It’s May 2017, and love is in the air. Rachel Linsay, a 32-year-old African-American female attorney from Texas is on the hunt for love, and what better place to find it than The Bachelorette. It soon became obvious to the 5.7 million viewers that tuned in to watch the show that Linsay would have to navigate through a whole heap of racial and oppressive commentary, either directed at her or her black suitors. Phrases such as “ready to go black” and “I don’t understand the race card” were tossed around in ‘jest’ by the white contestants, which only solidified the notion that folks have become immune to these types of racial tendencies.
Racial colloquialisms have been ingrained into our language and encouraged by pop culture, TV, radio and the press. Kids as young as two or three are growing up being exposed to this type of terminology and misrepresentation, which in turn allows the divide between races to grow and grow.
Author and social activist, bell hooks once said: “Whether we’re talking about race or gender or class, popular culture is where the pedagogy is, it’s where the learning is.” Pop culture, as an entity, feeds the structural oppression of people within BIPOC communities and gives allowances for mis-representation, casual racism and negative assumptions.
Racial connotations have been imprinted in our patriarchal system for generations. From pop culture to education – to health care and places of work, racial prejudice has filtered through these industries and has fueled a divide between races who have benefited from structural oppression and those who have been oppressed by it. Structural oppression can’t be denied, as denying it is denying acknowledgement that there has ever been a divide within society. The racism can’t be reversed, but it can be challenged through education and raising awareness – which in turn will allow a new wave of equality for those who have suffered from an oppressive system.
Activities to try in your team
- In your next team meeting or all-hands. Ask folks to reflect on when they were first made aware of structural oppression. Have they ever felt affected by it? And if so, how did that exchange make them react? What are they committed to challenging within society to create positive change?
- Re-framing constructive feedback through the lens of bias. Consider the first time someone from a different background managed you or collaborated with you on a project, were there casual remarks made that felt culturally insensitive?
- Think about your last 1:1. Have you ever judged how someone would react to something before you even spoke to them? How much stereotyping do you do when making a decision?
New habits to make a difference
- Each time you read a news story – start to question whether structural oppression has reinforced any racist undertones there. How would the story be reported differently from the perspective of an underrepresented individual?
- Challenge yourself to understand the concept of structural oppression so well you could explain it to a child, then once you can, discuss it in your inner circles with family and friends. Encourage them to understand it better and apply it as a lens in their life.
- Consider how structural oppression has impacted the make up of your organization from the highest levels of influence and power all the way down to the most junior employees. Consider how positive change could happen over the next decade: how would the make up of your organization look different?