Launched by The Corps Network (TCN), the Moving Forward Initiative seeks to expand career exposure and increase employment in conservation and resource management for youth and young adults of color. Through this effort, TCN offered a workshop called Sending the Right Signal as a tool to explore unconscious bias and structural racism within the Corps. This was also an opportunity for the Corps Members to learn from each other as well as an opportunity to interact with Corps Members from a Civic Corps based in California.
Below is Cohort 21 Corps Member Nachary Celemente’s reflection on the workshop.
The “Sending the Right Signal” workshop turned out to be quite a valuable experience. The facilitators provided an array of information focusing on racial injustice and inequality. This insightful workshop expanded my vocabulary and perspectives when it comes to these issues. One significant part that stood out to me was the groundwater effect analogy, in which fish died in a lake with no seemingly obvious reason. Upon further inspection the reason these fish were dying was due to deeper rooted issues in the groundwater: issues within the foundation of where these fish live. The fish are meant to represent Black people, and the groundwater represents the deep rooted causes of current racial inequality. While the rest of the body of water portrays the surface area issues of racism, the things we see in everyday America. In order to be able to liberate and progress the Black population, one must create solutions for the roots of the issues rather than combat the later effects. The idea of race in itself is a socio political and economic construct created by white people in order to elevate white individuals to the top and push Black people to the bottom. This specific psychology lives within the groundwater of our society. This groundwater holds the problems that killed the fish, and the problems that are inherent in America.
Although a good portion of the information presented had been introduced to me before, whether that be through education or personal experience, it was helpful to understand this information further. A 1940 experiment known as the “Doll Test” exposed how young black children view themselves. Although I had been previously aware of the study, a key aspect I was not aware of was that there was no Black doll available for use and they had to paint a white doll. This is key to truly understanding the world that these children were living in where representation was close to non-existent. This sparked curiosity for further research, where I found that Black babydolls were not available in America until 1953, due to the efforts of Zora Neale Hurston. Once on sale these dolls were then quickly pulled from shelves due to manufacturing errors in the pigment of the dolls, and thus Black babydolls were not available until 1968,
when picked up by another mass producing toy company. This is a prime example of combating surface level issues. The failure to be able to properly produce these dolls was slightly inevitable due to the lack of representation In the company itself. It’s not surprising that a White owned company (especially at this time period) wouldn’t put in full effort and follow through into something that would be a step forward for those of whom they oppress. One of the world’s most popular dolls, Barbie, was released in 1959, however the first black Barbie was released in 1980. How is it that such a household brand could go such a long period of time upholding racial inequality? Not only do these companies not value Black people as customers, but also purposely avoided creating any wiggle room for the advancement of Black peoples as a whole.
Fast forward to 2021, there is still a lack of representation, not only in toys for children, but also in most products and media. Though it would be nice to have the companies that already exist shift into diversity, this does not solve the root issues. The majority of companies/organizations have been owned by white individuals who benefit from white privilege and/or generational wealth. It is time for equitable opportunities in order to open doors for Black individuals to be able to control the narrative of how Black people are viewed in our society. The workshop has not only furthered my understanding of these issues but also led me to want to continue my journey in reversing socialization to the best of my abilities.