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Effectively Racially Integrating an International Organization, Part III:

Protecting Boundaries & Opportunities

Parts I and II of this series summarize achievements and identify resistance to and solutions promoting racial integration of offices and activities in a U.S.-based international organization. Part III will summarize the need for administrative protection of boundaries and opportunities that allow marginalized persons in U.S.-based international organizations to fully participate in career-enhancing initiatives, elections and programs, and includes a bibliography of this series’ research.

A racially targeted, isolated BIPOC individual speaking for a Caucus about systematic steps toward racial egalitarianism who faces resistance to racial integration may become triggered by increasingly severe aggressions, accusations, character assassination, misrepresentation, and calls for solidarity in resistance and suppression. Consciously progressive Europeans/Americans may be accustomed to White solidarity/Supremacy maneuvers in mixed-race company and may not identify them as problematic behaviors, including bullying, race-baiting, intimidation, theft of intellectual property, denial of rights, and retaliation. However, unaddressed racial aggression can become severe enough to require legal intervention and public exposure, threatening the organization’s reputation or existence. To begin to address racial isolationism and undermining, the targeted person might be invited to consult with an oversight body or, if there is no administrative oversight, a confidante. Listeners must abstain from correcting the targeted person’s perception of what is happening or suggesting what targeted persons can do to stop aggressions aimed at them (known as “blaming the victim”). For the target’s safety, administratively or self-appointed listener(s) should not divulge to anyone outside due process information that has been disclosed, even seemingly innocuous insinuations such as, “We have always been transparent,” which implies that the targeted person’s words and actions lack transparency and are dishonest or untrustworthy. Persons instigating racial bullying may distort events, misquote, and make false assertions—commonly known as lying. Their goal is to instigate suppression, to motivate the majority to transform itself into a unit of surveillance and condemnation so that the initial aggressor’s persona expands from that of one offended individual to become the designated representative of racial groupthink, amplifying the aggressor’s power. This behavior is distinguished by the aggressor’s increasingly clear intent not to be mollified or reconciled unless and until the dominant racial group unites in hostility to the targeted ethnic minority. 

This dynamic creates complications, including the target’s having to compile presentations on systemically racist structures whose beneficiaries, desirous of retaining privilege and advantage, do not want them changed. For example, cost-free consultation with an attorney knowledgeable about contracts and civil rights was opposed by Board members claiming legal counsel would be too costly, dismissing Bylaws, the Constitution and recognition of guidelines such as Robert’s Rules of Order as they intensified suppressive activity until, for three months, the BIPOC Caucus Representative was denied notification of discussions and votes. The Board eventually agreed to allow the retiring president consultation at no cost with an attorney but vetoed retaining counsel, claiming a $500 retainer was too expensive. Simultaneously, the Board voted to invest $700+ to purchase single-use COVID-prevention buttons, so conference attendees’ buttons would indicate preferred distancing. These comparative costs illustrate perspective chasms regarding organizational priorities ethnic minorities may face as racial majority members resist shared governance and attempt to retain dominance. Below is an excerpted study I submitted on 2/17/2022 to persuade the Board to allow its president to interview an attorney cost-free: 

I think Brigitte Fielder answers your questions in her Avidly - A Channel of the Los Angeles Review of Books article “Your Predominantly White Academic Organization (Yes, Even Yours) Is Exactly One Live-Tweeted Racist Event Away from Public Disgrace” https://avidly.lareviewofbooks.org/2020/07/22/your-predominantly-white-academic-organization-yes-even-yours-is-exactly-one-live-tweeted-racist-event-away-from-public-disgrace/.

It may not seem self-evident that a high-profile organization might voluntarily choose to protect its ethnic minority members from what they perceive as racially-based and/or gender-based limitations on their opportunities to fully participate in the benefits of the academic organization that are made available to other members who are not ethnic minorities; however, the basis of your questions is that this organization does not hire people. True. So, is that the end of the problem? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Title VII and Title IX also have to do with equal access to employment and educational opportunity, and since educational institutions receiving federal monies may pay small percentages of that in grants in the form of faculty development or professional development or student scholarships to send faculty and students to participate in this organization’s scholarly activities, presuming racial and gendered equality of opportunity will be provided here, until there is an event such as Fielder describes or some other negative development, it would seem difficult for a non-attorney to answer your questions. Perhaps that is why you asked them in response to the request to consult an attorney for the organization for free? In comparison to the Board’s approval of other expenditures. 

