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White Cultural Norms: The Invisible Barrier to DEI

Updated: May 14

It's in the Water

Imagine a fish swimming in a vast ocean. It's spent its entire life in these waters, never questioning the currents or the temperature. In fact, the fish is so accustomed to its environment that it doesn't even realize it's wet. The water is simply a given, the unacknowledged medium that shapes every aspect of its existence.

In many ways, white cultural norms are like that ocean. It's the pervasive, invisible set of norms, assumptions, and expectations that shape our social and professional lives. Just as the fish is oblivious to the water, all of us who are operating in most work environments often fail to recognize how profoundly we are influenced by the culture of whiteness.

The Unspoken Rules

White cultural norms shows up in the form of white normative behaviors - the unspoken rules that dictate everything from what counts as "professional" attire to what communication styles are seen as "appropriate" in the workplace. For people of color, navigating these norms often means contorting themselves to fit a mold never meant for them, a constant and exhausting performance.

As Toni Morrison eloquently put it,
"The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being."

The Limits of Traditional DEI

Many traditional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives fail to address this deeper cultural substrate. They focus on increasing representation - getting more "diverse" faces in the room - without fundamentally interrogating the status quo. But as anti-racist educator Tema Okun points out :

"It is not enough to add token people of color to the organization. We have to examine and transform the organizational culture."

That's where the READI2B framework comes in. READI2B is about unapologetically centering racial equity and the lived experiences of the most marginalized. It's about recognizing and dismantling the invisible ocean of white supremacy culture that holds us all back from real belonging and liberation.

Dive Deeper

Doing this work requires courage, humility, and a willingness to sit with discomfort. It means examining our own complicity in upholding oppressive systems, even and especially when we benefit from them. It's not easy, but as James Baldwin reminds us, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

Are you ready to take a deep dive? In the next post, we'll explore how white fragility acts as a barrier to change, and how we can begin to move past it.

Transform Your Organization with Baker Consulting

At Baker Consulting, we are committed to facilitating meaningful change through our unique READI2B framework. Our approach is designed to uplift, empower, and liberate, fostering environments where everyone can truly belong. Whether tackling implicit biases, enhancing team dynamics, or navigating the complexities of organizational culture, our expertise is your resource for sustainable success.

Are you ready to engage fully and show up with your whole self? Are you prepared to challenge barriers like white fragility and move towards inclusive excellence? Join us at Baker Consulting, where every step we take is a stride towards a more equitable and just future.


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