Time for You to “Touch the Pole”

Sacramento City College

The spring semester should have been filled with the anticipation of students returning to campus. Instead, the college community discovered that its president, the second Black woman to hold that esteemed position, had been the target of vicious racial assaults. The aggressive and vulgar nature of the threats triggered myriad feelings and thoughts among the Brown and Black faculty, classified professionals, administrators, and Black students.

Too often, racial incidents are handled procedurally and summarily dismissed as outliers, deemed the actions of a mentally disturbed sole actor. Moreover, mediating feelings about racial incidents and doing “work” to minimize reoccurrences are relegated to those of us who have been victimized by the incident. In addition to being wrongminded, these actions inappropriately levy responsibility.

Each of us is responsible for responding in a manner that mitigates the occurrence of racial incidents and holding those who perpetrate them accountable.

You matter!

If real, discernible antiracial change is to occur, if equity is to be realized, each of us must engage in an extraordinary work that is necessary to make our respective campus an antiracist institution.

Transformative change, the kind of change that we institutionally talk about, consult about, and highlight in strategic plans, cannot become a reality until antiracist behaviors, attitudes, policies, and procedures are actualized by you, me, and each employee and trustee, irrespective of one’s race, ethnicity, national origin, or belief system.

Succinctly put, nothing changes until you and I, individually and collectively, engage and invest in a pervasive, insidious, unwavering, authentic, and courageous struggle for justice for Brown and Black persons.

When a Brown or Black person is targeted with hate, the sphere of assault includes EACH Brown and Black employee and student.

Racism, hatred, and discrimination are kindred spirits that are neither new or foreign to Brown and Black people. Black and Brown persons need no reminders that racism and anti-Blackness are still very much alive in our community. Each day, one or more societal institutions, vividly and painfully remind us of our “otherness” in a way that is intended to perpetuate our marginalization.

An organization cannot become antiracist nor can it create equitable outcomes until it recognizes where and how systemic racism is sustained and begins the arduous work to dismantle systems, policies, and procedures that perpetuate its existence. Without traversing the ugliness, messiness, and, sometimes, volatility of racism, organizations cannot bring “equity” to the spaces it inhabits.

Traversing through racism is a tall order that requires courage, commitment, resources, and the will to lead transformative change.

Because most of us have been socialized to believe that the world is binary (i.e., win or lose, black or white, easy or hard, you or me), we mistakenly believe that creating more equitable opportunities where individuals are “free” to bring their full identities, will result in another person losing something of value. Success in all endeavors is reduced to a zero-sum game. More succinctly, if a Brown or Black person gains equitable access to an educational or employment opportunity, it is viewed as being enacted at the expense of a White person. This limiting belief, coupled with a lack of awareness or acknowledgement about this country’s history, makes transformative change too risky and too unpredictable for most leaders to engage in.

Despite its level of difficulty or degree of personal or professional risk effecting transformative change is THE call of leadership. Despite how leadership is treated or talked about, leadership is NOT a title or position.

Leadership is inherent to personhood. Each person leads; the problem is too many people lead by default rather than by design.

Today, I am asking you, on behalf of your peers, the students that we serve, and OUR communities, to begin, if you have not already done so, to lead by design. And, in so doing, lead with the character, courage, and commitment to be a voice and an instrument for change for racial justice.

Allyship is a verb. Action is required.

Not sure what to do? Here are three “getting started” steps:

Step 1. Decide right now, in this moment, to lead by conscious design in all places you inhabit. Use your voice, your privilege, and your presence to lobby on behalf of marginalized Brown and Black people.

Step 2. Show up in a manner that makes it readily apparent that you are an ally of action. No one exemplified this more courageously than 30-year-old James Tyson, the White activist who accompanied Brittany “Bree” Newsome to the base inside the wrought-iron fence that surrounded the South Carolina Confederate flag. When the officers threatened to taser Newsome as she climbed the flagpole, Tyson touched the pole and told the officer that if he tases Newsome he will also be tasing him. Talk about using one’s privilege!

Step 3. Ask yourself, “How can I ‘touch the pole’ in a tangible, measurable, and meaningful way?” Thank you for listening and for accepting THE call
the lead.