Taking the first steps
By Nicole Andrews, Audrey Elegbede and Emily Watkins
Does hearing “anti-racism” raise your hackles? Do you love everyone equally and “not see color”? Have these beliefs been challenged lately? Because of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among many others, people are speaking out and up, and many more are “getting woke” to some realities that they had previously ignored.
If you identify as white, you may be feeling squirmy in the face of these challenges to previously held beliefs. It’s more comfortable to focus on problems and issues that affect us more obviously, especially in a year like this. Who has time to worry about racism when dealing with job loss and sick family members?
It’s easy to slip into black-and-white, either/or thinking: “I have my own difficulties, so I don’t have time to deal with anything else.” “I’ve worked hard to get where I am today so I don’t have any sympathy for people who haven’t worked hard and don’t have as much as I do.”
It’s more nuanced to embrace “and” thinking: “I have my own difficulties, and others have it much worse.” “I’ve worked hard to get where I am today, and I recognize that those with different skin color have to work much harder to get the same results.”
DEFINITIONS OF RACISM
“Racism” is defined in Merriam-Webster as:
1: a belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. Also: behavior or attitudes that reflect and foster this belief: racial discrimination or prejudice.
2a: the systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic and political advantage of another.
2b: a political or social system founded on racism and designed to execute its principles.
There are obvious forms of racism, such as white hoods, blatantly unjust laws and cross burnings. These things still exist and are experienced by BIPOC and are relatively easy to speak out against. But racism takes many other, less obvious forms, including microaggressions, white privilege, white fragility and systemic inequalities.
The first step is to acknowledge the problem. This involves being willing to step out of your comfort zone and listening to people who have different life experiences.
Why should anti-racism work take center stage now? At a time where everything feels like it is meant to divide people, do we really need to delve into such a heavy and seemingly divisive topic? The simple answer is yes. Racism is embedded in the structure of our society. It affects health care, education, housing, relationships and politics. It’s the one thing we cannot escape because our government, laws and ideology were built to sustain it. As we near the end of a tumultuous year, we seek clarity and peace, and anti-racism work is a step in that direction.
This work requires empathy and understanding without judgment or comparisons. If you experience fear, anger, disdain or any of the other negative emotions while doing anti-racism work, know that it is normal. Growth will happen by leaning into and being curious about the emotions and trying to get to the message behind them.
Rochester Women Magazine is committed to lifting up the stories of women whose voices have not been heard and working to dismantle racism. If those seems like lofty goals, they are. And like all big jobs, many hands make light work. We need to gather as many friends as we can on this journey.
To best explore this topic, Rochester Women Magazine will be inviting women who have knowledge about and lived experiences with active racism and who engage in anti-racist teachings and practices to provide their expertise. You will meet women who are confronting racist tropes, ideologies and practices in their daily lives in this interactive space. We want readers to become participants and contributors to learn from one another.
First, we reached out to local women Nicole Andrews and Audrey Elegbede for their expertise. Each comes to the topic with a different set of experiences and narratives about being a woman in Rochester, and they will help outline an ongoing anthology that will guide us as we undertake the difficult work of learning about and dismantling racism.
MEET THE EXPERTS
Nicole Andrews is a dedicated advocate for children’s education and mental health rights. For over 13 years, Andrews has worked in early childhood education—as a mental health practitioner at Fernbrook Family Center, an early childhood teacher and director at various centers, the early childhood program coordinator at Gage East Apartments and currently the school readiness supervisor for Rochester Public Schools.
Andrews has worked with youth and families across the country in Southern California, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Rochester. Her passion and drive for community service began with volunteering at the transplant house in Rochester and over time has developed into a skillset that has led to her sitting on many boards including the United Way Olmsted County, Families First of Rochester and the Hope Fuse mentorship group. Her devotion to children and families who are in crisis or have experienced trauma is what led her to serve on Mayor Kim Norton’s task force on homelessness in Olmsted County and on the storytelling committee.
Throughout the years Andrews has been motivated by personal and professional experiences, leading trainings on implicit bias, early childhood education needs and trauma-informed practices and working on critical consciousness and equity in schools. She continues to strive for equity and access for marginalized children and their families.
Audrey Elegbede. PhD, CPC, ELI-MP, assistant professor of ethnic studies at Winona State University, holds a bachelor’s degree from University of Wisconsin–Madison, a master’s degree from Arizona State University and a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Brown University. She has over 20 years of experience in higher education, developing curriculum, holding leadership positions and presenting and publishing nationally and internationally on Critical Race Theory, intersectionality, social justice approaches and anti-oppression pedagogies. Her course on white privilege at University of Wisconsin–La Crosse was the first catalogued course on the subject within the University of Wisconsin system.
Elegbede has taught courses on racial representation in media, social justice, anti-oppression engagement, white privilege and white supremacy, multiracial and multicultural identities, feminism and feminist theory and Islam in the U.S. She is also a disability advocate, a member of the Minnesota Department of Human Services Early Intensive Developmental and Behavioral Intervention Advisory Board, vice-president of the RT Autism Awareness Foundation in Rochester and board member on the Rochester Raiders adapted-athletic booster club.
Elegbede has presented to health professionals, academics, educators and service professionals on issues of systemic racism, white privilege, health disparities, culturally responsive service provision, social justice advocacy and intersections of race and ability—particularly autism—for Mayo Clinic, Gundersen Health System, the Wisconsin Balance of State Continuum of Care, Viterbo University and the Chileda Institute, among others.
Elegbede is also a certified professional coach with training in Core Energy Leadership Coaching, COR.E Leadership Dynamics, COR.E Transitions Dynamics and the Energy Leadership Index Assessment (ELI). Elegbede has successfully coached medical professionals, business leaders, entrepreneurs, politicians, TedTalk speakers, educators, students, disability advocates and parents.
Elegbede recommends the following books as good introductory reads.
“So You Want to Talk About Race”
by Ijeoma Oluo
“How To Be an Anti-Racist”
by Ibram X. Kendi
“Stamped From the Beginning”
by Ibram X. Kendi