Thank you for pledging to be United Against Racism in 2023!
What is United Against Racism?
United Against Racism is part of YWCA USA’s signature campaign to raise awareness and take action against institutional racism.
When you and your organization take part, you are demonstrating your ongoing commitment to eliminating racism. More than that, you are sharing an educational journey with colleagues and allies across the city of Boston, and identifying concrete measures to reduce bias and increase inclusion and equity.
Join your colleagues or explore on your own YW Boston’s carefully curated curriculum of racial equity content. Use the United Against Racism Toolkit to support self-reflection and conversations. Develop an action plan to promote racial equity. And showcase your commitment to the work with a digital badge upon completion of the curriculum.
Thank you for uniting against racism with other champions and allies, expanding your knowledge, and transforming our communities…until justice just is.
Who participates in United Against Racism?
Anyone can be United Against Racism with YW Boston. Individuals, friend groups, families, student associations, colleagues, and organizations are all welcome to sign up. Organizations, in particular, can benefit from participation by gaining access to racial equity content that can support organizational learning, encourage employee engagement, and complement existing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) work.
How do I participate?
The United Against Racism curriculum goes live online on March 31st, 2023. Participants get access to the self-paced materials as well as a toolkit with prompts and worksheets to use on your own or with colleagues.
If you are participating with a group, identify a point person to decide how your organization can best structure the learning experience. Use the toolkit to guide your planning around participation, scheduling, and roles.
Upon completion of our 2023 United Against Racism curriculum, participants will receive a digital badge to showcase participation.
United Against Racism spans the month of April and ends in:
A note about perspective
If you are a person of color…
Some of this content may seem simplistic or obvious. Reviewing the history and ideology that underlie your everyday lived experience may provide useful clarity and insight, but you don’t need another lesson on racism and systemic oppression to know it exists.
However, to be United Against Racism, everyone needs a shared understanding— especially those whose privilege has hidden this reality from view. That’s why we start with the fundamentals.
We hope that a shared analysis will help create a space for constructive dialogue with your white colleagues. You’ll be able to carry less of the burden of explaining core facts of your existence, and express your goals and needs with the support of the evidence and theory presented here.
At the same time, we know that reviewing the scale and impact of racism can be painful. Take care of yourself as you embark on this learning journey. We hope you will be uplifted by the bravery and brilliance of the millions of people of color who have endured, reported, and theorized this history. And that this curriculum will help you find understanding, connection, and solidarity with your colleagues.
If you are white…
This curriculum is designed to be widely accessible. Whether this is your first time engaging with the concept of racism at work or you are already deeply involved in DEI efforts, we hope you will find something valuable.
If you received a typical American education, this lens may be unfamiliar. You may find yourself surprised, shocked, or dubious. We hope you reflect on and discuss your reactions, and center curiosity above all.
The wrongs done in the past and the ongoing injustices around us raise profound questions about what it means to be “white.” How can this be a legitimate identity, when it has been so entangled with racism for its entire history? Can a white person today take responsibility for fighting racism, without taking on the shame and blame for centuries of atrocity?
You may experience a range of emotions as you contemplate these challenges. It is common to feel defensive, guilty, sad, angry, and even numb. We hope you will find the courage to be vulnerable with yourself and your colleagues as you discover your role in building a more just world.
2023 United Against Racism Curriculum
Use the outline below to navigate to specific sections of the curriculum.
- What is race, anyway?
- Where do I fit in?
- Diversity in the workplace
- What can I do?
- Claim your completion badge
What is race, anyway?
Many people assume that, because race is such a relevant part of daily life in America, it is a biological reality. We presume that people are different along the racial lines we have come to see—White, Black, Hispanic or Latin, Asian, and Native American. Humans have a tendency to prefer people in their own group, the theory goes, and to be suspicious of those who are “different.” This assumption follows that if we can learn to stop seeing color—stop seeing the supposed differences between the races—we could finally be one race, the human race.
Many people are surprised to learn that this story is backwards. There is no inherent biological difference that corresponds to racial categories. There is likely just as much genetic variety [Race Is Real, But It’s Not Genetic | Discover Magazine] between two people we would call “Black” as there would be between a “Black” person and an “Asian” person.
