The times are urgent, let us
The Emergence Network
A constant sense of urgency :
This characteristic of white supremacy is challenging because we understand that racial justice and equity is urgent. White supremacy and racism threaten, target, and violate BIPOC people and communities every day. White supremacy and racism invite and condition us into toxic thinking and behavior every day. We are called on, with this characteristic, to hold the volatile and tender contradiction of an underlying urgency about our immediate need for justice which is with us always with the day to day sense of urgency that too often defines our organizational and community cultures, leading to the consequences listed above. White supremacy culture is not urgent about racial justice; white supremacy culture is urgent in the name of short-term power and profit. And white supremacy culture likes to engender a culture of urgency in those of us who are working to dismantle it because it knows that living with a constant sense that everything is urgent is a recipe for the abuse of power and burnout.
I think about the innumerable times I have failed to involve people in decision-making because of my sense of urgency about how something needs to get done on a certain timeline, often one that I have arbitrarily created. I think about how my decision, a conditioned impulse really, to move ahead out of a sense of urgency has so often broken trust. I think about how often I have seen that if I can avoid becoming urgent about my own sense of when and how something needs to get done, I realize that it didn’t actually need to get done at all, or certainly not on my timeline. When I allow myself to take a breath before acting, something happens in the period of time I was fretting that leads to a better result, or I notice a new possibility emerging that would not have if I had pursued my sense of urgency.
A simple and specific example is the week I was responsible for drafting an agenda for a course I was co-teaching. I kept putting it off and putting it off, all the while feeling urgent about getting it done while internally chastising myself for my own lack of discipline. In a moment of grace, I realized what I was doing and I took a pause and a breath. I hadn't really put together that I was about to spend an extended period of time with two very trusted and wise friends and as a result would be offered an opportunity to talk with them about the agenda. I knew that collaborating with them would result in a much stronger agenda and I was making myself anxious for no reason at all. I offer this as an example because we create our own internal sense of urgency so often, along with an inner dialogue about our failings to live into the urgency, which reproduces a sense of fear and failure that is useless and counter to our actual interests.
This sense of urgency is deeply at play in our relationships with foundations and funders and their relationship with us. We often set deadlines based on funder requirements, which creates a sense of urgency when those deadlines don't match up with what we're trying to do. Too often I have seen a sense of urgency undermine meaningful collaboration because the deadlines and timing - whether set by funders or by us - don’t take into account the reality that larger, better-funded organizations have more resources, including staff time, to devote to a collaboration, while underfunded organizations, which are often those staffed by one or two BIPOC people, don’t have the same resources of staff time or money to participate. I have witnessed very large foundations and funders offer grant applications for very large amounts of money with ridiculously short deadlines that have nothing to do with the lived realities of the organizations they want to support.
Urgency undermines us all when highly resourced people, organizations, and communities don’t understand that things take longer when people don’t have the same resources. Resources can be money or time or knowledge. I see urgency reproduced in classrooms where time constraints around testing and/or meeting mandates and goals becomes more important than actual learning.
The good news is that we are learning to take individual and collective breaths when we can. Funders (at least some) are rethinking both criteria and timing. Leaders (again, some) are becoming more skilled at holding and naming tensions that can be collaboratively addressed. We (yes, some of us) are getting better at building in time, taking pauses, and calling for the space we need to move more thoughtfully and skillfully as we live into the urgency of racial and social justice.
Antidotes to a sense of urgency include:
Many if not all of the racial equity principles can support us to take a breath and look at our sense of urgency through a long-term lens.
Again, the point here is to both acknowledge actual urgency without creating an undue and superficial sense of urgency. People need food, housing, health care, attention right now; often there is no time to wait. The damage starts when we transfer a sense of urgency to everything we do, refuse to make time to rest (even and particularly in the midst of truly urgent situations), and begin to feel that taking a pause is a betrayal of our commitment.
So taking a moment to consider our accountability. Who are we in relationship with now and how do they understand the challenges and the solutions? What are the values that we want to live into as we take action? How do we take action in ways that build and preserve connection? How can we be transparent about the pressures on us to move quickly in ways that give us more power and agency over our decisions, so those decisions are strongly grounded in an ethos of love and connection?