Beyond Behaving Better

21984834 - doubting young woman in flannel shirt over isolated background

“I don’t need you to be nicer to me. I need you to believe me when I tell you what I’m up against every day. I need you to see your part in that. And I need you to fix it!” she told me. This Black mother of two was talking about the shortcomings of courses and trainings around race/racism. The focus is nearly always on personal and interpersonal racism today. But while we attempt to behave better, structural and institutional racism continue to cripple minority communities. How does this work in Rochester?

Quick definitions:

Structural racism: policies, practices and economic and political structures which place minority racial and ethnic groups at a disadvantage in relation to a majority group. These policies are most often explicit and tangible, though they might be hidden from the public.

Rochester example: In 2015, New York State announced an agreement that required Five Star Bank to end discriminatory mortgage practices that excluded all predominantly minority neighborhoods in the Rochester area from the bank’s mortgage lending business. As an example, they had adopted a policy that excluded borrowers seeking a mortgage of $75,000 or less from seven out of twelve of the mortgage products offered by the bank, effectively excluding loans to potential homeowners in majority-minority neighborhoods.

Institutional racism: A pattern of social institutions — such as governmental organizations, schools, banks, and courts of law — giving negative treatment to a group of people based on their race. It is less overt and more subtle than structural racism. It originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society, and so tends to receive far less public condemnation than structural racism.

Rochester example: From a recent NY Civil Liberties Union study of the Rochester Police Department: “Between 2012 and 2014, roughly nine out of every 10 people arrested for a low-level offense – including possession of marijuana, disorderly conduct and second-degree harassment – were people of color while only 64 percent of city residents are people of color.” The RPD has disputed a couple of findings in this study – but not this particular statistic, other than to note that it is somewhat dated.

When Starbucks had its P.R. nightmare a while back (when a store manager called police leading to the arrest two young Black men who were waiting for a companion), they went into damage control by instituting an all-employee training program focused on personal and interpersonal bias. Meanwhile, as Inc. magazine pointed out, Starbucks’ 13-member Board includes just one African-American and one Hispanic American.

Policies and practices and patterns flow from the top of any organization. So:

  • How can such a homogeneous group effectively institute and oversee unbiased policies and practices?
  • How can we see what we’ve never experienced?
  • Can we even know what to look for, or avoid, or guard against?

24142445 - skeptical manager in a suit, shirt and glasses - isolated on white

I recently attended a meeting of the Brighton Town Board. The open forum at the beginning was devoted to racism in the Brighton School District and in the community in general, prompted by a video posted by a Black high school student describing her experiences of racism in the District. Numerous community members testified with stories of discrimination they experienced or witnessed. I would describe the initial posture of the Board members (9 of 10 are white) as sympathetic yet still skeptical. As the drumbeat of evidence continued, though, it was obvious that much was occurring outside the awareness of these leaders. Citizens were bringing to light numerous examples of both structural and institutional racism.

We white folks need to pay exquisite attention to the experience of Black people. Having never experienced racial bias directly, we need to acknowledge our blindness and deafness regarding structural and institutional racism. We want to believe we belong to organizations, clubs, businesses and neighborhoods that are open and welcoming and inclusive. Brighton has the reputation of being a liberal beacon among area towns. Residents and Board Members take pride in their progressive rep, which inadvertently adds a layer of scaling to eyes and wax to ears. Not to pick on Brighton. Even when white leaders sincerely profess openness and goodwill, blindness and deafness are inherent in any dominant white culture.

That Black woman I mentioned at the beginning was calling for ACTION. So think:

  • What organizations, what clubs, what religious institutions are yours?
  • What neighborhood do you inhabit?
  • Where do you work – or volunteer?
  • In what spheres do you have leadership and/or position and/or power? Membership alone is power.

How can you call for the equivalent of an open forum regarding the actual, real-life experiences of minority members – including any who may have already left, or those who were not drawn or allowed to join in the first place? How can you audit the structural and institutional practices and policies (written and unwritten) that impact true inclusion, a concept much richer than mere diversity?

I’ve listed some resources for this kind of audit below. However, there are pre-requisites not listed in these guides: Courage, determination, vulnerability, humility among others.

You can scroll to the bottom of the page to “Leave a Reply”.



Article: Overview of evidence of systemic racism:

Inc. critique of Starbucks’ reaction:

Community Assessment Tools and Resources:

Anti-Racist Organizational Change: Resources and Tools for Nonprofits:

Identifying Institutional Racism – Comprehensive assessment tool from Anti-Racist Alliance:  IDIRFoliocompleteversiowresourceguidepre-layout12 (2)

Media Bias Chart – Not directly related to this post, but for your interest. Check out the news sources you rely upon!  media bias chart

MSNBC town hall – video re everyday racism: MSNBC Town Hall on Everyday Racism:


Workshop: “Intro to Implicit & Unconscious Bias in Professional Settings”.
Tuesday Sept. 18, 4?30 – 6:30.
Conducted by 540WMain Community Learning Academy at the Irondequoit Public Library. Facilitated by master educator Calvin Eaton, geared towards teachers (adequate for NYS prof dev hours) and other professionals.

Rochester School Board Candidates Forum:  Thursday 8/9, 6:00 – 9:00 pm.  F.I.G.H.T. Village 186 Ward St.  Sponsored by the Take-It-Down Planning Committee, Faith Community Alliance and Movement for Anti-Racist Ministry and Action.

National Coalition Building Institute Workshop:  “Welcoming Diversity” Thursday August 23, 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, 1650 South Avenue.  Click on title for details.

Saturday September 8, noon to 6:00 p.m. Baden Park on Upper Falls Blvd, Spiritus Christi Anti-Racism Coalition will host a kick-off event for a Civil Rights Park. The Park will chronicle the Black Freedom struggle for civil rights and honor many of the local heroes of that continuing movement. The Spiritus Christi website will have more information and opportunities to donate within the next couple of weeks.

Check out your spheres of influence (see above).

5 thoughts on “Beyond Behaving Better”

  1. Is there is such a thing as “unbiased” reporting or “unbiased” anything. When writing research papers, I’ve always been suspicious of the term “objective” when used as a directive for the research. We all come from someplace, a point of view or a point of departure e.g., as a Deaf person, I have a strong bias when someone describes music as the “universal language.” The best solution, for me, is to start of by simply stating where I’m coming from and what (conscious) biases bring to the table. Then there are the less conscious, but important, biases….


  2. Largely, this is our call to action, Frank. So, let’s give teeth, support, tools, expectations, and some personal accountability to this agenda.


    1. I agree, Jane. What stood out to me most is how rare it is to find truly unbiased reporting. Actually, some of the reviews of the chart charged that the authors of the chart themselves are left-leaning.


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