And, in reality, the cause and effect of racism are reversed from the common conception. Humans didn’t develop racial prejudice solely because we mistrusted each other’s apparent differences. Rather, certain societies proposed the idea of “racism” in order to justify a profitable practice that was already going on—the practice of human enslavement. As an intercontinental “slave trade” grew in the 17th century, so did moral opposition. Influential European thinkers [The Science of Race | Facing History and Ourselves] invented the pseudo-scientific concept of “race” to counter any movement to abolish the practice. The descriptions varied, but the populations described as most inferior were always the ones most convenient to exploit: Africans and Indigenous Americans.Click to expand this section and read more
Race didn’t lead to racism. Racism led to race.
The propaganda campaign by European enslavers succeeded all too well. In North America, the forced labor of tens of thousands of kidnapped Africans formed the basis of so much wealth that lawmakers made racism their official policy. The concept of “White people” was introduced in a law in the Maryland colony [Birth of a White Nation]. Even philosophers of freedom like Thomas Jefferson endorsed this hierarchy of humanity. The framers of the U.S. Constitution could not bring themselves to do away with it. With the help of racism encoded into law, slavery expanded exponentially. Eventually, it was abolished, and transformed into second-class citizenship. Today, hundreds of years later, racial differences are pervasive.
Understanding this history is important. Without it, it would be easy to take for granted that the higher rates of poverty, incarceration, illness, and more among Black people, Hispanics, and Indigenous Americans compared to Whites are justified—that the glaring disparities we see around us are due to some deficiency in the marginalized people themselves.
But race is a biological myth, and racial discrimination is now against the law. So, who is to blame for the inequality and inequity that still exists today? Answering this question requires another shift in how we have been taught to see the world.
Leaping from the interpersonal to the systemic view.
In our daily lives, we deal with small groups of people— relationships, status changes, conflicts, and alliances. When someone is given a promotion, we see the work they put in to achieve it and the managers who decided to award it. When a friend is angry with us, we ask ourselves what we might have done to hurt them or what they might be assuming so that we can mend the rift.
Many believe racism operates only at these individual and internal levels, and that the way to change it would therefore also need to focus on ourselves and our relationships—the interpersonal level. But this day-to-day scale is just the surface of an inequitable society.
We all go about our lives interacting with deeper structures that we are rarely aware of. Institutions like schools, banks, local governments, media, and religion have been built and evolved before we got here. They set certain rules and expectations that determine if our choices will be successful or not. For instance, a child may have a disability that prevents them from sitting in a chair for long periods of time. But their school may have a policy that evaluates them on test performance and classroom behavior, and the child would fail both measures and face consequences for that “failure.” This is not so much an interpersonal issue as it is a systemic one; the same outcome would happen to other students unable to comply with policy for reasons outside of their control.
This systemic level also includes social realities that go even deeper than institutions. These are called ideologies: beliefs or norms that are so ingrained they can “go without saying.” Many of these are ancient and positive: caring for children, charity toward those less fortunate, respect for elders. Others are culturally specific: handshakes in the West and bows in Asia; driving on one side of the road or the other; even making eye contact with strangers on the street. And norms also change over time, usually gradually (but sometimes more quickly, as norms around gender and sexuality have been doing in recent decades).
Racism is such a pernicious phenomenon because, when it was created, it infiltrated both the institutional and ideological cores of our society. This is what is meant by systemic racism: the ways that we are guided, even today, to favor White people at the expense of people of color, through the ideas we are taught, the policies we follow, and the institutions we interact with.
So what do we do about it?
Fighting racism requires us to learn to see beyond the surface.
Rather than looking for “racists,” we must detect these invisible forces, unpack how they are affecting each of us and those around us, and deliberately choose actions that go against them.
If that sounds demanding, it is. If it were easy, we would have done it already! It takes practice, courage, and sometimes discomfort.
It is also immensely rewarding. Actively dismantling racism is liberating—not only for people of color, but for White people as well. Racism closes us off from ourselves and each other. Uniting against it frees our talents, unlocks our potential, and opens our hearts.
