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Change, Not Tweets: How to Create Tangible Change for Black Justice

policy change
Table of Contents

Let me start by saying that I’m a white, thirty-something male. Like many, I’m disturbed by the murder of George Floyd and ashamed that we the privileged majority have let racial injustices against Black Americans go unchecked for this long.

It’s amazing to see the outpouring of social media support and peaceful activism in response to yet another travesty. It helps. However, I am left wondering—how do you actually create change for racial justice? How do you ensure tangible progress doesn’t stop at the hashtag or disburse with the march?

It’s frustrating. There seem to be no legitimate resources available that fully answer these questions. How do you enact social and political change for Black Americans? Few seemed to know, and I wanted to find out.

What I’ve compiled as a result of my research is a playbook that breaks down racial change-creation into three broad steps, including an aggregation of easy-to-use resources that will help you take action within a few clicks:

It starts with personal awakening and substantive conversation but doesn’t end until there are legitimate policy changes to our laws and governance. Emancipation, the abolishment of Jim Crow, Brown v. Board and more all began with social discourse but ultimately resulted in tangible changes to policy.

If you’re like me and want to affect legitimate change for Black Americans but don’t know how, follow these three steps and use the provided resources.

Note: Because there is so much to focus on, this playbook is centered around ending police brutality against black victims. My theory is that by focusing on this narrow task at hand, we can use it as a leverage point to create tangible policy change now as well as create necessary changes in the future.

1. Change Your Mind

Before you can change policy you have to first change yourself. The National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC) recommends that when dealing with racism, start with your own house: think and talk first, then act. Where are your own biases? Where do you have blind spots? What don’t you know about black racism in America?

It’s important to educate yourself first so you can spot and unwind your own biases and prepare to help others do the same. To do so, follow these steps below:

  • Learn about human bias, systemic injustices, and the history of racism
  • Listen to the social conversation and people with unique perspectives
  • Talk through your thoughts and ideas with those around you

Learn

Educate yourself on human bias and racism. How can we can spot and change your own biases? Learn about the history of black racism in America. What led us here and what can we do about it? Understand the constructs that promote black racism in our political system. How can we change it?

Specifically, check out the following:

Resources on Human Bias & Racism

Resources on Institutional Racism

Resources on How We Got Here

Listen

Before you say much, listen to those around you. Actually hear what they’re saying. By becoming an active listener, you can further educate yourself on black injustice, continue to change your mind, and better understand how to support the movement.

When listening to learn, focus on the following:

  • Seek to understand: Seek to understand the other person’s viewpoint. Only by putting yourself in their shoes can you really get to the “why” behind what they’re saying. 
  • Assume positive intent: Always assume positive intent when actively listening. You may not agree with what you hear, but understand that nobody thinks they’re the villain.
  • Remove your ego: Don’t let your ego get in the way of hearing what’s being said. This isn’t about you and how you feel, it’s about educating yourself so you can take positive action against racial injustice for Black Americans.

Talk

Now that you’ve educated yourself on our current environment and the history of black racism in America, it’s time to engage in the conversation. This is an opportunity to work through and expand your evolving worldview.

When talking through your thoughts on racism, rely on the following:

  • Get a micro-yes: When talking about things that can be emotional, make sure you get a “micro-yes” from those you’re speaking with. Something as simple as, “Hey, can I talk to you about some thoughts I have on racism?” This ensures people are prepared for the topic and won’t be caught off-guard.
  • Split-track: When we talk to people, we often conflate multiple thoughts. To help, “split-track” the conversation by identifying the specific or unique points of the discussion and addressing them one at a time. For example, you can say, “There are two specific points I want to make.” Or, if you’re listening to someone, you might say, “I’m hearing you make two specific points…”
  • Playback: Once you split-track, make sure you fully understand each point in the discussion. You can do this by “playing back” or repeating the points so everyone is on the same page with understanding. “So the point I’m hearing you make is…” is a good playback to use.
  • Ask questions: One of the best ways to expand your mind is to ask questions. What do you not understand about the situation? What do you wish you knew more about? The NMAAHC has a good article on which questions to ask in an effort to become antiracist.

