Twelve Foundational Truths About Social Justice

“We don’t all have to agree on approach, as long as we’re in it for the right reasons.”

“We need to be able to bring different perspectives into this topical area. After all, we can’t fight for diversity if we can’t have diverse views.”

I have heard each of these views ad nauseum when it comes to how we advocate in the social justice space. Generally speaking, they arise when people have disagreements about specific aspects of equality, equity, access, and opportunities.

Say, for instance, someone is a D&I consultant but believes in their heart of hearts that you can do anything you set your mind to. Others will push back on this only to be told, “Look, you influence the way you influence and I’ll influence how I do”.

Except, there are foundational truths that are critical to truly influencing change in this space. Truths that, if ignored or brushed aside, will directly impact what we are able to achieve for the sake of social justice.

One person’s mind alone will not enable to do anything they set their mind to. This is a foundational truth.

Why Do I Call Them Foundational?

These are foundational because they are at the ground floor of truths we must embrace, recognize, and draw from whether we are lived experiencers, advocates, allies, or accomplices. These truths get to the heart of so many symptomatic and unhealthy beliefs and philosophies about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

A shred of doubt about these truths leaves you susceptible to being duped by social justice skeptics who themselves are arguing against these very truths every day. You will hear what they are saying, find some validity in their words and, before you know it, you’re agreeing with them thereby abandoning your post as a change agent.

Why Do I Call Them Truths?

I call them truths because I and others in this space can back them up with facts without relying on name calling, generalization, stereotyping, or personal association.

I have facilitated (literally) more than 5,000 discussions and the truths surface every single time. Without fail.

Get To It! What Are These Foundational Truths?

  1. Change does not take time. We take time. We are the change.

You need to challenge this myth every time you hear it. It is a blanket statement we have used for decades and it undermines the sense of urgency critical to true change.

Whether we are talking about changes in policy, laws, resources, whatever, people initiate them. Change is an outcome that can only exist when people do something.

Saying change takes time removes the human responsibility and accountability for the pace and substance of change efforts.

When it takes time, it is because people are scared, lack the sense of urgency, or just plain don’t want the change.

2. You cannot do anything you set your mind to.

No matter your smarts, will power, and desire, you must have access and opportunity.

When we say, “You can do anything you set your mind to”, we don’t focus on equalizing these things. What is more, when we see people thrive without these things, we prop them up as proof that…you can do anything you set your mind to.

See how this works?

The truth is, a mind is a terrible thing to waste. The NAACP promoted this truth in 1980’s commercials, this in an attempt to get people to understand that Blacks and African American’s don’t need encouragement and tenacity; they need equal access and opportunity that must primarily come from people with privilege.

So long as we believe that you can do anything you set your mind to, we will never have the need or urgency to equalize access and opportunity.

3. People, if given the same access and opportunity, have the same potential.

That’s right, the same potential. It doesn’t mean the outcomes will always be the same. It means that unless we give people the same access and opportunity, we will never know their true potential.

But, if you believe that women can do less than men; that Black people can do less than white people; that people of Hispanic heritage can do less than people of Asian heritage, it will [and does] influence what access and opportunities you give them.

This is the power of foregone conclusions.

And we’re full of them.

4. We have yet to address the system racism, sexism, and anti-LGBTQIA+ impacts of legalized slavery, segregation, and discrimination that disadvantaged everyone except white, heterosexual, able-bodied, men.

Yes, the Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964.

Yes, women can vote.

Yes, gay marriage is legal.

None of these truths address the truth that white, heterosexual, able-bodied, men had a centuries long head start in building capital, equity, name recognition, and other things that are central to thriving in America.

When we believe that changes to laws and policies have equalized the American dream, we are negating the fact that white men still have a significant head start. So even as women, for instance, get richer, men are still far ahead. Ditto for Black people getting more leadership positions. This means that the power dynamic doesn’t change.

To get a visual of how systemic racism is possible even with the advent of laws, 👇🏼:

Of course Chris’s kids started off from a better place and so did Chris’s kids, kids.

We’ve never addressed this disconnected created by legal slavery, segregation, and discrimination.

5. No matter how much positive change has occurred in the name of social justice, white, heterosexual, able-bodied, men still hold the majority of power.

Yes, we’ve had a Black president. Yes, there are a record number of people who identify in the LGBTQIA+ spectrum in Congress. Yes, women are getting more opportunities to head Fortune 500 companies.

But for all the flag waving we do to highlight these successes, they can also serve as a false flag that our work is done. That we’re moving in the right direction and thus we can take our foot off the gas.

If you focus on the positive change, you will be positive that more change is unnecessary.

If you see a direct linkage between truth’s 5 and 6, good. That’s the point.

6. Not everyone who raises questions or challenges about social justice efforts and truths does so from a place of fragility.

It’s true. There are people who don’t know. People who have grown up being taught one thing who are starting to see things that have them questioning what they thought they knew.