Look at page 6 of the Participant Toolkit for more reflection questions.
Where do I fit in?
When you think about your identity, what is most important to you? Your talents and skills? Your values or your faith? Where you are from or your family and relationships? Or do you think of things that are visible on the outside, like your gender expression or your ethnicity or culture?
Are there important parts of your identity that other people seem to place more importance on than you do—like your age, or your accent, or your hairstyle?
Each of us is a mix of qualities that are internal, and attributes that are outward-facing— personal selves and social identities.
The way others see us doesn’t necessarily match what we feel is most important about our inner selves. Sometimes, the meanings people attach to what they see are unfair: assumptions, stereotypes, and prejudice develop when groups associate certain social identities with certain characteristics.
Whether we like it or not, the meanings attached to our social identities shape our lives. One of the most harmful ideologies in society is that social identities exist in a hierarchy. To understand racism, it’s crucial to understand both that this hierarchy is “constructed” (not based in science) and that it has real impact on people’s lived experiences and the social ideologies that have shaped our world.Click to expand this section and read more
Old hierarchies linger in our systems, narratives, and unconscious beliefs.
The U.S. Declaration of Independence says that “All men are created equal.” But the Constitution failed to protect the rights of everyone equally. Our society presumed that certain characteristics were superior to all others. Other characteristics were at the “bottom of the pack,” believed to be indicators of inferiority or even inhumanity.
Long before we were born, these ideologies were deeply embedded in our culture. Male identity is given higher status than a female one in many human societies, rendering half the population unable to live their fullest lives. In the invention of race, “White” was constructed to be the top social identity, and “Black” the lowest. For 400 years or so, skin color—a trait with no biological connection to any inner qualities—has been used to rank billions of human beings.
Beyond gender and race, many other long-standing social identity hierarchies form an implicit ladder of value in virtually every interaction we have—and in every system we operate in.
If this list makes you uncomfortable, it should—because it is deeply unjust. Today, almost all of us disavow these ideas. But we continue to be guided by these unspoken rules, regardless of our actions and achievements.
Our social identities shape our lives—and our perspective.
If you find yourself on the “lower” end of any of these social identities, you may have included that identity among the most important to you. It has caused your life to be different, and therefore shaped what you believe and how you act.
If you find yourself on the bottom of more than one of the categories, you experience an even more complex dynamic called “intersectionality.” Being both Black and female, for instance, seems to trigger an especially forceful social reaction. The stereotypes and ideologies about race and gender combine in especially toxic ways which have been built into systems and institutions for hundreds of years. The result is visible in access to cancer treatment, [BECOME – Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance], infant mortality rates, and pay equity, [Women in the Workforce: The Gender Pay Gap Is Greater for Certain Racial and Ethnic Groups and Varies by Education Level | U.S. GAO], that are dramatically worse than any other group.
The majority of people in our society experience unjust obstacles based on some element of their identity. The loss of human potential is impossible to calculate.
- The origins of the term “intersectionality”
- How Do The Social Constructions Of Race And Gender Interact?
Some identities provide benefits in this society—and, at the same time, make the hierarchy harder to see.
When your social identity is ranked toward the top of the invisible social hierarchy, you don’t experience any friction or opposition on the basis of that identity. In fact, people may give you the benefit of the doubt or even afford you status or advantages you may not even be aware of. This is called “privilege.”
This is a different “privileged” than the sense of wealthy or entitled. It refers to the basic, built-in “privileges” that one or more of your social identities has regardless of your own merit. Think of it as a membership card. If you have it, you are allowed in, no questions asked. If not, nothing you can do will earn you entrance.
Having a privileged identity does not make a person bad. But it can shape who you are in subtle ways.
Mostly, it can make it hard to see the hierarchies around us that are obvious to those who fall to the bottom of them.
If you have a dominant or privileged identity, you may find that it takes extra work to understand the perspective of those who do not share that identity. This may show you things about the way you operate in the world that you did not see before—and it may not feel great. But it will unlock your potential to unite against these systems of oppression, including racism.
