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george floyd juneteenth national security wcaps commitments

It Was Never about US

America has always excluded Black people. Unless we make a change, it always will.

Words: Bonnie Jenkins
Pictures: Olivier Collet
Date:

We all watched the killing of George Floyd, and a shock wave went through America. For Black Americans, it was another graphic show of the complete lack of humanity we have had to deal with for centuries. It hurt; we shook our heads and knew that we must again face the fact that this country and all it stands for does not include us. It never did. Black America has had to knock on and stampede through doors to get what is theoretically available to all Americans. We did not know how this latest display of racism and attack on a Black person would end, but we knew there was always a chance that the rest of America would just go on as ever while we felt another knife in our hearts.

We know the history. The color of one’s skin has been how one is defined and dictates how one is perceived and treated. Many use colorization to justify acts of racism, perpetuating a belief that society should treat people of darker skin inhumanely because they are somehow inferior. This attitude is an excuse for the mistreatment of Black people and has been used to allow a history of abuse.  Some want to keep their status and privilege, so they do whatever they can to keep Black people down. These actions include pushing Black people out of neighborhoods, providing them with fewer resources, charging them more for goods and services, giving them fewer benefits, and outright killing them. It is about White people targeting Black people, never being satisfied that they have always had many more privileges. To Black people, such attacks never made sense, but neither does racism.

Black people see racial discrimination and ignorance all the time. And Black women get their own kind of non-inclusivity. They must deal not only with racial but gender discrimination as well. They continue to absorb negative cultural stimuli.

America is all about the exclusion of Black people. It has always been. Unless we make a change, it always will be. Racism, ingrained in American history, is what we are trying to ensure is not in our future. So, when we discuss issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), it must be understood that this is the historical and racial background of our country that we are confronting. Those developing DEI at their organizations must first understand the history and feelings of exclusion at the heart of the struggle.

For Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation (WCAPS), because we are a member organization promoting women of color in peace and security and working on getting them to the decision-making tables, we need to look at more than just putting them there. We look at the whole person because we realize the need to create and maintain the pipeline. I am a person from the inner city, The South Bronx. I know how difficult it is to pull oneself out of an environment where the American culture has made people believe they have no business thinking they can rise to the tops of organizations and industries. We grow up with the knowledge that only a few of us will make it out. And that is precisely what happens. The American Dream is not a dream for everyone. We need to reach out and bring with us those young people who also want a dream, regardless of how imaginary it might be.

Racism, ingrained in American history, is what we are trying to ensure is not in our future. Those developing DEI at their organizations must first understand the history and feelings of exclusion at the heart of the struggle.

My WCAPS Fellow, Neda Shaheen, and I knew we had to say something when we saw the killing of George Floyd. WCAPS is an organization dedicated to creating a space for our voices when no space exists. What we saw was just too much.

A COMMITMENT TO “STAND TOGETHER AGAINST RACISM AND DISCRIMINATION”

On May 30, WCAPS released its “Statement on the Killing of George Floyd.” We posted it on Twitter and our other online platforms. What happened next was unexpected. Suddenly, many organizations, of various types, began to support the statement, voice their outrage, and retweet. We began to feel a swell of support from organizations that did not know how they fit into racial discrimination issues but thought that the WCAPS statement made that connection for them. They had a vehicle to say something about the moment and what they all saw happening in Minneapolis.

Inspired by the show of support, we prepared another similar statement, “Standing Together.

Against Racism and Discrimination” that organizations could sign, but one that would include commitments. Today we have over 200 signatures to the document, the majority of them representing organizations.  We are delighted to have such a turn-out. We are happy about the quotes from organizations and individuals that we also included.

We are also pleased with the diversity of organizations. The organizations work in such areas as peace and security, including women’s peace and security, national security, foreign policy, humanitarian issues, human rights, and civil society. The types of organizations include think tanks, nongovernmental organizations, media, academic and research institutions, and philanthropy. This breadth of organizations is exciting when considering how organizations can work together and learn from each other on this journey. However, we also know that organizations must put in the work and be held accountable.

