How to use DEI to disrupt, dismantle, and rebuild for social justice

Pic by Paddy O’Sullivan

2020 marks the year that we learn to live with each other as equals. It changes the argument to how do we co-create an oppression-free world where we treat each other with dignity. In his 1963 novel, The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin beckoned the US to think about the same challenge: how do we live together. On the novel’s second page, he penned these prophetic words from an old slave song, “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!”

We’re now living in the prophetic words of failing to answer that challenge.

George Floyd’s murder added oxygen to pent-up flames of injustice that set off a firestorm in the United States. Buzzwords like diversity, inclusion, equity, social justice, and anti-racism have become the water used to try and douse the fires. Confusion about how to achieve the outcome of each term can stifle well-meaning initiatives seeking to restore the damages from injustice. Effectively fighting the fires of domination, requires implementing the intended outcomes of diversity, equity, & inclusion. That clarity lights the way to disrupt, dismantle, and rebuild a path forward from the current chaos to social justice.

If we think of each term as a part of liberty’s house, diversity lays the foundation, inclusion strengthens the structure, and equity makes a place feel like home. The end goal, social justice creates the neighborhood.

Diversity represents the presence of the Big 8 social identity categories: race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, ability, and national origin. While diversity includes other characteristics, I coach with a focus on the Big 8 because they tie the protected classes to daily acts of oppression like racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, ageism, heterosexism, ableism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia. Advancing diversity requires disrupting the status quo of sameness to actively create workplaces, social organizations, boards, etc that visually depict the multitude of Big 8 identities.

Pic by Wokandpix

Inclusion focuses on paying attention to identity group dynamics. Do we recognize and respect one another’s cultures? In an inclusive environment, we dismantle mindsets and behaviors of superiority and inferiority like racism and sexism that prevent full and equal participation of all people. For example, we remove organizational policies that police people’s hair and clothing to conform to White standards of professionalism.

Pic by Wokandpix

Advancing equity requires disrupting and dismantling oppressive systems and rebuilding them with fair and just treatment for all Big 8 identity groups. This process necessitates structural and systemic changes that undue the detrimental impacts of oppression that have created beneficiaries of bias while negatively impacting marginalized identities. Anti-racism is one way to create racial equity. In order to build psychologically safe spaces, the process of advancing equity must also include healing from the trauma of oppression. Equity holds everyone accountable for disrupting, dismantling, and rebuilding a socially just world.

Social justice is not a one-time act. It is a way of life. It is the conscious decision to challenge self and others to refrain from participating in systems of oppression that maintain inequity and the status quo.

The path to social justice requires requires consistently disrupting, dismantling, and rebuilding

Properly implementing the outcomes of DEI creates the conditions to live together as equals.

Disrupt: Pay attention to the dynamics of diversity. Strategically interrupt the daily instances of oppression that maintain the status quo (i.e. racist comments, overlooking women for promotions, other biased practices that maintain a system of advantage and disadvantage based on superiority tactics, etc).

Dismantle: Pay attention to dynamics of inclusion. Notice areas of collusion where you and others participate in biased practices that perpetuate the status quo. Intentionally examine the ways oppression has been built into the fabric of a system AND strategically remove the threads.

Rebuild: Pay attention to the dynamics of inequity. Courageously use your power to build coalitions with all stakeholders. Together, strategically create a new design where all members have full and equal participation to benefit from the resources of that system.

Honoring our collective humanity by living as a society of equals requires exercising conscious leadership on a daily basis.

I leave you with my 4-step consciousness-raising process as a daily reminder that you always have the power and choice to disrupt, dismantle, and rebuild for social justice.

Choice: You have power and choice in every situation, it’s up to you to decide if you want to use it. Choose to pay attention + take action.

Presence: Your choice slows you down to open your eyes to reality.

Self-Awareness: Assess your capacity and the best strategy for leading change in your context. Does the moment call for advancing diversity, inclusion, equity, or social justice? Be sure to build support systems to keep everyone empowered in the midst of resistance.

Intentionality: Decide and act upon the best strategy to disrupt, dismantle, or rebuild.

We know that words matter, so let’s mean what we say & build together.

Annice is the CEO of The BEE FREE Woman & Developing Capacity Coaching. Her writing is a freedom tool for people ready to use their power and choice for change.