but I want to look at ways to help them, do some fundraising, draw positive attention to them, volunteer as a local contact person in the interim if they want that, etc. I think it's helpful to broaden my perspective outside of my immediate geography, and hopefully working with these groups will help build some options for my region too.

I think one thing I can do is to write a basic tutorial and send it to the Respected Leader dude. I want to address historical factors specific to our hobby, introduce people to the Black-led groups doing work in our hobby internationally, as well as point to general resources on educating yourself around racism. Best case: He pushes to make it a larger conversation with others, and my resources give him a framework to work with since he's pretty out of his depth at the moment. Worst case: It gets ignored and I need to find another way to share it with folks.

I also think the idea of phrasing this as anti-Black racism specifically is a good idea, and will possibly defuse some of the conflict with certain Asian folks in my org. I suspect that there is anti-Latinx and anti-Native sentiment as well, as we certainly don't seem to have any relationship with the Native folks who also practice our hobby locally. So... those are additional challenges to consider.

These seem like more achievable first steps (or achievable things to do as I exit), whereas trying to get someone off the board when half the organization doesn't see an issue... more challenging. And like ya'll said, even if we have top-down language opposing racism, the organization as it is currently is not a safe, welcoming place to bring new Black members.

I am not sure yet whether I will leave the organization (or at least distance myself -- I am going to keep doing my Hobby, and that will bring me into proximity with people from this group, whether or not I'm paying the nominal annual dues to them) but I want to try a few of these tactics and maybe it will have an impact, even if I'm on my way out.

Lots to think about. I'm so grateful for everyone's help and advice!
posted by cnidaria at 12:47 PM on June 29, 2020 [2 favorites]


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