“I like being weird. People remember you that way. They say ‘Hey, I remember you. You’re the weird one.’”
-Sylvia Gordon (aka my mom) circa 1980
You know how there’s one kid in every school that no one likes and everyone bullies?
Yep. That was me. Every day from 3rd to 8th grade.
Because I was one of three Jewish kids in the district (including my sister)?
I was a girl with opinions?
In third grade I was the new kid and it just stuck?
Because a popular girl got in a fight one morning with her parents and took it out on me?
Who knows? (Before you ask, teachers were no help. My third grade teacher said I was too sensitive; I needed to develop a “thick skin.”)
Somewhere around sixth grade, I started to realize that there were other people who were treated badly just for being who they were. And then blamed for it.
Let’s be clear. Six years of bullying is not the same as six hundred years of oppression.
The experience did give me an affinity for other people who struggle with acceptance because someone thinks they’re “weird.”
My mom’s “weird” quote was partly about embracing uniqueness. However, the stronger message was that bullying was more about the insecurity of the bullies than it was about me.
Bullying and White Supremacy Culture
Just like racism and antisemitism aren’t about people of color or Jews. Hate is about the insecurity, fear and inhumanity of the haters. It’s about their discomfort with questioning a version of “normal” that rejects everyone else. The return of antisemitism, rise in extremist violence and rehabilitation of hateful rhetoric all point to a return to a Jim Crow culture.
When the dominant culture puts the burden of undoing racism on people of color, we are blaming them for being “too sensitive,” just like my third grade teacher.
White supremacy culture should not be normal. If we’re going to build the culture that our value statements say we want, we have to question what’s “normal” and what’s “weird.”
Janedra Sykes, Catherine Shieh and I offer customized white supremacy culture disruption programming to explore these questions in nonprofit organizations and campaigns. Programs could include training, facilitated employee resource group conversations, white supremacy culture review and relationship-building exercises.
Not sure what a new normal could look like? Drop the word “weird” in the comments and I’ll reach out to talk about it. For an example, see the Services and Client Anecdotes page.
Starting this month, Organizing to Win’s (OTW) mission expands to include white supremacy disruption consulting and organizing strategy coaching.
If you read the Organizing to Win newsletter regularly (thank you!), you may have noticed an emphasis on what is sometimes called diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). While DEI programs are important, I prefer to talk about disrupting the root causes of injustice – white supremacy culture. While none of us committed crimes against humanity like slavery or genocide of Indigenous people, many of us benefit from their continuing legacy. It is up to us to break down that white supremacy culture and begin building a culture of justice.
While each OTW white supremacy disruption program is customized for the organization, key elements include exploring identity, building relationships and an emphasis on unlearning and learning new. Caution: light bulb moments ahead! 💡
Throughout my organizing career, some of my best ideas came when I could “think out loud.” I’m grateful for the support of more senior organizers who offered feedback and gently moved me back on track when I got diverted.
I look forward to providing that support to others. Starting in June, I’ll offer one-on-one and small group coaching. In these sessions, we’ll focus on talking through challenges, building skills and applying new training to real life situations.
To learn more about these ideas for your organization, see the newly updated home page. Or contact me here!
Organizing to Win has joined with a new venture called Sustainable Futures (SF) to organize with historically excluded communities in Atlanta. Founder Adrienne Rice’s dream is to build “green economy pathways for ‘Black’ and people of color in the South by using the foundational methods of relational organizing.” SF is a Black-woman-led collective of expert organizers and veteran community leaders working to build power in marginalized communities to advance an inclusive economy and environmental justice.
The history of systemic racism in our culture means that any new industry is built by and for white (mostly) men. To fight the double-headed dragon of climate change and system racism, we must build power to create a green economy that is inclusive and equitable. It won’t happen by magic, but the opportunity of a new economy offers a chance to build it right the first time.
The first step is a campaign of house meetings to bring together community members in three or four counties around Atlanta, GA. Next, we’ll work with those community members to measure Atlanta area residents’ understanding of environmental and climate justice issues.
As the campaign ramps up, it will also be a leadership development opportunity for multiple classes of fellows from historically excluded communities in the Atlanta region. Fellows will learn transformative organizing skills, while building a sustainable future in Georgia. We hope to also introduce the fellows to leaders in the energy, climate justice and business sectors. Fellows will come from partner organizations and the community at large. Unlike many fellowship programs, this program is not limited to students.
I started Organizing to Win with a vision of bringing people together to build power. The SF model is so exciting because we are focused not just on influencing a politician, electing certain leaders or influencing policy. We are creating an entirely new economy, led by the people closest to the problem of that double-headed dragon.
Check back here or on the Organizing to Win social channels for updates -including the launch of SF’s social media and website.