How (and Why) to Create a Better Workplace
(Pictured above: My "office" at home)
Here we are, almost nine months from the first day of the FIRST Stay-at-Home order in San Diego (March 13, 2020). I really did not expect the pandemic to last this long. In that time the world has experienced so much tragedy due to COVID-19, and I know that I am both privileged and fortunate not to have gotten ill, nor have I had loved ones who became ill (the one relative who did get COVID, my sister-in-law, recovered and is doing well). I've been in a rather comfortable bubble, parked in front of that laptop for most of that time, working from home for so long now that it feels like routine.
Much of this time has been so foreign, so uncomfortable, and so vastly different from the way I worked and thought and functioned before March 13. In addition to the obvious ways work has been different (no commute, breaking for lunch in my own kitchen, not caring if there are holes in my pants), the last year has transformed the way I think about work. And it has been eye-opening.
Perhaps the greatest transformation in the last year for the U.S. can be attributed not to COVID-19, but to the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. That event - echoing centuries of abuse and injustice against the black community - ignited a furor among Americans who could no longer tolerate this horrific cycle of violence.
It gave rise to a reckoning. Americans were forced to confront the ways in which racism against blacks and their fellow communities of color have proliferated the complex systems of societal engagement that run our daily lives. Everything from the Post Office, to schools, to movie-making, to the algorithms that determine what each of us see in social media channels...everything had to be questioned. Because the veil had been lifted.
Racism was, IS, fucking everywhere. And it has always been there. But finally, maybe because we were all sitting still for a moment because of this damn pandemic, finally folks started to actually see where white supremacist culture had been living, rather snugly, all along.
And - because the arts are not and were never invulnerable to those racist systems - those of us in the American theatre industry watched as our companies were seized by this reckoning... namely through a powerful movement led by We See You, White American Theater. The people behind the WSYWAT movement have not only offered a statement about the ways the industry has been complicit in perpetuating racism and white supremacist culture; they also shared their principles and made their demands. And many folks like myself started to interrogate our workplaces more thoughtfully, wondering out loud (for once!) if the seemingly-benign ways we worked together were actually contributing to this huge fucking problem.
Spoiler alert: they WERE.
I'm not here to give a specific rant about my current place of employment. Besides, it's not like we're unique in any way in terms how theatres are responding this moment. But I am here to say that I, as a Woman of Color working in a Predominantly White Institution (heretofore known as a PWI), have experienced white supremacist culture at my workplace. And it has been really challenging.
I know I'm not alone. I created The Nuance specifically to explore the intersection of artists and financial literacy, and in doing so I've begun building solidarity with BIPOC folks who also recognize how systems have been pitted against them. And while there are several ways one can start to dismantle white supremacist culture, I've chosen to focus on two specific methods: 1. By raising awareness of BIPOC artists and their challenges (hence, The Nuance), and 2. By offering fellow BIPOC artists and arts workers resources to help them as they confront racism in their workplaces.
And so! That was a rather long-winded way to get to where I wanted to go, which is this: Please partake of these three awesome resources, which can help you in your journey of battling racism in your workplace!
AWESOME RESOURCE #1: artEquity
artEquity is an organization dedicated to fighting racism within the arts & culture space. They have a facilitator training program that I've had my eye on for years...but for now I'd like to share their INCREDIBLE Google doc, BIPOC Surviving PWI - Resources. And let's unpack this incredible list for a moment, shall we? In it you'll also find a BIPOC Therapist + Healing Resource Guide, where you can find therapists who are specifically trained to help folks in their healing from systemic racism. I mean, COME ON. That is goddamned amazing! (I mean, everyone could use a therapist, but can you just IMAGINE what it's like to work with a therapist who is coming from a place of anti-racism???) Fighting racism is a long game, so finding ways to nurture and protect your mental health is absolutely critical.
AWESOME RESOURCE #2: Dismantling Racism
This site serves a broader anti-racist purpose and does not primarily focus on the arts, but the articles and resources are universally helpful. I'd like to highlight one particular document entitled White Supremacy Culture that has really helped me understand how racism is baked into our workplace culture. Notably, this site and its resources pre-exist the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020, which goes to show that folks have been battling this shit for a long time, and that these issues are not new. (DUH.) But if you're anything like me, you'll read that doc and realize that no, you're not crazy; the toxicity you see in your office has actually been perpetuated by white supremacy.
AWESOME RESOURCE #3: Sarah Bellamy
I am in awe of this woman. So imagine my joy when my company decided to hire her as our Anti-Racism trainer! Not only is my workplace facing the right direction; we've got an incredible person to shepherd us there. I've been quite critical of my workplace, but for the record I'd like to say that it is taking steps towards dismantling white supremacist culture and restoring equity. And I acknowledge that this kind of work takes time. It's certainly not an easy place to be at the moment - anytime you start to name certain truths, shit gets super-real - but I'm heartened to know that Sarah will be helping us through this necessary transformation.
There are SO many more resources out there, and you can probably uncover about twenty more just by visiting the three websites listed above. But it can get overwhelming, and what I've hoped to do is offer you one way to start.
But here's one last thing I'd like to leave here, and that is....we are ALL responsible for our own evolution. That is to say, we BIPOC folks have to decolonize our own thinking where we can, in order for this all to work. I'm not suggesting that the heavy lifting should be done by us, as it obviously has for hundreds of years. But I am suggesting that even the most well-meaning BIPOC advocate can benefit from self-examination.
I'd like to end with a quote by adrienne maree brown (she/they), who is also an amazing resource in this work:
What we love makes us whole. What makes us whole is how we will survive.
I love this because it gets to the heart of why this work is so important. Love binds us as a community, and therefore it ensures our survival. So it is with love that I leave you today, in hopes that we will emerge from the pain and difficulty with newfound connection and hope.
(And with that, please enjoy a photo of three fierce women in my workplace during Halloween in 2019!)