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Common Good Recap: Combating Racism Through Impactful Communication

June 9, 2021

We hosted our Common Good Breakfast Thursday, May 13, to discuss the impact of how we can better communicate – from our personal conversations to boardrooms – and advocate for anti-racism. We’ve transcribed parts of this enlightening conversation for individuals and organizations who were unable to attend and hope it serves as a thoughtful reference for actionable steps to combat racism. Our panel consisted of Angel Uddin, Stephannie L. Lewis, MPP, Adair Mosley and was moderated by Dr. Catherine Squires. 

Full Panelist Bios

Nonprofit Recipient

Pillsbury United Communities is a nonprofit organization created by the community, for the community, in efforts to create persisting evolution through innovative programs that empower families and individuals to create their own pathways to a brighter future. Their impact areas include; people, place, prosperity and policy, as they strive to build more equitable and sustainable systems for African Americans, Indigenous people, people of color, immigrants, refugees and people in poverty. Neuger is honored to donate event proceeds to the organization directed by one of our esteemed panelists, Adair Mosley, President and CEO of Pillsbury United Communities.

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Panel Discussion

Q: What are some barriers to moving from conversations to action at the corporate leadership level?

Angel: One of the biggest challenges for corporate leaders to make in terms of that transition is getting over the discomfort of the topic that we’re talking about, and what does that really look like in terms of action? Many of the leader’s last summer after the George Floyd incident made proclamations and pledges throughout the country, not just our region, about becoming an anti-racist organization and about becoming a stellar pillar in the community in regards to lifting up people of color instead of oppressing those individuals and being complicit in that. I think that our biggest challenge has been really living up to those pledges. It’s very difficult to put your arms around what you’re really making a commitment to and taking those actions, engaging people. It really centers itself around fear. When you’re becoming an anti-racist organization, the biggest step is acknowledging the word “racist” because that’s very painful for a lot of people and for a lot of organization’s the presumptions of making that statement and proclamation is that you’re actually stating that you may have tiki torches and hoods in your closet – the reality is that’s not the case, we live in an organization and a country where we are guided and ruled by systemic racism in our policies, practices, procedures and our government, so what we have to do is dismantle a lot of that activity. Leaders have to really get comfortable with leaning into the discomfort, having those courageous conversations and then putting them into action. 


Q: When engaging with BIPOC communities, what are some examples on how to improve communication with organizations on how to combat racism?

Stephannie: Greater Twin Cities United Way is a great example of this, this journey started for us back in 2017, so we’re relatively new to the journey. One of the things that were an area of focus, and still is, for the organization is strength-based or acid-based framing when we talk about the communities that we support, that we uplift and amplify their voices, that we don’t talk about them as a condition. We’ve changed our communications so that instead of saying “homeless people” we say “people experiencing homelessness” or “low-income families” it’s “families with low incomes,” and that was not just done in the community impact department. This started from the board of directors and worked its way down. 


Q: Explain the intersection between narrative and cultural competency and how that impacts the creation of anti-racist initiatives.

Adair: I believe that institutions that perpetuate narratives about people, place, race, poverty, etc., at the core of it need to have competency. That’s not only the narratives that are being shared, that’s also the storyteller that’s behind the narrative. When that industry or institution understands the lived experiences of the communities in which they’re telling the story, they will be able to take an empathetic approach to storytelling and ultimately have a more just narrative about people and place. That intersection, those two things are so congruent, that you must have cultural competency in order to enforce these anti-racist practices. We need to have the strategies, theories, actions and narratives that challenge and counter racism. I challenge all the institutions and industries who are on this call to embrace an abolitionist kind of value. We have to dismantle the systems that have perpetuated and told stories about people and place and shaped how we see them without ever having any proximity to them. I believe that when organizations embrace those values and when they center the competency that we will get more just, more humane, more empathetic stories about people and place, about the lived experiences of those that live in labor communities.

Angel: We tend to, as a society, I think because of social media, become victimized by group thought. We don’t get to know people, we don’t know their lived story, we don’t know their narrative, we create one for them, and I think that’s where we have to draw a line and say, ‘Okay, enough is enough. Let’s join forces, come together in community, hear each other’s stories and lived experiences and understand the commonalities,’ because those are the things that are going to allow us to move forward in appreciating the differences. That is the true diversity of the quilt that we make as a community.


Q: What are some empathetic approaches businesses can take that lead to actionable tactics to becoming anti-racist organizations?

Adair: I always ask, when I’m in a boardroom, ‘Tell me how many times you’ve been the only one of you in a room?’ and most of those individuals never experienced that, where they’ve been the only one in a room. But I can guarantee you that myself and the other colleagues on this call have experienced this almost daily where many times we’re the only ones in the room. I implore institutions and businesses to ask the question, ‘Who’s missing?’ If you center that question as you tell stories, as you make decisions, as you put out narratives, ‘Whose voice has been missing from the conversation?’ I think is a very very tactical question that will push you, and make you think, ‘Are we shaping and sharing the narrative about people and race and telling a story or whatever marketing communication strategy? Are we telling it void of the individual that’s going to be most impacted?’ I have a colleague, Father Gregory Boyle in LA and he always says, “We need to stand in awe of what the poor have to carry rather than in judgment of how they carry it.”