While they are in pursuit of truth, they may ask questions that challenge these foundational truths or other aspects of the social justice movement. If we are to perceive that every one of them are fragile people who just need to sit down and listen, we are generalizing. We are also less likely to actually hear them out, to understand where they are coming from.

Why? Because we already assume we know.

Do we? No.

7. Equal actions do not have equal impacts.

Yes, white people are discriminated against. Men have been stereotyped and generalized. White women have been mistreated.

Still, intersectionality.

One word?

Yes, one word.

Intersectionality: The complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups

No matter how often white people are discriminated against, the impacts are not the same as when a Black person or someone of Hispanic heritage is discriminated against.

A white woman being ignored at a staff meeting does not suffer the same long-term impacts as a black woman being ignored.

This can be one of the more controversial and triggering truths. Why? Because we do not want our experiences marginalized.

Still, when we believe the impacts are the same, we will push back on social justice efforts that focus on one group over another. For instance, “Why are we talking about protecting Black women? I’ve faced so much bullying in this place?”

As any bi-partisan metric around justice, health, finances, and employment show, people with intersectional aspects to them are hit the hardest.

8. Unequal impacts aside, ALL people still go through things.

During the early stages of COVID-19, singer Sam Smith posted some pictures of himself sitting outside of his house. He was distraught, in tears at times, and overall depressed. That’s when the hate poured in. People chiding him for complaining about being alone in his $14 million mansion while everyday people were trying to make ends meet.

In day-to-day discussions about workplace angst and leadership problems, people of all races, genders, national origins, generations, etc. communicate concerns and challenges. In a lot of cases, if those complaints come from people in a more privileged state than others in the room, they will be met with shade such as, “Oh, you poor white man”.

This highlights a troubling perception that just because people have more privilege that they are not allowed to express their feelings without judgment.

9. Definitions and standards must be contextualized in accordance with they who created them and when they were created.

It is easy to point to definitions as the definitive argument ender. Two people get into verbal fisticuff’s or an online comment war when one of them says, “Look, believe what you want to believe but there are definitions for these things that you are just choosing to overlook”.

Another common argument comes up around dress codes, languages, and perceptions of professionalism.

In neither case do people address the truth that definitions and standards were created by people decades ago. People who saw the world through a very narrow lens.

If you believe that we need standards and definitions and that the current body of work in these areas is right, you will judge people accordingly. More importantly, you will use documents written by the majority as proof that your words are right.

Who determines what is right? And in consideration of who? That is the question.

10. Equity and Belonging are efforts, Diversity and Inclusion are outcomes.

You can’t have diversity without equalizing access and opportunities.

You can’t have inclusion without ensuring your employees have enough of a sense of belonging that they can bring their authentic selves into the workplace.

If you believe that everything revolves around diversity and inclusion, you won’t focus on Equity and Belonging and your effort will go on for years and decades without meaningful change.

Oops, that’s already happening.

11. The best candidate (hire, progression, promotion, reward) is always a subjective determination.

“Aren’t we just supposed to hire the best candidate?”

“I’m not sexist, women just don’t generally show up as best suited for promotion?”

The best candidate is a subjective determination. Not objective, subjective. How do I know?

Position descriptions are subjectively determined. It’s not a math equation; it’s people sitting down to decide which skills matter and why.

Vacancy language is subjectively determined. It’s not a math equation; it’s people sitting down to decide which skills matter and why.

Interview questions are subjectively determined. It’s not a math equation; it’s people sitting down to decide which skills matter and why. Ditto for how interviewer’s grade a candidates response to the questions.

Subjective. And, it just so happens that white, heterosexual, able-bodied, men are the best fit in most cases.

Why? Because unchecked subjectivity leads to unchecked bias and biased results.

12. Most opposition to change in the DIE&B space comes from non-supervisors, NOT leadership.

Senior leaders are already at the top of the food chain. They are getting the cue’s that change must occur and so they put some wheels in motion.

When those wheel’s turn, who feel’s the sting of future loss? Loss of promotion opportunities they were promised. Loss of bonuses they were promised? Loss of power they had in their eyes?

Non-supervisors. Not leadership.

This matters because while we focus on what leadership is not doing, we are forgetting some critical truths.

  1. Even as leadership rotates in and out of the organization, change is still slow.
  2. Leadership make up a very small subsection of the overall workforce and yet as movements grow, resistance still stops them from fully blossoming.

[INSERT TEAR LINE HERE]

These are foundational truths. The myths behind them will pop-up in social justice conversations all-day, every day. If you walk into the room to facilitate or lead social justice change, be prepared to address them one way or another.

If you struggle to believe them, you will struggle to truly address change.

This isn’t an opinion, it is a truth.

Certified Master Facilitator / Certified Diversity Executive / Award-winning leader in empowerment and equality.

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