A Review of
Addressing Racism in the Organization: The Role of White Racial Affinity Groups in Creating Change
Race-Based Affinity Groups Advance Antiracism and Racial Equity
Researchers recommend the formation of race-based affinity groups to advance antiracism, racial equity, and organizational goals.
The authors of this study examine the role of racial affinity groups or caucuses in understanding institutional racism and transforming an institution towards antiracism and racial equity. They trace the development, execution, and operation of a white antiracism caucus that was facilitated by the two authors at a social service agency. They found that while the initiative received support from the organization’s leadership, many white employees did not recognize a need for the white caucus while people of color questioned its benefits.
The authors urge organizations to recognize the role and relevance of societal and historical race privileges and racism that manifest as inequities in both society and within organizations alike. Racial affinity groups, or race-based caucuses, provide a venue for individuals from the same racial group to meet regularly and consider institutional racism, oppression, and privilege at the institution. Corporate structures typically reduce the role of white culture and privilege and use a colorblind lens in discouraging diversity and multiculturalism. Blitz and Kohl identify racial affinity groups as an opportunity to work towards racial equality and antiracist accountability within the organizational structure. While this case study focuses on a private, large non-profit organization in a diverse metropolitan area, other institutions can learn from the successes and challenges faced in the creation and execution of race-based caucasus to advance racial equity in the workplace. Institutions cannot address problems such as retention and promotion of employees of color without addressing larger institutional systems that allow for inequities and discrimination.
White individuals and managers must recognize the cultural context that supports their success.
Dr. Lisa Blitz is a social worker and Associate Professor of Social Work and Co-Director of the Institute for Multigenerational Studies at Binghamton University. Blitz received her PhD in social work from Columbia University and a bachelor’s in social work from California State University-Los Angeles. Benjamin Kohl Jr. is a behavioral health administrator, social work educator, and clinician. He serves as the director of programs at Eastern Shore Psychological Services. Kohl received his master’s in social work from Hunter College and PhD in clinical social work from New York University.
Methods and Findings
The study did not conduct a formal assessment to document the effect of the initiative since the participants worried the evaluation could be misused by individuals who believed antiracism initiatives do not deserve resources. There were also legal concerns relating to the formal documentation of inequity at the agency. Despite the lack of data, Blitz and Kohl provide information on the development, execution, and operation of a white antiracism caucus to invigorate others to replicate the process. The paper uses the author’s notes, conversations with employees, meeting minutes, public agency documents, and experiences in the affinity group and larger antiracism initiative.
The research paper urges institutions to recognize race as pivotal in American social and institutional history, therefore organizations must strive to be antiracist as white people systematically benefit from traditional policies and practices. Blitz and Kohl state the institution implemented a variety of antiracism measures including training for program managers and distribution of antiracism information as a part of the larger antiracism initiative, but race-based caucuses offered a community for individuals to identify privileges and exclusion in the workplace. Learnings from the white caucus were instrumental in teaching individuals to inform their practice and managerial skills, thereby improving cultural responsiveness. Finally, these initiatives emphasized the importance of cross-racial relationships in developing an inclusive and antiracist culture.
The authors recommend that white antiracism caucuses maintain accountability with people of color and work in reflection of with the organization’s mission, cultural, and institutional goals. Executive leadership at the institution should broaden work beyond cultural competency and recognize institutional racism and white privilege. The work of a white caucus should also contribute to other affinity groups working to address institutional and cultural bias by advocating for LGBTQ folks, religious tolerance, and people with disabilities. Further, organizational leadership must promote a healthy dialogue relating to antiracism and be open to critical feedback. Conversations on race and racism should be encouraged so that both individuals within and outside the organization can be empowered to work towards mitigating systemic inequalities and discrimination.
Blitz and Kohl call attention to systemic and institutional structures that prevent organizations from developing an inclusive and antiracist culture and community. Recognition and commitment to addressing and dismantling these structures can result in reducing inequities and marginalization both within an organization and beyond. Organizations must be open to reconstructing their practices and policies in recognition of how white privilege and racism permeate into organizational structures. The race based caucuses enabled the organization in the study to disseminate antiracism information, identify behaviors or practices that exhibit white privilege, and develop institutional and individual accountability in building racial equity.
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