Exploring Personal Leadership: Internalized oppression and racism

Posted by Lissa Widoff on Friday, April 15 2016


In March the Switzer Foundation hosted a second workshop on Diversity and Inclusion led by Visions Inc. of Roxbury, MA, to help Fellows and invited colleagues learn to work with the internal biases that lead to racism, sexism, ageism and other forms of oppression. We learned that many of our behaviors are internalized, regardless of whether we are a member of a historically included or excluded group.

The trainers offered several guidelines for learning to bridge differences on race, class and gender, with a very personal view of our backgrounds, experiences and patterns.  Over the course of the day we explored communications, blind spots and how these personal and often hidden biases translate into cultural and systemic biases that many groups are working to overcome or transform.

We were pleased that we had a diverse group of participants, about half of whom were Switzer Fellows. We hope that a focus on how systemic inequities have roots in our personal experience will teach us that we all have something positive to contribute if we focus on how to illuminate our “blind spots” and bring awareness to the systems within which we work. We must be allies for each other and speak out at all levels.

One other thing we learned is that a one-day focus is simply not enough for this work, as we knew going into it! The trust that must be built among participants to build on personal experience towards our experiences in professional settings, and then beyond to our cultural and political systems, takes time. We encourage Fellows and anyone engaged in this work, and perhaps especially those who are NOT engaged in this work, to look for learning opportunities in this realm.

For the future, Fellows expressed a strong interest in continuing to learn together, with a particular interest in sharing how we are working to address environmental justice, racial and social inequity, and bridging differences at structural and systemic levels. We’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can structure continuing conversations about this within the Switzer Network, as well as training and learning opportunities we should consider offering.  Please write to Lissa with your ideas.

Resources suggested by the trainers in preparation for the workshop:

The trainers and participants collected some additional resources noted below:

Resources from the organization Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation:

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