South Sound business leaders and community members congregated for the fourth and final time this week on Thursday as part of the 2020 South Sound Summit, which has gone virtual this year due to COVID-19 concerns.

The multi-part event is hosted by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber concluded today with a keynote from Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

Morning Session 

The Thursday morning session opened with Clemencia Castro-Woolery, attorney at law at Ledger Square and current president of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce, passing the gavel to the new chamber president, AJ Gordon.

“It has been my distinct honor and pleasure to serve as the Chamber’s board chair. Thank you to Tom, the staff, the board, and our members for allowing me to lead you through these turbulent times,” Castro-Woolery said. “We’ve done a lot together as a business community from addressing COVID-19 and its impact on our economy to standing up against systemic racism. Let’s keep moving forward together, remain focused on our mission, and keep our collective eye on the prize.”

Upon accepting the gavel, Gordon took the time to share the Chamber’s updated mission statement that better addresses its goal of anti-racism. The new mission statement reads “making the South Sound the most equitable and inclusive place to do business in Washington state.”

“We strive to have this resonate in everything we do,” Gordon said.

For the community discussion portion of the session, the Chamber welcomed Grant Twyman, Clover Park School District’s Equity and Inclusion Program Manager. Twyman said people can think about equity as an umbrella concept — that it’s an overarching topic with several components.

“Within equity, we’re looking at identifying diverse needs, we’re looking at removing barriers, we’re looking at maintaining high standards, things like that,” he said. “If you think equity is an umbrella, and within that, there are multiple identities that folks have — multiple diversity. So we’re also thinking about the broad definition of diversity. So think diversity in terms of gender, social-economic status, family, background, language, religion, even sexual orientation, we’re looking at the broad picture of diversity. And so, therefore, equity is also this broad umbrella race fits in as the center.”

When asked about how racism affects the business community and what can be done to change it, Twyman said it’s important to recognize that racism is “specifically talking about privileges and powers and structures and systems.” He continued to say that historic economic development has led to racist ideas, practices, beliefs, and treatment.

“We’re looking at the economic drive and the desire for economic development. If not done with a lens for equity, if not done with a lens for inclusion, if not done with a lens to be anti-racist, it will not only continue to marginalize historically underrepresented, or underprivileged groups, but it will just proliferate racist ideas and racist beliefs,” he said.

Twyman, along with Gordon and Tom Pierson, president and CEO of the Chamber, answered questions from the audience.

Castro-Woolery then introduced the next speaker, Linda Womack, director of the Minority Business Development Agency. In her work, she helps link minority-owned businesses with the capital, contracts, and markets they need to grow.

“When we say inclusion, it’s about creating, working with those partners, to be able to create efficiencies, such as the people and the processes, so that all the minority-owned firms can get that technical assistance to be able to bid on contracts, as well as to secure financing, so they can grow and scale their business,” she said.

Womack said economic racial equity can only be achieved when there is just and fair inclusion in an economy in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.

“Racial equity no longer predicts life and business outcomes. That’s why all these programs are here, so that those folks who have been marginalized and discriminated against can get the resources and tools to catch up and to support their families, and we all prosper, and, you know, make a contribution to the economy,” she said.

Robin DiAngelo. Courtesy of her Facebook page.

Afternoon Session

The summit concluded with a keynote from DiAngelo, who, in addition to being a best-selling author, is an affiliate associate professor of education at the University of Washington. Her area of specialty is whiteness studies and critical discourse studies, analyzing how whiteness affects society.

At the summit, DiAngelo said that her goal during her presentation was not to “solve” racism but to offer insights and provide a framework for participants.

“This is relevant to you as business owners because, in 2020 — we’re almost to 2021 — we all have to be equipped to engage in the conversation,” she said. “I think it’s clear that we are not a post-racial society. And things happen in our businesses. How many videos do we need to see of things happening — racial conflicts happening in our places of business? We have to have some skill, some nuance, to be able to engage constructively to resolve those conflicts.” 

During her presentation, DiAngelo discussed various forms of oppression (from classism to heterosexism, from ableism to agism, in addition to racism) and how they impact our world on both individual and systemic bases. She invoked statistics culled from various sectors — entertainment, business, politics, education — to illustrate how inextricable power and white supremacy are from one another socially. Whether or not white people in positions of influence are intentionally doing so, DiAngelo said, biases, external or internal, always shape decision-making; she stressed the importance of avoiding placing “racist” and “not racist” into simple good-bad, conscious-unconscious binaries. 

“Sitting at tables, making decisions that affect the lives of those who are not sitting at the table … (white leaders) can be the nicest, most well-intended people, (but) the homogeneity alone would guarantee that their biases are going to be built into the decisions they make, and the decisions they make will, of course, advantage them,” she noted.

At the end of her presentation, DiAngelo brought up resources, aside from her book, that participants could turn to continue the conversation. A list on her website comprises 103 things white people can do to challenge racism. She also has available a 21-day challenge business owners can take back to their team or workplace to employ. 

DiAngelo expressed a hope that the business community would make anti-racism work continuous rather than a short-term priority. 

“What I love about things that are ongoing is exactly that: it keeps you involved. It’s not a one-time thing, it’s an ongoing process — it’s a little like being in shape,” she said. “My dream would be that businesses consider it to be a qualification to work there — the ability to engage with these issues with some openness, the recognition that it is ongoing and lifelong, and that organizations continually offer their employees ongoing education. (My dream is that if) you can’t engage with those issues, if you refuse to — if you insist that it’s best not to speak of it — then you’re not qualified for the job.” 

Go to the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber website for more information.