Racial inequity is hidden in plain sight


There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?”

And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
— David Foster Wallace

People in power at established enterprises, typically White male executives, grow up in segregation without ever pausing to reflect on the harm they might be causing others and the history they are bringing to work culture.

Lacking simple awareness

HARRY-C-ALFORDOne reason is because of a lacking simple awareness. 75% of White people have entirely White social networks without any minority presence. Racial inequity is hidden in plain sight in schools, communities, churches, and social activities.

According to David Foster Wallace, seeing water means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and choose how you construct meaning from experience.

To paraphrase “White Fragility” author, Robin Diangelo, the unwillingness for introspection reinforces the message that your experiences and perspectives are the only ones that matter.

Few acknowledge a lack of diversity as a problem. Efforts must be invested in changing systems, especially corporate culture; otherwise, homogeneity will be passed down at the expense of diverse employees and your company’s bottom line.

Racial patterns

Lack of understanding of what racism is

Seeing yourself as exempt from racial socialization

Lack of racial humility Unwillingness to listen

Solutioning without identifying and describing the problemDiversity theater — intentions over the impact


It’s your responsibility to grapple with how racial socialization manifests itself in your personal life, corporate culture, and how it shapes your responses when it’s challenged.

Racial humility

There’s a deeply embedded resistance in our country to productively discussing racism and implicit bias and it is hindering our growth as a nation.

Athletes are notorious for analyzing their pitch, shot, kick, or swing to improve performance.

In this work, it’s important to not take flaws personally but to endure and evaluate the behaviors so that we can grow.

Approach today with a beginner’s mindset and practice racial humility — be humble in learning across lines of racial difference. Only then can we move towards racial equity.

Important terms

Below is how we define diversity and other terms to familiarize yourself with from DEI Extension:

Diversity is the presence of differences that may include race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, language, disability, age, religious commitment, or political perspective.

Equity is promoting justice, impartiality, and fairness within the procedures, processes, and distribution of resources by institutions or systems.

Inclusion is an outcome to ensure those that are diverse actually feel and/or are welcome. Inclusion outcomes are met when you, your institution, and your program are truly inviting to all.

Prejudice is a prejudgment about social others as defined in a given culture.

Discrimination is external. When we act on prejudice, we now discriminate.

Systemic Racism takes place when we back a group’s collective bias by legal authority and institutional control. It gets embedded in every institution and our cultural definitions.

Understand yourself

In workshops, we facilitate a design thinking exercise where we define the current state of an organization, surface drivers and blockers, as well as circumstances that may be preventing the organization from reaching its full potential.

We analyze the results of our session and create a report highlighting areas for growth, ways that humble ventures can help accomplish its inclusion goals and create an ideal future state for the organization.

We bring our histories with us. In the introduction to their book “Visible Now: Blacks in Private School,’’ Slaughter and Johnson assert that “all children carry the culture of their communities and families into their schools.”

The same is so for employees and those in positions of power at established enterprises.

“I don’t want you to understand me better, I want you to understand yourselves,” said writer Ijeoma Oluo.

“Your survival has never depended on your knowledge of white culture. In fact, it’s required your ignorance.”

Understanding ourselves — this is water.

Harry C. Alford is the cofounder and president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.



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