white antiracism & racial healing: picking up the mic: using my white privilege to elevate voices of people of color by Martha Brown

Martha Brown
Martha Brown

I am Martha Brown, president of RJAE Consulting. I participated in the White Fragility book club last year to change, heal, and learn new ways of being and working.

I’ve been working on projects that involve qualitative data analysis of open-ended survey questions. I recalled what Donna Mertens taught me – that evaluation should transform programs/society, and I found myself confronting a method I’ve used before: quantifying – counting and ranking – qualitative responses. I realized in doing so, I would create a hierarchy that might lead my clients to dismiss the voices of the few. Aha! A white evaluator chooses a method that silences people of color! My stomach hurt. I spoke with my co-worker, Vidhya Shanker, and we chose not to quantify the data. We felt that all respondents’ issues and suggestions were deserving of consideration, and we conveyed to our client. 

In another survey analysis. Some respondents (people of color) felt the program was biased and too white. Though their numbers were small, I again felt in my gut that they were calling out issues the organization needed to address and that they risked being dismissed as the disgruntled few. I called attention to their concerns and encouraged the client to reflect on their organization’s structure, curriculum, and messaging that left people of color unsatisfied.

Lessons Learned:

Small sizes matter! Just because a small number of participants mention bias or whiteness doesn’t mean they should be dismissed. Instead, those responses could be the most important data needed to drive transformation.

Feelings belong in evaluation! I wrote here how decisions I was making manifested in my body. Resmaa Menakem teaches us to pay attention to bodily signals, because ignoring them allows white people to harm people of color with impunity. We also harm ourselves by losing our own humanity along the way. When I chose to honor the respondents’ feelings as well as my own, I could then center them more than if I dismissed their feelings (and mine).

Hot Tips:

Pay attention to your body and emotions. If something – or someone – is screaming to be heard, you’ll feel it long before your brain will process it. Pay attention to what’s happening in your body.

Be courageous. If you are a white evaluator and there are no people of color on your evaluation team, which is often the case, you have to pick up the mic. That said, when people of color are on your team, hand them the mic and resist the temptation to speak for them. 

Healing requires connection. Racial healing work must be done in community, with people who hold you accountable and also listen when you need to process physical feelings and emotions.

Rad Resources:

Listen to the digital audiobook of My Grandmother’s Hands—Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem.

Being Human at Work is a breathwork offering from Libby Smith that builds the foundation for embodied racial healing.

This week, AEA365 is hosting white antiracism & racial healing week where contributing authors explore the theme: What does it look like to be a white person committed to antiracism and racial healing? Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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