by Natalie McCabe Zwerger
Natalie is the new Executive Director of RE-Center Race & Equity in Education. She is a white, Puerto Rican, cis-hetero, non-disabled woman with socioeconomic advantage.
When organizations define their values, there are complex researched processes for best practices. There are consultants paid for supporting a methodical way of engaging staff to share, streamline, and define. Then allegedly, the organization operates from a set of principles aligned with 3-5 words that capture the values, or essentially the heart of the space.
After the murder of George Floyd, countless organizations did this work. Finalized the values. Changed the mission. Formed committees, task forces, and commissions. Made commitments to “do better.” Hired Directors of Equity and Inclusion. Probably Black Indigenous or People of Color. But ultimately, what changed? What is the second act of this performance? Has a reckoning been ignited with the institutional history of harm at the forefront? Have leadership and Boards repaired that harm? Has the community felt a palpable shift?
More than likely, no. Because the reckoning resides in us. For those of us who live in the skin of colonizers, the reckoning lives inside. It is a personal, spiritual, & emotional detachment from the tentacles of privilege and generational entitlement. It is a disconnection from the dehumanization we perpetuate. We are the system of racism and the system is us. What is required is not performative or eloquent or easy. It is painful, necessary, and unending.
The time has long been coming to move beyond public displays of performative care. The moment is to confront our familial legacies of hate even where we feel incredible dissonance from the values we believe we hold to be true. For me, this was the relationship with my abuela & her/our/my internalized racism, bias, and misconstruction of Blackness, Afro Latinidad & Indigeneity. It is my relationship with my daughter, my legacy, my past & my future to empower her with deeper understandings of how the world came to be as it is and how it might grow into something more just.
It is a constant interrogation & confrontation with ugly, uncomfortable truths we’d rather leave unseen. What is our relationship to our ancestors? What are the moves we make relationally, professionally, personally, to disavow the deep entanglements of race and power and privilege? How do we hold ourselves to account to the values we espouse? The reckoning isn’t a destination but a lifetime and a constant declination of any invitation to live at the surface and hide from the depths. Right now it is seeing the images of Haitian people at the border of this country being treated in a way where inhumane isn’t even the right word to describe the brutality, but understanding that brutality has roots that stretch all the way to our dinner tables, fueled by the white supremacy that lives in those of us with white skin whether we acknowledge it or not. It is realizing that only noticing when a white woman disappears is both anti-Indigenous and anti-Black on a personal, institutional, and systemic level. It requires resistance, confrontation, and dismantling.
The thing about confrontation is that from it, growth emerges; it is generative. So instead of thinking of values just as aspirations, think of them as catalysts, as fires inside that rage during times of intense discovery and smolder in perpetuity. The sparks and the ashes are the reminders of the journey taken and the road ahead.
I cannot fathom doing this work without community, and this organization has curated space for me/you/us to move forward. Let’s go together.