APIAVote organized a series of workshops as part of the National AAPI Leadership Summit from June 29 - July 2. The purpose of this programming was to offer education on salient issues impacting the APIA community, and compel community members to take action and register to vote. One of the workshops on July 1, “Race and Identity in Leadership”, explored participants’ views of “good leadership” and how white supremacist characteristics have contributed to that narrative.
There were three objectives in the workshop, which invited audience participation throughout the 75-minute session.
Objective #1: Connect common archetypes of leadership to white supremacy culture
The first exercise was to share ideas of what leadership looks like. Participants were quick to express core themes and phrases, such as, empathy, transparency, articulation of common goals, compassion, and communication. However, when asked which leaders we looked up to, the group was more reticent, which posed an interesting question around the displays of effective leadership in the media and in our everyday lives. A 2019 chart revealed the disproportionate distribution of those in political power vs. the nation’s demographics. For example, women of color made up 20% of the U.S. census, but only 4% of U.S. elected officials were women of color.
Objective #2: Name specific principles of white supremacy culture
The workshop referenced Tema Okun’s piece, which outlined characteristics of white supremacy culture, and expanded on four in particular.
Given the surge in APIA hate crimes since the start of COVID-19, the discussion touched upon the fear in APIA communities to speak up and “take up space”. One participant's comment alluded to a theme of internalizing microaggressions in the workplace: “I’m 2nd generation, and I think in the Asian immigrant community especially, it’s really easy to internalize this because it also goes with the ‘better life’ goals.” This type of dialogue provided an enlightening view into the deeply ingrained roots of white supremacist culture and further supported the idea that “oppressive cultures exist by privileging certain core values/ways of thinking that belong to a dominant group.”
Objective #3: Describe how our unique leadership can reflect our own identities and values
As much as the traits of white supremacist culture can stir up negative, painful experiences, it is important to draw focus and strength on how we, as individuals, can reflect our own values in our leadership style. For example, instead of perfectionism, we can expect mistakes as part of success and applaud the process. Instead of individualism, we can recognize the collectivism and community-driven mindset that has fostered so many of our APIA & POC cultures. Instead of objectivity, we can amplify and validate a wide variety of views and opinions.
The “Race and Identity in Leadership” workshop shared an encouraging message for the APIA community: While there may be fear in taking up space, there can be space for all of us. By dismantling principles of white supremacist culture, we can collectively create and sustain more inclusive models of leadership. For more resources, please visit Asian Women for Health or refer to the APIAVote workshop slides.
Written by: Rachel Park