We were so grateful to have co-hosted our annual Black History Month celebration with the Winchester Interfaith Council at the Jenks Center on Sunday, February 10. Before a packed house of attendees from Winchester and several surrounding towns, Dr. Darnisa Amante, President and Co-Founder of DEEP, presented her case for transforming and reshaping our understanding of equity in our individual and institutional behaviors. Through her combination of lecture points, her personal experiences as a Black woman, and moments of “turn and talk to your neighbor,” the audience left with indelible—and deep—learning about race relations in 2019 and how we might make further progress.
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Dr. Amante’s organization, DEEP, is actually an acronym that stands for “Disruptive Equity Education Project.” Her goal, through experiential education, is to move forward in eradicating inequities that have entrenched deep systems of oppression and racism in our country. Dr. Amante has a Master’s Degree in Anthropology from Brandeis University and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from Harvard University where she is also an Adjunct Lecturer.
Dr. Amante focuses on the concept of equity rather than equality. Equality in theory gives the same opportunities to everybody and assumes that all start with the same social, educational, and financial resources. This is not the case. Instead, the concept of equity seeks to support the most marginalized in our communities; because of the long historical impact of systems depriving them of opportunity to access society’s resources, they need more.
Speaking to the predominantly white audience, Dr. Amante explained that the path toward equity starts with productive interchanges across differences. Each person begins in a different place. If we begin with the belief that one view is “right” and the other is “wrong” the conversation ends. Rather, one can recognize that people’s “truth” of what they have experienced is real. She suggested that instead of using the word “truth,” we substitute the word “wisdom.” “Wisdom” eliminates a “right” or “wrong” connotation.
She stressed three main building blocks in these interchanges across race: active listening, difficult conversations, and empathy. She noted that it takes energy and risk-taking to “lean into discomfort” and be willing to converse honestly across divides and, importantly, to expect a “lack of closure.” She explained that leaving racism out of our conversations, or remaining silent, does not eliminate it as a factor.
She emphasized that “being color blind” toward her or other African Americans may be an attractive concept, but actually means we are not truly “seeing” her nor recognizing how her experiences as an African American growing up in the U.S. have influenced her viewpoint. Essentially, “being color blind” avoids more difficult conversations.
Dr. Amante defined what she termed the “Four ‘I’s of Racism”
- Ideological: the prejudices and stereotypes held throughout the culture
- Internalized: what we have learned by living in the culture
- Interpersonal: the way we behave toward one another as a result of what we have internalized
- Institutional: the practices, policies and laws that both spring from and maintain the culture.
She re-told a memorable parable of The Fox and the Fish to demonstrate how we internalize and do not see what is part of our culture. So, the Fish can describe to the Fox everything the Fox will experience living as a fish until the Fox asks about water. The Fish responds, “What is water?”
Dr. Amante gave attendees several five minute opportunities to talk and share particular situations which for them illustrated concepts or challenges she had just spoken about with two or three nearby neighbors. These short discussions gave attendees a chance to invest their own personal stories into their experience of her program.
Weaving her own personal stories into her talk, Dr. Amante explained how those who are white need to be more aware of white culture and its impact on all of us. Some aspects of white culture which permeate much of our thinking are perfectionism, either/or thinking rather than acknowledging there can be more than one truth, the myth of meritocracy, and the expectation for closure, in other words that we can solve the problem right now.
Significantly, Dr. Amante spoke about the dismantling of racism as a multi-generational process; co-conspirators can be overwhelmed and give up if we think we are going to eliminate the structures of oppression in our lifetimes. But she does feel that we can make progress in reducing racism; working to understand our biases and entering difficult conversations are important steps to that end.
To keep all members of the audience abreast of her terminology, Dr. Amante took care to define concepts and significant words used in her program. She also supplemented her facts and examples with illustrative diagrams in the slides accompanying her talk.
For those who wish to view the illustrative diagrams accompanying her talk, her PowerPoint slides, and reading references, they will shortly be up on Network’s website. For those wishing to learn more about Dr. Amante and DEEP, go to www.digdeepforequity.org and watch for her book due out in 2020.
The Network compiles exit evaluations to review its programs and to plan future events. The Sunday afternoon audience found Dr. Amante an excellent and dynamic speaker, and many commented that they hoped she could return to do a longer workshop and also lead one adapted for children.