- Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations
From the very first section of Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas' insightful new book Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations, I was fully engaged and challenged. Any reader of the book who is a labor educator, a member of a community-based social justice organization, or a union activist or leader can't help but find themselves applying the authors' analysis to their own experience.
Dancing on Live Embers is a combination of thought provoking and comprehensive analyses of organizational racism, along with concrete tools to help people create more equitable organizations. Lopes and Thomas begin with a discussion of what racial equity work is and then identify the players — which include people with organizational power, and even more importantly, those people most impacted by the racism in the organization. The authors briefly review the shift in the approach to dealing with racism, away from multi-culturalism and "celebrating diversity" (neither of which challenges the inequities of power) and toward an anti-racist/anti-oppression or equity framework.
The second and longest section of the book is the most concrete and provides the most direct application. The authors suggest three phases in anti-racism organizational-change work. The first, "Getting Beyond Training," [End Page 103] challenges a form of denial that assumes training is enough; the second phase, "Getting to How Things Work," is where organizations begin to undertake some changes in their structures and policies. The final phase, "Keeping Racial Equity on the Agenda," looks critically at the uneven progress the most committed anti-racist organizations make. The format for each phase is similar: several case studies, followed by questions that analyze the inequities of power in the situation and identify openings for actions that could shift the power relationships. The issue of who has power, how power manifests itself, and how to shift power is present throughout. The authors follow each case study with their own analysis and suggested interventions or strategies. These tools, firmly based in the principles of popular education, acknowledge the complexity and difficulty of doing this work, yet offer a pathway for anti-racist educators/leaders/activists to move forward in changing their organizations.
Each phase ends with a true story of an organization that has struggled to reach its goals. These stories are very powerful and provide encouragement that this challenging work can be done, along with some sense of what it takes to do it.
One of the most powerful and certainly most unusual aspects of the book is the "Between Us" section. This is a series of exchanges between the white author and the racialized author, whose organizational anti-racism work together serves as the basis for much of the book's analyses. These honest and challenging exchanges show how racism and power inequities manifest themselves during the process of doing anti-racist work. People who truly want to create "more equitable organizations," especially those who have more power, must examine their own behavior as an integral aspect of doing this work. Dancing on Embers can be a very useful guide in that pursuit.