In the wake of the recent protests against racism, fellow DAA board member @Mary Owusu and I hosted a Town Hall for members of the analytics community in late June to discuss ways racism is present in their lives. We also wanted to have an open discussion about ways members of the analytics community can take action to eradicate racism. We were humbled by the response. Over 100 people attended and we used Zoom’s breakout room feature to hold several meaningful conversations.
At the beginning of the meeting, Mary asked attendees to share how they were feeling by including a word or two in the Zoom chat window. The responses revealed a wide range of emotions.
To name but a few.
It was a touching display of how members of the analytics community are approaching the issue of racism. For some, their eyes are newly opened to blind spots and biases. Many are eager to correct the mistakes of the past. For many people of color, racism is not a new issue; they have had to face subtle and overt racial discrimination on a regular basis for their entire lives. They also carry the burden of centuries of injustice and violence visited upon their forefathers.
What united us in that Town Hall meeting was a recognition that the time is long overdue for corrective action. Not just in our neighborhoods and families, but in our analytics community.
Since the Town Hall, we have formed a task force to take action on some of the ideas generated in that meeting. We have categorized the nearly 50 ideas into three groups, one focused on Internal actions DAA members can take, another focused on External actions, and another focused on Data and Research.
Four DAA members have stepped up to help get the work underway in each of these categories.
- @Heather Aeder and @Jeff Burkhardt are leading the External group. The goal of this group will be to engage DAA members in efforts to eradicate racism outside the DAA. For example, this group will consider actions such as chapter members adopting an elementary school to help make young people aware of future careers in digital analytics.
- @Donna Treat and a TBD co-leader will lead the Internal group. This group will focus on making the DAA more diverse and inclusive. They will consider initiatives like creating a list of affinity organizations that DAA members can refer to as they seek to diversify their recruiting.
- @Rachel Wright and a TBD co-leader will lead the Data and Research group. The goal of this group will be to use data to create solutions and support for eradicating racism. Rachel and her team will consider ideas like best practices for increasing diversity in data collection and removing biases from reporting.
There are many more examples of actions we can expect to see from each of these groups. They will not be able to do it alone. This work has the potential to involve and benefit every DAA member. We can expect both short-term and longer-term actions and there will be a bias toward action and transparency to the DAA community. In all initiatives, the central theme will be on actions DAA members can take to eradicate racism.
Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson’s new book is called Caste, The Origins of our Discontents. She recently spoke with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air about the book. Terry asked her “I know a lot of people say, ‘I’m not responsible for racism in America.’ ‘My family were immigrants’ or ‘I always lived in the north.’ ‘I’ve never owned slaves.’ ‘I’m not a racist myself.’ What do you say to that?”
Wilkerson’s response captures, for me, why it is appropriate for DAA members to work together now to correct the injustices of racism.
“When you buy an old house, you are not responsible for how it was built. You did not build the beams and the posts and the pillars and the joists that may be now askew. But it is your responsibility once it is in your possession to know what it is that you now occupy. No one [now living] had anything to do with the creation of the caste system we have now inherited, but now that we are in it and we recognize it and we are here, however we got here, whether we came here on ships of our own choice or not, whether we have recently arrived, we are now in the structure, in the old house and it is our responsibility now to deal with it. Those of us alive here today.”
The work to eradicate racism will require a long-term commitment. They call it systemic because biases, prejudices and lack of educational opportunity are deeply ingrained in our society, in both subtle and overt ways. This may be generational work, but we can make a difference today. Opportunity is not a zero-sum game. This house of our country and our neighboring and partner countries, of our society, is worth fixing and the task falls to us.
The effects of racism are exhausting and disheartening – even depressing and maddening. But the work to fix the house isn’t all burdens and struggles. Forging connections, making new friends, helping children learn of their inherent potential and the essence of their goodness, regardless of the color of their skin – this is enlightening, energizing work. Our burdens will be made light as we lift one another in respect and love.
That’s what the DAA’s Anti-racism task force is all about.
To be anti-racist is to be fully committed to removing the practices that protect racism in our institutions and in our world. DAA is fully committed, with a firm focus on eradicating those practices from the analytics community.
We invite you to join us by indicating your interest to firstname.lastname@example.org.