August 31, 2020
I have mentioned that I am participating in a four-part webinar on “Dismantling Racism,” with Warren Chalklen, Ph.D. This last Friday the topic was on combating institutional and structural racism. Institutional racism is “the discriminatory treatment, policies, or practices within organizations and institutions.” An example might be unequal pay women or BIPOC than for white males preforming the same job. Structural racism takes the next step, as “a system of public policy, institutional practices and other norms to perpetuate racial group inequality.” This takes the single institutions practice and makes it the norm for the entire culture and all institutions.
One of the points discussed was called Root Cause Analysis. This is an approach to “identify the underlying causes of an incident so that the most effective solutions can be identified and implemented.” The process asks and then answers why the event occurred, and then asks why the cause (answer) occurred. By walking this out to the seventh level we begin to understand the underlying cause (systemic racism) of what can produce an obvious easy answer or the perplexing misunderstanding for why it happened.
A jarring example for me was to take the issue of providing food and housing help to the poor. This is something many of us do routinely, either personally or through trusted institutions. Root Cause Analysis takes this the next step. The question is not whether to provide food or housing for the poor, it is instead to ask why are they poor in the first place? From there we can ask how we can bring about the necessary steps to accomplish change. This lets us address the outcome (economic inequality) rather than just providing food.
THOUGHTS: I had a mentor in East Oakland who told a story of providing food for a poor family. The wife had come to his office and asked for help to get food on the table for her four kids. He gladly took her to the grocery and helped her carry the two sacks into the kitchen. The husband stood there glaring angrily at him for his assistance. What he realized was he was superseding the husbands perceived role as provider. While he continued to provide help with food to others, he also changed his approach to include assistance with jobs, loans, cars, and banking. He showed me a response to the Root Cause. Change is coming and it starts with you.