Recommendations for Sending/Posting "Black Lives Matter" Statements
Here are recommendations that DNAWORKS is making to people and organizations that have asked us about posting #BLM and anti-racism statements:
1. Do you know what “anti-racism” means and the commitment it entails in order to use that word accurately and with integrity? An elementary Google search turns up this definition (on Wikipedia): "Anti-racism can be defined as some form of focused and sustained action, which includes inter-cultural, inter-faith, multi-lingual and inter-abled (i.e. differently abled) communities with the intent to change a system or an institutional policy, practice, or procedure which has racist effects." (Original source: https://sacred.omeka.net/about)
2. “FOCUSED AND SUSTAINED ACTION”: Are you aware that anti-racism is NOT the same thing as thinking racism is wrong? Are you ready for that? Are your staff, guest artists, and board ready for that? If you do not have buy-in from your organization at every level or the willingness to let people go who do not buy-in, do not put out a statement saying your organization is anti-racist. Alternatively, put out a statement saying that you, as organizational leader, working to become anti-racist by making changes to your organization’s racist practices and culture WITHIN A GIVEN TIME-FRAME.
3. Keep it simple. More words do not mean more cookies (see http://www.blackgirldangerous.com/2015/11/ally-theater/). We recommend at least these three, succinct components:
- Self-reflection and acknowledgment of failures (but no hand-wringing, tears of shame, looking for sympathy—keep it clear, direct, and specific).
- Promises for CONCRETE action WITHIN A GIVEN TIME PERIOD. What plans do you have to make sure there is ample representation of BIPOC folks AT EVERY LEVEL of your organization?
- A call to be held accountable with a SPECIFIC PROTOCOL to do this. Have you considered who in your organization (or outside your organization) people can SAFELY go to when you slip up (which is inevitable in such a system-wide shift)? In what time period will your errors be addressed? What insurance is there that there will be no reprisals against folks pointing these out—and how will they be held close and assured of their value to the organization?
DO NOT include links of organization and initiatives that you have not personally vetted or explored! (Doing this vetting will help you with your statement.)
Finally, you may be feeling urged to state “Black Lives Matter”; but how much do you know about the actual organization? Are you aware that #BlackLivesMatter (now the Black Lives Matter Global Network) is different from Movement for Black Lives (BLM is a member of M4BL, but a separate entity)? How will you respond when board and community members argue specifics about the “Black Lives Matter” organization vs. the “Black Lives Matter” movement (which we already know is happening from other posts on social media)? Are you prepared to talk about the BDS movement (which was officially supported by M4BL, not BLM, and is no longer in M4BL’s Policy Platform on their website), Israel, Zionism, anti-Semitism, the trauma of colonialism (both Palestine and Israel), oppression vs. genocide, and whether an entire nation (besides the US) should be judged and condemned for the human rights abuses of its government leaders and armed forces?
Do not ask your Black staff to write this statement on your behalf (and then change it—yes, this is happening). Do try to do the best you can, while consulting the “21-Day Racial Equity and Social Justice Challenge” and reading articles on Medium.com, Boston Review and the other numerous blogs and resources available. Ask several staff members, trusted advisers, and community partners for suggestions. This increases your accountability and, if you hear things that make you uncomfortable, it will be harder for you to make some “innocuous” edits.
If you have not been thinking about all of these things, then you are not ready to make a full-on re-missioning statement.
But please still make a STATEMENT OF SOLIDARITY. It can look like this (in your own words):
“We have been asleep at the wheel. We have prospered in silence. We will be silent no more. It is my commitment as leader of ____ to make my organization an anti-racist organization. I am beginning today by educating myself about the Black Lives Matter Movement as a whole and other anti-racist organizations. I will have a list of concrete changes and initiatives by _____. You have my word on this. Please hold us to account by contacting ____ with comments, questions, suggestions, and information about how we have failed you and our BIPOC community members, in and outside the building. I promise I will listen and respond immediately. This is now our #1 institutional priority.”
Then say something from your heart about your commitment to the liberation of Black people. Don’t hide behind a hashtag.
Respectfully, if you cannot say and do these things, you are not ready to claim anti-racism.