Q: How does the “Minnesota nice” style of communication contribute to systemic racism?

Angel: We take huge pride in being a progressive community in the Midwest, we have the best of everything – education, arts, corporations, medical alley, if you will. We’ve got people who really center around being healthy, we get out at any given point in time of the year, God forbid snow. So, we really pride ourselves on this very open-mindedness and this very engaged community that we have right, very philanthropic. But, the reality is we had a rude awakening last summer because we could not believe that we progressive Minnesotans could have been complicit in the systemic racism that exists, and how it showed up on TV screens and phone screens and tablets across the world. How in the world could this be us? Because, after all, aren’t we Minnesota nice? But the reality is, we’re Minnesota nice to those who we have connections with, those who we have been in a relationship through our entire lives, and we’re extremely cliquish. We don’t open the door and embrace newcomers. We don’t embrace new thoughts and practices and procedures; we are very staunch in our traditionalism. And, so what happens is, we become very silent when we see things that we know are not appropriate or not right. And we justify or explain it by saying things like ‘I would never do that,’ or ‘I’m not that person.’ But the reality is, that we were all a part of it because we were all silent. George Floyd was not the first time in Minnesota. There were many that preceded him. And there will be many who follow him. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that we discovered that we actually have the greatest disparity for people of color in education. We have the biggest problem here, how in the world can such a progressive community rank and vote lowest in wealth, generational wealth, education, food sustainability, I mean, we have big problems here. But, we didn’t want to address it because it’s easier to not be assertive. So we stay away from it. And so we have to break that barrier of this passive-aggressive Minnesota nice, we have to roll up our sleeves and actually do the stuff that we’d like to tell people that we do. We talk a lot, but we don’t necessarily do what we say we do. So it’s time to get beyond your pocketbook. Get off your social media posts, and actually roll up your sleeves and get in the game. Because we have a collective responsibility to be engaged and to not be passive-aggressive. 

Stephannie: Thank you, Angel. I want to talk about it on a more micro level. One of the things that we have difficulty with because of “Minnesota nice” and passive-aggressiveness is managing conflict, right? We don’t. We do not know how to address the elephant in the room. And what happens is that when you are a person of color, if you’re Black, let me just say my experience; when there has been a failure of a white leader to manage conflict, what it is communicated to me is they’ve decided not to deal with it, which feels like a lack of care and being dismissed. But then at the same time, because this issue wasn’t addressed, performance review time comes, now you’re bringing up this issue that failed to be addressed, and is explained by my lack of performance in this area because you did not address it. And now I’m being held accountable for something that you should have addressed. And so a lot of people, you know, particularly Black, go into different organizations with this kind of hurt, and it’s never really addressed. And so, I think managing conflict better, particularly in the workplace, would be incredibly helpful to move these conversations along. 

Adair: You know, most of the sentiments have been shared, one of the things that I will say is that I believe that we need to move from a space of being complacent with incrementalism. I don’t believe that that’s what’s going to get us there. That’s typically where we default to, especially here in our state, is that we want to make incremental changes and improvements. And yes, I understand the patience and the time that’s needed because we didn’t just get here yesterday; it has been a legacy of choices that we’ve made as a society that has really made us entrenched into such system – but what is going to be needed for a more just and equitable society is going to be radical transformation. What I think we do great here in Minnesota is the minimization of people’s feelings, minimization of their experiences, right? “Oh, they didn’t mean that,” or using terms like, “I see people,” or “the human race,” And such passive language. And I believe that every individual needs to have intentionality, and needs to be active in the fight, to really live out a true kind of anti-racist, anti-oppression, oppressive society. And so that means showing up every day with a mindset of dismantling these systems.

Q: What other steps can companies and organizations take to demonstrate authentic allyship to move the needle to really engage with communities? 

Adair: We saw many organizations and institutions rush to do diversity, equity and inclusion strategies last year, hiring chief diversity officers and other positions. Organizations need to start with Human Resources, frankly, looking at its hiring practices and moving beyond just counting the numbers of diversity, but how are we really fostering an inclusive environment for the Black and Brown voices that we bring to our organizations? Have we created the conditions for those individuals to thrive? Are we listening? Are we prioritizing their experiences inside of our organization? And without retaliation? Are they able to speak their minds about their experiences? And are we really centering and listening? And so, I think that those are the types of deep questions organizations need to be asking themselves. I also think that bold and courageous leadership is needed every day. And not just in this moment but when the cameras are off, when this is no longer the top of the headline, that your leadership will be needed.  

>> For the full panel discussion, watch our video recap here: https://lnkd.in/gKDCm36