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Women's Lifestyle Magazine

How to be an Ally in Work, Community and Leadership

Aug 19, 2020 08:00AM ● By Elyse Wild

Racism extends beyond microaggressions and acts of violence, but is deeply embedded in the many systems and institutions across our country, bubbling up in injustices such as redlining, homelessness, workplace disadvantages and negative health outcomes. From the community to the workplace to the government, how can we advocate for anti-racism in these spaces?

To Ace Marasigan, an active community member and founder of the first Grand Rapids Asian Festival, being an advocate means looking beyond yourself and thinking about the community as a whole. “Being an advocate means that you are going to be the voice of those who don’t have a voice.” 

He thinks we need to do more than post our support on social media. “We need to show that we really are taking action, that we really are part of the bigger picture.” 

In his work, Marasigan finds it important to realize who he is as a person, to identify the things he needs to work on, and then connect them to things that he can help the community with. 

But, how do we address racism in the workplace?

According to Glassdoor’s 2019 Diversity & Inclusion Study, in the U.S. 42% of respondents have either witnessed or experienced racism in the workplace. Furthermore, 64% of Black Americans are treated less fairly than whites in the workplace, according to a study by Pew Research Center. 

“I think that racism manifests itself in a lot of different ways and sometimes the more subtle ways are in microaggressions, the things that professionals of color have to experience on a day to day,” Angel Duff, Director and Managing Counsel Legal HR and Diversity & Inclusion at Amway, said. “It can really add up and impact your performance and impact your ability to truly be focused on your job.” 

Duff advises professionals of color to practice self-care and find trusted allies in the workplace. 

“After you’ve taken care of yourself, after you’ve done your part to surround yourself with community, that you can once you have the energy and ability, speak up and start to tell people about your experiences if that seems right and what and how we as an organization can better support you.” 

According to Duff, the first step to being an advocate in the workplace is to acknowledge that we all have bias and that racism exists, and to then assess how it impacts those around you. 

“Once you’re able to acknowledge and admit that, I think it’s important that you educate yourself. Educate yourself on the historical context that gave rise to the situation that we find ourselves in. Educate yourself on what you can do to be an ally,” Duff expressed.

The next step is to be able to speak up and to listen to those impacted by racism. “Share your learnings with your circle ... one of the things is it’s really hard to have this dialogue ... but if you’re willing to speak out against discrimination or racism, and share your know with those in the sphere of your influence, I think you’re going to be better able to drive change.” 

On a broader level, Duff thinks it’s important that inclusivity and anti-racism is woven through all policies and practices in the workplace, in order to eliminate bias on a systematic level. 

Government, from municipal to state to federal, was not created by people of color according to Grand Rapids City Commissioner Milinda Ysasi. 

“In some ways, I think it’s this idea of how do we decolonize? How do we really think differently about our structure of government based upon the values that different groups of people have,” Ysasi said. “I think the biggest thing that we can do and the conversation that we’re having right now is how do we do that as it relates to identifying where funding should go in communities?” 

You don’t have to have a seat in government to create change, however. “It’s not the only way that you can contribute back civically in your community,” Ysasi expressed. 

Running for office is challenging, and Ysasi urges those interested to make sure it’s for the right reasons.

“The biggest thing for me when I ran for office and now serving, is you need to come to the issue, whatever you feel, based upon your own lived experiences, based upon what you know, what you decided to run on, what’s important to your constituents.” 

From criminalization to redlining and access to capital, there are many racialized outcomes that affect the community, according to Ysasi. In 2006, the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, known as Proposal 2, barred affirmative action by public institutions and is a policy that has shown to have a detrimental impact in communities according to Ysasi. 

“There’s no better moment than what we’re in right now to make change...if I’m going to be an ally, it’s sitting with that uncomfortableness and recognizing my own privilege and how do I not just be committed to equity, but how am I committed to anti-racist work.”