We recognize that this is a moment that can lead to change needed for centuries. We have already witnessed ways in which some states are making changes to policies regarding the police. However, while those changes and others in legislation are fundamental, we also need to see what we can do in our environments. That is the basis of the work that WCAPS will be doing with the organizations that signed the statement. We welcome organizations working with us as we not only see what we can do now, but what we can do to sustain this effort to combat racism in the future.

We want to work across mission areas and types of organizations. We recognize that not all organizations are the same. There is no one size fits all. But we also want to go deeper than some traditional actions on diversity. We want to do more than the also important work, of course, of having diverse panels and other commitments that may just be façade in nature for some organizations. We need to seek more than what is comfortable for organizations to do by checking a box while maintaining the status quo.

THE COMMITMENTS

There are 12 commitments in what we are now calling the “Standing Together” statement. We recognize that there are organizations that have been working on DEI issues for years and others that are just starting. However, all organizations must do more if we are to sustain the effort to combat racism and discrimination in our environments. We also welcome actions of organizations beyond the 12 commitments.

We ask that organizations “change the face of international peace and security” by ensuring organizations are diverse at all levels. What this means is that when going to the website, one sees America. In other words, one sees diversity across all the levels and not just at the lower levels and not only in positions of support or logistics.

We know that Boards remain a challenge. Some organizations do seek to diversify their Boards and question how to improve, and others have Boards with members who enjoy their seats and do not want change that threatens their position. However, Boards represent the organization more than any other. A Board that is not diverse is problematic, and an organization cannot be taken seriously about diversity if it does not look diverse. For that reason, we have included the commitment that organizations diversify their Boards and advisory committees to include Black people and people of color.

Racism and discrimination will not go away overnight. As noted, it is ingrained in every part of our society. So, organizations should continue to find ways to educate their leadership and staff on the prevention of racism and discrimination and their detrimental impacts on the organization. In that same way, organizations must call out racism and share the burden of dismantling White supremacy.

Organizations must acknowledge microaggressions and their harmful impact on Black people and people of color in the workplace. The dictionary defines microaggressions as “a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority.”

This commitment to acknowledge microaggressions goes to the environment of the organization and making Black people and people of color feel comfortable and included in their everyday surroundings. Negative and racially charged statements can be made in ignorance or on purpose. Regardless of the underlying rationale, such statements reflect the lack of care about how those words and attitudes impact the persons hearing those words. The organization must pay attention to these instances and do what it can to eliminate them and educate the person making such statements. Doing nothing will lead to feelings of exclusion by those targeted. The environment must be one where the person under attack feels comfortable raising concerns. This point is also in the commitment that organizations “Develop a safe workplace where Black people and people of color can share their concerns on racism and racial discrimination.”

Organizations should acknowledge Black people and people of color’s work and credit their work. People of color, especially Black people, have suffered a history of appropriation of their ideas and accomplishments. There must not be a culture that accepts that type of insensitive and selfish behavior.

We also request that organizations develop meaningful diversity, inclusion, and equity strategies for Black people and people of color, and their efforts on gender diversity include women of color. This issue goes to the concern of women of color that the focus on gender diversity does not include them.

We also incorporated a commitment to developing processes for hiring individuals from local and low-income communities. This commitment highlights the need to engage more with disadvantaged communities. We need to reach out to those not in our circles. WCAPS will be working to find ways to help make this happen.

These are a few of the commitments in the WCAPS statement. While we know that racism and discrimination are ingrained in our society and culture and that it will take time to change such harmful attitudes and actions, organizations can take specific actions now that can become sustained efforts to make a real difference.

JOIN US IN THIS JOURNEY

We want real change through engagement and action.  Please reach out to us if you would like to join us as we go forward in this venture.

Anyone interested in signing the form can contact WCAPS at wcaps@wcapsnet.org.

Bonnie Jenkins is the founder and president of the Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation (WCAPS) nonprofit organization. Jenkins is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She served as an Ambassador at the Department of State from 2009 – 2017 as Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs. She is also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and George Washington University and is Chair, Committee on Radioactive Sources, National Academy of Sciences.

Bonnie Jenkins

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