Meanwhile, having a less privileged social identity isn’t the sum of a person’s life story, or the defining characteristic of a culture. “Marginalized” groups have responded to the hostility towards them by evolving powerful communities of their own, along with incalculable creative, intellectual, and interpersonal contributions.
Imagine how much richer our society would be if Black women, queer people, the neurodiverse, immigrants, and so on were not constrained by oppressive systems.
Humans are harmed by these hierarchies, but they are not defined by them. Diversity is strength.
See page 8 of the Participant Toolkit for more reflection questions.
Diversity in the workplace
Thinking about our private identities and times when we have been treated unfairly can make us feel vulnerable. It’s sometimes jarring to be asked to reflect and share these topics in a professional setting. Is all this discomfort worth it?
Research [Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter] suggests that diverse groups of people working together produce better solutions to problems than homogeneous ones. The challenge is that diverse groups of people also come into conflict. When a society already treats groups unequally, these conflicts tend to repeat the dynamics of the wider world—meaning that the negative impacts of workplace tension fall disproportionately on the members of the marginalized groups. Career pathways and mentorship are typically less accessible for people of color [The Black experience at work in charts | McKinsey] than for White people. That contributes [SHRM | The Cost of Racial Injustice] to loss of trust, reduced productivity, increased absenteeism, and attrition—while their White colleagues remain. So much for diversity.
In order to attain the benefits of a diverse group, the group has to develop a culture that mitigates the oppressive systems we learned about above. This is why the work isn’t just “D” for Diversity, but DEI: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.Click to expand this section and read more
If DEI starts with gathering a diverse group to an institution, the Equity aspect of DEI involves analyzing its systems, policies, and outcomes to assess whether everyone has equal access to opportunities to succeed.
This goes deeper than diversity, which looks at how much variety there is within a group, and examines how that variety is distributed and treated. For instance, if a company’s staff is 60% White, but the leadership team is 95% White, then the 40% of the whole who are people of color are facing a barrier to opportunities that White people are not.
Talking honestly about data like this, even when there are no easy solutions, is a core component of equity work. Only when an institution is fair will its diversity be able to thrive.
In addition to the structural level, the interpersonal sphere is central to sustaining a successful diverse organization. This Inclusion component is likely what we are developing when DEI calls on us to spend time on our own biases, experiences, and relationships at work. If leaders of diverse organizations attend to equity but take for granted that everyone will get along, feel the same way about the company culture, and intuitively understand each other’s perspective, they will see employees of color become frustrated and move on.
This is because the sense of belonging that each of us seeks is deeply tied to our social identities. If your identity is not acknowledged or respected, you feel unwelcome and excluded. But when employees develop the habit of celebrating a wide range of individuals and cultures, and the skills to navigate conflicts and build trust, it’s possible to feel that you belong even when others are very different from you. This is what an inclusive organization looks like.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion each require different methods of intervention, different resources, and different tools for measurement. Individual reflection is an essential step along the way. But it’s just the start. Using the lessons learned from self-reflection to assess the state of your team and your organization—and take action to improve it—is the heart of uniting against racism.
- What’s in it for my organization? How does diversity provide value? Read more.
- Is diversity enough? Why there’s an E and I Read more
- How does your workplace interact with systems that have racism built into them? Read more
See page 10 of the Participant Toolkit for more reflection questions.
What can I do?
No one person created racism, and no one person can eliminate it.
Remember this if you find yourself disappointed in the pace of change, or overwhelmed by the scale of injustice. You shouldn’t measure your success as an anti-racist by the state of the world. Assess your progress not by how much work is still left to do, but by what you can do today that you weren’t able to do before.Click to expand this section and read more
Just as racism operates at multiple levels, anti-racism must work that way too. It’s important to begin with yourself. Reflect on questions like:
- How well do you understand your own biases?
- Can you practice interrupting them before they affect your behavior?
- How can you widen your perspective on the world so you don’t rely on assumptions and stereotypes?
- What can you do to build relationships based on trust, so that you can give and receive feedback?
