This post was written by Sarah McAfee, a former member of our team.
Like everyone else this side of Netflix, I’ve caught the Marie Kondo tidying fever and have been furiously binging and organizing recently. I started with the small forest worth of essays and other school assignments I had collected over decades. Reading through them, I was struck by how much my perspective on the world has shifted. Not just the sort of shifts that naturally occur as we get older and wiser, but dramatic swings in my understanding of the world and its people. Those changes happened because I was challenged by new friends, new teachers, new experiences, and new environments to think more critically, see new possibilities, acknowledge my own privileges and faults, and be more active in my own growth and learning.
At Center for Health Progress, we’ve also been challenging ourselves to grow, learn, and live our values in new and better ways. Over the past few years, we’ve made substantial internal changes to our organization by centering racial equity in our work, and by placing a heavy emphasis on individual growth and learning. I recently had the opportunity to write about these changes in a national journal article for Change Agent’s racism issue, and cataloging the shifts in our values, perspectives, and approach to the work brought out the same reflective feelings for me that sorting through my personal files did. It also required that I wrestle with my past work as a part of this organization, and admit to doing a lot of things wrong along the way. The gift of that vulnerability is that I can clearly see my growth and the impact it’s had on my life and work, and it deepens my resolve to keep working on it.
One of the changes we’ve made is in how we talk about racism—or rather, that we talk about racism at all. Since 2011, we’ve published a new blog post every week, but the very first time the word “racism” appeared in one of our posts was 2014. We talked about race and race-based bias and racial disparities, but not racism. As we diversified our staff and board, learned more about the root causes of health inequities, and committed ourselves to taking direction from the people most affected by those inequities, what we talked about changed both naturally and intentionally.
So far in 2019, six of our eight posts have referenced it, and talking about racism explicitly is one of many ways we’re taking anti-racist action now. If we don’t name racism—the explicit, the subtle, the unconscious, and the veiled—we cannot stop it. As people and organizations, we should insist that we talk about it regularly, as one part of our equity work.
As you’re sorting your closets to determine what sparks joy and what you can let go of, consider doing some tidying of your own perspectives and approach to racial equity, too. Let go of any lingering ties to white supremacy culture and fears that talking about racism isn’t “nice.” Make space for new friends, teachers, experiences, and environments. It’s the most important spring cleaning you’ll ever do!