I’ve spent my entire adult life in the arts, either as a participant, volunteer, program facilitator, arts organization leader (administrator), etc. and as this dialogue about Cultural Equity grows I’ve also seen it get very diluted. At the core of this thing called Cultural Equity & Inclusion (and Diversity as-well-as Accessibility) is the centering of whiteness or our organizations aspirations to be validated by the status quo.
Who are these organizations willing to hire? Folks with complex experiences are seen as liabilities. Individuals without academic accolades are seen as inadequate, inexperienced, incapable of working within institutions. The reason 99% of what you see in relation to the field wide attempt at Cultural Equity & Inclusion failing is because its all rooted in white supremacist capitalist values, meaning its extracts from communities of color what it finds value in and discards the rest.
I felt that instead of giving examples of what organizations can do maybe the following set of questions will help with the field with some internal reflection.
Does your organization hire formerly incarcerated individuals?
Does your hiring practices require an academic degree of some form or is lived experience seen as equal competency?
Is your organization programming for a specific community or are you programming alongside and with that specific community? If you believe that you’re programming in partnership with that specific community, how is power, and decision making shared? If power and decision making isn’t shared, then maybe this isn’t an authentic partnership?
Do your programs take into account the many barriers a participant may face in attending a program? What are those barriers? How were they determined? Did you consult participants on what might be an obstacle to participation?
Once those barriers have been determined (in partnership with participants) have you budgeted appropriate strategies to minimize those obstacles?
Have you reviewed the language on your website, organizational collateral, programmatic marketing materials, etc to ensure that language is inclusive and non-violent? Who did you consult? Are those consultants competent? Are they folks who your programs are intended for?
Has your organization had a conversation about anti-blackness and anti-indigeneity? Why not? Have you considered attending the Undoing Racism workshops? https://www.pisab.org/programs/
Does your organization acknowledge the original peoples of the area your organization is in? How are you building relations with them that do not place a burden on them to fulfill your efforts in being respectful? Have you given them ample time to engage in your requests? How do you ensure that your organization does not tokenize this relationship or practice? Read this: bit.ly/ntvland
How does your organization work to hire undocumented individuals? How does your organization carry the responsibility of finding ways to disburse payment to undocumented individuals? There are legal ways to do so.
Have you reviewed your employee handbook lately? Is the language punitive or does it incorporate practices that can place staff in the best positions to be successful? Who have you consulted to ensure the language isn’t harmful and incorporates restorative practices?
What is the role of youth in your organization? Do they have an opportunity to influence programs?
Are members of your target audience part of your Board? If not, do they have an opportunity to make or influence decisions made at the Board level? Are Board meetings held at a time that allows the best opportunity for those individuals to engage in that process? Meaning, time, location, cost of commuting there, etc.
If your organization didn’t get a grant or is not fundraising at the desired level is your first strategy to increase or add participation fees?
How does your organization define safety? Is there a process to determine when to call the police and when to use non-criminalizing strategies?
How do you define accessibility? ADA compliance is the bare minimum.
Does your Cultural Equity and Inclusion strategy have a class analysis?
Does your organization understand what patriarchy is?
Does your organization understand white fragility?
Does your organization understand colorism?
What role do elders play in your organization and how are they supported?
What is your succession strategy for elevating frontline staff?
For the the organizations of color out there that live on the legacy of past work while they might have been at the forefront of these conversations in the ‘70s and ‘80s please understand that although that work is critically important, operating under those strategies now can be well below the bare minimum of what is needed to reach equity today. Do better! Close those generational gaps that exist.