2. Change Your Sphere of Influence

Educating yourself on black injustice is the first step towards change, but as Gil Scott-Heron said, “The revolution that takes place in your head, nobody will ever see it.” Next, start discussing your evolving worldview with your immediate connections and expand that work into your local community and online.

Specifically, focus on these areas within your sphere of influence:

  • Friends & Family
  • The Workplace
  • Community Service
  • Social Media

Friends & Family

Talking with friends and family about race can be tricky. It’s an emotional topic easy for people to push back on or hold grudges. To help you keep the conversation open and healthy, I found this 2019 framework outlined by the National Day of Racial Healing useful:

  1. Reinforce the purpose
  2. Set agreements
  3. Use a conversation starter
  4. Deepen the conversation
  5. Bring the conversation to a close


For more resources, check out these articles on talking racism with friends and family:

The Workplace

Another sphere of your influence is your workplace. Where do you work? How many employees does it have? How many customers does it serve? Imagine the reach if you focus on affecting your coworkers and/or customers for the better.

First, start internally. How diverse is your workplace? How diverse is its leadership? What are your hiring practices like? How about promotion practices? 

Partner with HR and use the following to become a change-agent within your organization:


Then, look externally. Does your company promote a brand of inclusion and open-mindedness to its customers? Does it have a public statement on race and racism? Does it engage in community service or similar efforts?

Pushing your company to implement these things helps expand its reach and multiplies the people it can positively affect.

Community Service

The National Museum of African American History and Culture states that community and community building are central to conversations about identity and equity. For the organization, it’s core to their work on antiracism.

Community service offers a chance to expand your sphere of influence past your immediate connections. Rub elbows with people outside your circle; pop your social bubble and exit your echo chamber.

Use the following resources to get active in the community:

Social Media

If you’d’ve asked me two weeks ago, I would’ve said that posting about racism on social media was virtue signaling at best. Then we had #BlackoutTuesday, and I was reminded of the power of social media and the movement it could start.

When discussing racism on social media, be your authentic self. Don’t clout chase or virtue signal. Say what’s in your heart and have the right intent behind your words. If you don’t feel comfortable “speaking your piece”, you can still share resources that educate and inform others.

Then, if you use social media to keep you informed, follow these accounts:

  • @blklivesmatter
  • @colorofchange
  • @naacp
  • @civilrightsorg
  • @showingupforracialjustice

3. Change Your Local & National Policies

Changing yourself and your sphere of influence are the first two components of change because progress requires an avalanche of support. However, tangible progress often occurs only after changes are made to our local and national policies.

Sadly, this is the vaguest part of progress. Some state and national laws start as bills that are voted on by Congress. Other local laws and policies can be enacted by a mayor, city council, or police chief.

To help you focus on the right policy efforts, follow these three steps:

  • Vote local and national politicians into office who support your cause(s)
  • Influence the way they vote on and enact existing policies
  • Create new policy initiatives they can sponsor and implement
  • Donate to the right organizations that can help your efforts

Vote in Local & National Elections

The people we elect will influence current and future policy agendas. While most of the voting attention skews national, local elections often have a greater impact on our lives. For this reason, it’s important to participate in both local and national elections.

Use these resources below for information on voter registration and upcoming local and national election dates:

  • Check your registration and elect for a mail ballot: Check out Vote Save America for one-click directions on how to register, verify your registration, or elect for a mail-in ballot. The website also offers national election dates and information on your specific state.
  • Vote in local and national elections: The election top of everyone’s mind is the Presidential election in November, but that’s not the only one that matters. Local elections often have more influence on the policies that affect our lives. Check out Ballotpedia.org for a state-specific election calendar.

