The Messy Road to Social Justice

The Messy Road to Social Justice

Jun 21, 2020

By: Jennifer Simpson

Almost 25 years ago, I was advised against changing graduate advisors between my Master’s and Doctoral work because the professor whose work I admired and whom I wished to have guide my own research didn’t “have a strong enough publication record” to help me advance my own career.  I was also advised to focus my dissertation on “organizational culture” and weave questions of diversity into that study as a sidebar rather than making it central to my work.  My life and personal history compelled me otherwise, though, and I knew in the late 1990s that this was my work to do in the world. 

I didn’t listen to that advice and have always been grateful for the guidance and mentorship I received both at the time and over the years from Dr. Brenda J. Allen.  She pushed and challenged me to read things I might not have otherwise and opened my eyes to things it might have been easy to overlook.  Her pioneering work on the many ways in which Difference Matters deeply informed my own thinking, writing, and teaching, and her willingness to partner with me on projects helped me refine and evolve my own work as a social justice scholar. Her recent work on “Thinking under the Influence” and Implicit Bias continue to inspire and motivate me. 

 My early advisors may have been right, though, that making that choice at that time would be bad for my academic career—I never really fit neatly into a disciplinary “box” and ultimately found that that suited me just fine as the work I wanted to do spilled beyond the walls of universities and academic publications. 

 I’ve spent the last 15 years working outside those walls to make a bigger difference with people, organizations, and communities—sometimes with questions of diversity and social justice squarely at the core, and sometimes with it as the ground I stand on to move everything else forward.   

 Over the years I have seen and experienced so many unexamined ways in which whiteness shows up as “rightness” and has the effect of perpetuating racist systems. 

 Yet, despite this lifetime of personal experience, academic study, and applied work, I’ve also always had the ability to step in and out of the conversation, to go home to a relatively safe place, to rest my heart and mind.  That simple privilege is not available for far too many people of color in this country.  The struggle never ends. 

It has become more and more clear to me that the time for well-meaning occasional ally-ship is over.  People of color need actively engaged co-conspirators in the fight for racial justice. Being anti-racist and re-imagining a more just and equal world isn’t neat and tidy work, yet I know that fear of “doing it wrong” can hold us back from doing anything at all. 

 If I’ve made any progress at all in my own journey over the years, it has come from making peace with that mess and from being more willing to do something imperfectly than to do nothing at all.   

So, I invite anyone who is ready to engage the messiness with an open heart and commitment to making a real difference to join me in the conversation.  This Wednesday, I will launch the first in a series of conversations on the Messy Road to Social Justice (first session July 1 at 11:30 MT).  

 We will begin each conversation with a theme and some principles that support going deep and getting real while honoring and exploring a range of experiences and perspectives. Hurt speech, scared speech, confused speech, hopeful speech, and worried speech are all welcome. Hate speech is not. 

 While this is a paid event to ensure personal commitment and support a powerful experience, we are committed to access for all.  If a discount would support your participation, please contact us. 

If that time doesn’t work for you, or you want to explore other kinds of conversation, two of the people who were most formative on my journey, Drs. Kathy O’Bear and Jamie Washington are holding 3 open access Zoom webinars on ~ Dismantling Racism and Addressing Anti-Blackness in Your Organization. They will be engaging all your questions & dilemmas about mobilizing leaders and all other members of organizations for meaningful, transformational change. 

 And, if you want to dig in in your own way or at your own pace, here are some other places to start: