The struggle for racial justice now looks like will be even more challenging for the next generation than it was for us. That sentence is as heartbreaking for me to write as it is for you to read.
We are living through a time of unfathomable retrenchment in race relations in America. The removal of affirmative action as a tool to increase access to higher educational opportunity for underrepresented racial groups was a recent blow that indicates just how fully the clock is being turned back on racial progress.
Few things are more devastating than thinking that the society we are leaving to our children falls so far short of the equity and inclusion that we have been striving for. Schools are more segregated today than they were thirty years ago. Racially-motivated hate crimes, along with continued police brutality against Black people, have increased the levels of everyday fear and anxiety to levels that my generation has not seen.
So, where does this leave us?
It leaves us with the imperative of doing all we can to nurture and strengthen the next generation for the struggles ahead.
Of course, our own turn with the baton of racial progress is not complete. But even as we redouble our own efforts to resist retrenchment and promote progress, it is vital that we also escalate our focus on transferring our insights, tactics and networks to those who will carry the baton for the next fifty years.
How intentional are you about your mentoring practice? How proactive are you in building and nurturing a broad and diverse cohort of personal mentees? How effective are you as a mentor? Do you ask your mentees how you can up your mentor game?
And are you practicing Everyday Antiracism in your mentorship? Let’s apply our eight elements of Everyday Antiracism to see how we can boost our antiracist mentoring.
Do you ask questions in your mentoring conversations, or do you do all the talking? Do you look for opportunities to shape and enhance your mentees’ thinking by encouraging them to fully play out their ideas? Do you model being a lifelong learner, particularly on issues of race, so that neither you, nor they, get stuck in narrow, inflexible points of view? Are you helping your mentees balance curiosity and certainty?
Do you help your mentees consider the structural aspects of the issues they are confronting? Are you helping them to sharpen their ability to identify leverage points to disrupt systemic factors that hold inequities in place?
How honest are you with your mentees about your own implicit biases and your own journey of increased internal vigilance? With examples of when you have recently fallen short? Can you help your mentees identify ways they perpetuate White supremacy culture in their assumptions and actions? With mentees of color, can you help them courageously recognize their own internalized racism? If you are of color, are you cognizant of yours?
How well are you helping your mentees to avoid othering when they are in positions of group influence? Are you helping them to stay attentive to microaggressions, like interrupting or ignoring, by themselves or others? And helping them to promote “microvalidations,” like eye contact and verbal acknowledgment, that encourage and include others?
How well are you modeling a lifelong quest to learn and share the truths of racial history to your mentees? Do you recommend resources – books, videos, podcasts – that you’ve found helpful? Better yet – do you keep copies on hand to readily share with your mentees?
Are you attentive to ways your mentees may be carrying racialized trauma – either as a perpetrator or a victim or both? Does your mentoring relationship include space for empathetic listening and support that could lead to healing? And do you model how they might do the same for others?
True racial justice in America will require investments to make up for past and current oppression and discrimination. But, with a few high-profile exceptions like recent legislation in California, the idea of reparations remains idealistic. Can you do more to help your mentees think about ways they might advocate and strategize for meaningful restitution in their current and future spheres of influence?
Are you modeling how to shift and share power when you have it? Are you helping to sharpen their capacity to share authority and decision-making with those impacted by policy and practice?
Just imagine if each of us stepped up our commitment to cultivating these mindsets, skills and practices in our mentees!
I believe we have to accept the reality that the quest for racial justice will be a much longer societal endeavor than we hoped. And we should be taking action now through intentional antiracist mentoring to accelerate the equipping of the next generation to make greater advances than we have been able to.
Mark is the Founding Director of the National Initiative on Mixed- Income Communities and the Leona Bevis and Marguerite Haynam Professor of Community Development at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University. He can be reached at email@example.com.