Influence Current Policies

You can influence current policies by understanding local and national policy initiatives and advocating by calling or emailing your elected representatives. In fact, there are ways we can influence local policies right now that will limit police brutality against Black Americans.

Campaign Zero, an organization focused on ending police violence against Black Americans, outlines 10 tangible policy solutions for police reform. Some question the efficacy of the initiatives, but Campaign Zero backs it up with data. Check it for yourself and decide.

These policy solutions include the following:

  • Limit police use of force
  • Independently investigate & prosecute officers
  • Police training on deescalation
  • Demilitarization & defunding of the police
  • Fair police union contracts

Use this interactive map from Campaign Zero to see where your state stands on the full list of 10 policy initiatives that can limit police brutality, including information on how to contact your state reps to advocate for change in these areas.

However, changes to many of these policy initiatives can be enacted locally in your town or city by your mayor. To focus your efforts, Campaign Zero launched the #8cantwait initiative, highlighting eight specific use of force policies that your mayor or police chief can enact today.

The use of force policies you can advocate for locally include:

  • Ban chokeholds & strangleholds
  • Requirement to exhaust all alternatives before shooting
  • Give officers the duty to intervene

These, along with the other five, could’ve protected George Floyd and others. For information and data on the eight use of force policies, including how many your city implements and how to contact your mayor by phone or email, 
check out Campaign Zero’s Eight Can’t Wait.

Note: There is current legislation moving through Congress that seeks to address some of these items on the national level. However, it’s still early days for the bill and I don’t have much information. Even so, it’s good to familiarize yourself with it here, and then contact your Congressperson and Senator here to show your support.

Create Future Policy Agendas

Once you’ve elected the right people into office and engaged with them on existing policy agendas, you can also influence future policy agendas.  WikiHow has a good, step-by-step article here on how to change a law or policy at the local, state, and national level.


While the Eight Can’t Wait campaign is a good place to start, the use of force reforms outlined are just the beginning. If we’re going to end police brutality against Black Americans, we’ll need to overhaul the entire system with the following:

  •  Defund & Redistribute Police Responsibility: “Defunding the police” actually means rethinking its responsibility and reallocating budget and oversight to other public organizations. For example, rather than having officers respond to homelessness, how about a trained mental health worker? For more information, check out this easy-to-understand article.
  • Reduce Power of Police Unions: The goal of a union is to unite and fight for the best interests of its working members.  Often, this is related to salary, benefits, etc. However, with police unions, they often protect their working members against responsibility. It’s a meaty topic, so here’s a good NY Times article examining the power of police unions.
  • Abolish Qualified Immunity: Simply put, qualified immunity protects police officers from legal misconduct unless there is a “clearly established” law. What this means is officers are often protected from federal and civil litigation as a result of their actions. Here’s a good explanation along with a powerful anecdotal story. 
  • Better Record of Police Misconduct: Currently, there is no database aggregating police misconduct, meaning that police complaints, etc, are tracked locally with systems that don’t interact. This both allows misconduct to go unnoticed by the public as well as helps fired cops to get jobs in adjacent areas.
 
Some of these policies can change locally with enough support. Other policies at the state or national level need to go through the process of creating, sponsoring, and voting on a bill before becoming law.
 
Regardless, if you find the right elected official and create a groundswell of advocacy, you can influence them help launch a new bill or initiative.

Donate

In addition to the above, one of the best ways to change your local, state, and national policies is to donate to organizations that support your cause. They represent experienced organizers who can put your money to work in order to change the policies you care about. 

Specifically, target organizations in the following areas: 

  • General policy reform organizations
  • General political organizations
  • Police reform organizations
  • Incarceration reform organizations
  • Legal defense funds/organizations
 
For a full list of the specific types of organizations to support, check out this article from New York Magazine.

Conclusion: Policy Change

Overall, change starts with personal and social awakening but isn’t done until we have the right people in office and the right policy agendas that support our best intentions. Our work begins in our own heads but doesn’t end until there are tangible changes to our rule of law.
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