- What support do you need to be resilient and care for yourself when confronted with defensiveness, guilt, anger, grief, and other strong emotions?
- Who can be your partner, coach, sounding board, or cheerleader as you navigate this journey?
Developing these skills takes practice and discipline. But their value goes well beyond fighting racism. They are life skills, with benefits to mental health, relationships, decision-making, and social well-being.
Racism is embedded in the systems and institutions all around us. It may be hard to see how your actions could make a difference. But your workplace is one domain where you have a unique opportunity to make an impact.
Whether you are a leader, a manager, or a contributor in your organization, your role puts you in a position to affect others. The specific scope of this effect is called your sphere of influence. You may have formal authority over a team, a strategy, or a policy. You may have more informal power: social status due to your seniority, a skill set that the organization needs, a network of positive relationships and respect.
It can be uncomfortable to talk about power dynamics at work. But understanding our own power is key to determining where our actions can lead to change—and where they might not. You may realize you are in a position to drive the direction of significant aspects of your organization. Or you might identify a narrow window where you can exert influence over time. But no matter how broad the sphere is, there is no one else who can fight racism from that specific position. If you don’t seize that opportunity, no one else will.
Read more: What is the unique role of a leader (of a team or an organization) in fostering inclusion? Read more
Before you move into solutions, spend time understanding the problems.
In examining your and others’ relative power, you may notice disparities by race and gender. It is crucial to identify and understand these disparities with candor. These are sensitive topics for many organizations, but it is only possible to address inequity if an organization can identify and investigate it.
Viewing aspects of your organization using a racial equity lens will reveal where your influence is most needed. Leadership teams should perform comprehensive equity audits on a regular basis, gathering data and conducting surveys and focus groups. Others may focus on their own division.
A full diagnostic would uncover any signals of structural bias in these domains:
Celebrate the strengths and successes, but don’t focus on blaming or punishing (except in cases of policy violation or criminal activity, of course). Equity assessments are most useful if they are forward-looking. Use them to determine the strategies to grow and improve.
See page 11 of the Participant Toolkit for more reflection questions.
Claim your completion badge
Taking action is not a solo endeavor. That’s why we call the campaign United Against Racism.
When you have identified an area where the organization can improve that overlaps with the areas where you have influence, you have the makings of a productive anti-racist action. Now, you are on a journey toward organizational change.
We hope the conversations and reflections you have had with this curriculum have revealed insights about yourself and your organization. We hope these have led to some concrete strategies to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace.
And most of all, we hope this has connected you to your colleagues. Advocating for change is difficult—especially when you are fighting a system that is biased against you. Allies, accomplices, and co-conspirators are essential.
Here are a few actions you can take right now to mark your completion of this campaign:
- Inspire others to join the struggle for justice by letting them know about the United Against Racism campaign. Submit the form below and you’ll receive the YW Boston United Against Racism 2023 Completion Badge. You can print and display it, and share it digitally across your networks.
- Learn how to continue this journey with YW Boston. We help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed. Read about our programs here.
- Supporting our work to reduce the systemic inequities you have been learning about. Donate to YW Boston here.
Thank you for your commitment to justice.
Share the news on social media!
Help YW Boston engage as many people as possible in racial equity work by sharing your participation on social media and encouraging others to #UnitedAgainstRacism.
- We are proud to be participating in YW Boston’s 2023 #UnitedAgainstRacism campaign! Learn more and sign up on @ywboston’s website: https://empower.ywboston.org/united
- We must all learn about and strive toward racial equity. Sign up to participate in YW Boston’s 2023 #UnitedAgainstRacism campaign. Participants will receive access to an exclusive, self-paced curriculum of racial equity content and a toolkit to help guide reflection and action. Plus, you’ll get a digital badge for participating!
- [Upon completion of curriculum. Post with badge.] We just completed @ywboston’s 2023 #UnitedAgainstRacism campaign. After wrapping up, we are empowered to continue advancing racial equity in Boston and beyond! Learn more about our inclusion efforts: [link to corresponding webpage about your organization’s work]
If you have any questions about United Against Racism, please reach out to Aaron Halls at firstname.lastname@example.org.