Putting Wokeness to Work: Practicing Inclusivity in Our Everyday Lives

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Latinos for Education | by Dr. Daniel Velasco | January 19, 2021

What does allyship look like in practice? How can we challenge racism and promote broader inclusivity in the communities we live and work in? How can we celebrate intersectionality within the Latino community, hold space and be in solidarity with queer and Afro-Latinos, for example?  These are questions I find myself going back to frequently these days. Earlier this year, I wrote about how we can hold difficult conversations at home with our friends and family on issues of race, and this led me to think more deeply about how to apply these concepts to other areas of my own life – particularly my work. As the news coverage dies down and corporations move on from the PR statements they issued about confronting racism and anti-Blackness, we have to remain committed to these issues even if they disappear from mainstream focus.  

Personally, I think this idea of “wokeness” is an iterative process, and I believe we’re all somewhere along a spectrum between asleep, awakening, woke, and working. I’d like to think I’m somewhere between woke and working, but I may have blindspots; and yet no matter where we are on that spectrum, across issues, there is always work to be done. At Latinos for Education, one way we are working to challenge anti-Blackness is by bringing an external partner to help us reflect on unconscious bias to help us undo habits of “white dominant culture.” Additionally, we will be holding a series of internal dialogues around intersectionality at Latinos for Education to include issues of gender equity and the use of pronouns, to name a few.

The idea of a white dominant culture was brought about by scholars Tema Okun and Kenneth Jones, and it focuses on ways white supremacy shows up in the workplace. While we can’t expect everyone to be an expert on this, we can work with outside experts to train staff so we can more actively identify and undo workplace habits that may reinforce ideals of white supremacy, especially when you have an organization predominantly built on the labor of Latinx talent. 

At Latinos for Education, we’re trying to decenter the notion that pedigree is everything, and steer away from the ideal that only quantitative results matter. As our organization grows and we conduct our latest search for talent, challenging these notions will be a primary tenet in our selection process.  We must continue embracing backgrounds that are seemingly “non-traditional” when hiring and retaining staff in the workplace. For instance, our industry often expects entry-level employees to demonstrate some level of internship experience on their resume, but many internships continue to rely on unpaid labor, thereby leaving out those who cannot afford to work for free. To challenge anti-Blackness in the workplace, we have to dismantle the idea there’s only one way to be qualified for a role, and look for the skills individuals have instead. If we don’t challenge the notions behind what ‘good’ or ‘worthy’ means, then we’re not doing enough to create a more inclusive workplace.

Another way we can all be better allies is simply by changing the way we work with one another. So much of what’s been historically considered as “professional” in the workplace is rooted in paternalism and white supremacy, such as this idea that power and decision-making has to be consolidated at the top and organized through a hierarchy. A way to push back on this approach to decision making is to be more transparent with others in the workplace, and allow folks at all levels to share their ideas and feedback on organizational decisions. I know that as a straight-passing, tall, light-skinned Latino man with an Ivy League degree, I have benefited from this value system, but that needs to change. Being anti-racist isn’t just about supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s about undoing centuries-old ideals rooted in colonialism and white supremacy. 

I’m no expert on these issues, but I do know there are plenty of them out there to help us all along the way. If you’re interested in making a change at your own workplace, you can start by partnering with some of the following organizations or individuals: 

Finally, if you want Latinos for Education to support your school, district, or organization at accelerating Latinx leadership pipelines – from recruitment to retention in the classroom to the board room – we’re here to help and can be reached at info@latinosforeducation.org for additional information about our regional, national, in-person and virtual programs. 

About Dr. Daniel Velasco

Dr. Daniel Velasco is Chief Operating Officer at Latinos for Education, the first Latino-founded and led national organization dedicated to creating leadership pathways for Latino leaders in the education sector.  He previously served as Regional Director at Johns Hopkins and program faculty at Harvard’s School Turnaround Leadership program. In 2016, he was honored by NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio for national service. He earned a master’s degree in Education Policy and Management from Harvard and a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Entrepreneurship from Johns Hopkins. Dr. Velasco brings deep experience in education, entrepreneurship, fundraising, and strategy.