I think (but I do not know) that a civil rights attorney might pose simple questions such as: Does the existing data about access to publication, awards and selection to offices that may support applications for hire, tenure, and promotion support an assumption of meritocracy and racial and/or gendered egalitarianism at the [organization]? If not, what would the organization’s best defense be against any possible consideration of exposure of the existing data about who benefits and at what percentage of the membership in comparison to general population or professionals in a field, from professional development opportunities made available through the [organization]? 

I really don’t know what helpful questions good counsel might help the [organization] ask itself.

In Harvard Business Review, Victor Ray explains that “In reality (and even though we typically do not say this out loud), many mainstream American organizations have profited from and reinforced white dominance. Many still do. Understanding this context is vital to seeing organizations for what they really are: not meritocracies, but long-standing social structures built and managed to prioritize whiteness. Only then can leaders begin thinking differently about race — not as a temporary problem to solve or a box to check, but as a fundamental part of what it means to be a company in America” https://hbr.org/2019/11/why-so-many-organizations-stay-white.

For example, if one dues-paying member of the [organization] receives encouragement to submit essays and publishes articles in the [organization’s journal] once every two years, then within six years s/he would have published three vetted scholarly articles via the [organization’s journal], thereby increasing opportunities for professional promotion and job security; if another dues-paying member also presents research but is discouraged from submitting that research for publication consideration, or when s/he submits it, it is summarily rejected with the statement that the membership would not be interested in reading it, no matter how many members attended her/his presentation of it, and that these dismissive rejections are meant to protect the publication’s “quality,” then these two members may have experienced unequal treatment. If the first hypothetical member is employed by an institution that gives tenure/promotion weight to her/his/their/one’s vetted scholarly publications, s/he/they/one will have benefited from membership in this association that directly affects continued employment and professional advancement; if the second hypothetical member is also employed at an institution that can grant tenure and promotion and that feels that its investment of years and salary in this particular scholar has not resulted in the publication of sufficient vetted scholarly research, then the discrepancy in opportunities offered to fee-paying members may merit investigation. If data indicates that race and gender disparities are evident in discrepancies between which members are assisted to publish, win awards, and be professionally elevated, and which are not, then investigation into whether or not Title VII and Title IX rights have been compromised or violated by investing in faculty and students attending [the organization’s] events may merit further investigation. It might be of interest to individual members of the Board to read “On Being Excluded: Testimonies by POC in Scholarly Publishing” https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2018/04/04/excluded-testimonies-people-color-scholarly-publishing/.

Further, perhaps a member attends talks in her/his discipline sponsored by this organization and discovers hurtful, shameful, desecrating, or other dehumanizing relics that are racially specific and/or gendered so that a member of a protected ethnic/gender group may feel targeted by these objects or relics on display, and the member suffers emotional and psychological distress from this experience and the helplessness of not having a non-hostile, non-derisory, reasonably inoffensive means of contesting the sense of personal attack s/he has experienced in the organization and while asking for acknowledgment of this insensitivity; s/he/they/one might even want an anonymous, neutral, non-invasive way to ask that precautions be taken to avoid such dehumanizing displays in the guise of scholarly investigation, in future. Ray explains, “Assuming race neutrality disregards the vast historical evidence of the centrality of race in shaping American organizations. Ignoring how white organizations help to perpetuate racial harms virtually guarantees that these harms will continue. It is safer, and likely more realistic, to start with the assumption that organizations are contributing to racial inequality unless the data shows otherwise.”

Or we can consider the data that might be available about selection of officers with or without elections and the racial demographics of who is selected and who is not, what their comparative qualifications are, and whether or not these selections may have assisted with earning tenure and promotion at educational institutions, thereby implying negative employment impact on those who are not selected, if other differentiating qualifications are negligible. 

If these considerations provide insufficient motivation for either getting an attorney, speaking with counsel, or establishing robust enough protocols to stop the deeply hurtful and professionally undermining experiences that members of the BIPOC Caucus believe they have undergone in this organization, and if the Board would prefer not to move forward with the appearances of restitution, it might read the statement of racial restitution published by the SFWA at its website and consider why an organization of authors that employs no one (that I know of) would go to such lengths to state its recognition of its own contributions to racism and the effects of those practices on people’s careers. For the time being, SFWA has waived its membership fee for BIPOC authors and affiliates, in an apparent effort to demonstrate contrition and active anti-racist restitution, despite the fact that it does not hire and does not teach. 

For all the work that the [organization] has done this year to improve its data, I hope it is evident upon reflection that nothing is yet permanent or longstanding enough to counterbalance the years of data that say this may be a temporary trial effort at appearing race neutral and meritocratic. If we care about the continuity of the organization and the efforts that have already been made to correct its public interface, I would hope that we would agree to go the additional cost-free distance of putting on record the Board’s interview of civil rights counsel that can assess what those who do not experience racial aggression in the organization may find it hard to believe exists.

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By: Alexis Brooks de Vita, Ph.D.

 

Works Cited

Ali, Diana. “Safe Spaces and Brave Spaces: Historical Context and Recommendations for Student Affairs Professionals.” NASPA Research and Policy Institute: NASPA Policy and Practice Series. https://naspa.org/images/uploads/main/Policy_and_Practice_No_2_Safe_Brave_Spaces.pdf Volume 2. October 2017. Accessed 07/28/2021

Anonymous. “On Being Excluded: Testimonies by People of Color in Scholarly Publishing.” 

The Scholarly Kitchen. On Being Excluded: Testimonies by People of Color in Scholarly Publishing - The Scholarly Kitchen 04/04/2018. Accessed 07/28/2021

Blackwell, Kelsey. “Why People of Color Need Spaces without White People.” 

RecoveryDharma.online. https://recoverydharma.online/bipoc/ Accessed 07/28/2021

Cadet, Deandra. “Protecting Racial Justice Spaces from Turning into White Spaces.” InterAction. 11/26/2018. http://interactioninc.org/protecting-racial-justice-spaces-from-turning-into-white-spaces/ Accessed 07/28/2021.

Crocket, Emily. “Safe Spaces, explained.” Vox.  https://www.vox.com/2016/7/5/11949258/safe- spaces-explained 08/25/2016. Accessed 07/28/2021

Fielder, Brigitte. “Your Predominantly White Academic Organization (Yes, Even Yours) Is Exactly One Live-Tweeted Racist Event Away from Public Disgrace” Avidly - A Channel of the Los Angeles Review of Books. https://avidly.lareviewofbooks.org/2020/07/22/your-predominantly-white-academic-organization-yes-even-yours-is-exactly-one-live-tweeted-racist-event-away-from-public-disgrace/ 7/22/2020. Accessed 02/17/2022 

Holman, Felicia and Ellie Mejia. “Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces, and Why We Gon’ Be Alright.” City Bureau. https://www.citybureau.org/notebook/2019/12/19/safe-spaces-brave-spaces-and-why-we- gon-be-alright. 12/19/2019. Accessed 02/17/2022

Keels, Micere. From Campus Counterspaces: Black and Latinx Students’ Search for Community at Historically White Universities. https://www.campus-counterspaces.com/ Accessed 07/28/2021 

Ray, Victor. “Why So Many Organizations Stay White.” Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2019/11/why-so-many-organizations-stay-white 11/19/2019. Accessed 02/17/2022

Sue, Derald Wing, Sarah Alsaidi, Michael N. Awad, Elizabeth Glaeser, Cassandra Z. Calle, Narolyn Mendez. “Disarming Racial Microaggressions: Microintervention Strategies for Targets, White Allies, and Bystanders.” American Psychological Association: American Psychologist. Vol. 74, No. 1, 128 –142 https://engineering.purdue.edu/Engr/People/faculty-retention-success/Files/Racial-Microaggressions.pdf 2019. Accessed 07/28/2021.

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