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Updated: February 8, 2021 Outside the Box

Kindness is not enough

A picture of Bonnie J. Walker Image | Courtesy of Bonnie J. Walker Bonnie J. Walker
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The saying “Kill them with kindness,” is instruction to be nice to the people who mistreat you, in an effort to pacify them, stop the mistreatment, or endure it. In combating racism, kindness will never be enough. I’ve heard said, “We all just need to be nice to each other,” and “If we all respect one another, everyone will get along.” Being kind and respectful might decrease racist behavior and mitigate divisiveness, but it will not break down inherently racist systems, nor eradicate hate.

The insurrection on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 was conspicuously protected under a system (the highest government) on display for all to see. Where was the appropriate security and shut down of the mob? Is it no wonder so many, and pointedly people of color, are unsafe and feeling powerless in the nation where this would not be tolerated if the mob were composed of black and brown people? Kindness will not solve the problems of racial inequities, including wealth inequality, nor create an access pipeline for traditionally underrepresented people in higher education and in industry.

In Amanda Gorman’s poem for the inauguration of the 46th President of the United States, she said, “Being American is more than pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.” How do we repair and make changes in our organizations, creating opportunity across racial lines? 

I asked Kristin Tichenor, vice president for enrollment at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, how we can create pipelines in higher education.

Kristin said, “First, we need to be clear about the source of the problem we are trying to solve. The lack of diversity in higher education is not the result of an achievement gap. It is the result of an equity gap. We have created a system designed to perpetuate privilege.

“The SAT is a prime example of systemic bias in the admissions process,” she said. “We measure aptitude using a standardized test that systematically under-predicts the success of certain populations. Limited access to high quality K-12 academic programs is another example of systemic bias.” 

Edward Walker, anti-racist educator, independent consultant and guidance counselor at Cambridge Ringe and Latin School, said, “Racial representation is essential; it promotes diversity in thought and when it exists, organizations can be held accountable to include a multicultural or antiracist lens for any visions, missions, institutional philosophies, or pedagogies they put forth…imperative to push against any dominant narrative, to navigate and serve in this multidimensional, multifaceted, multicultural world.” 

Dr. William Johnson, dean of students, at Fairfield University in Connecticut, said boards of trustees must have members from different backgrounds.

“History and research has shown that educational boards are reflective of their white, male origins … and tend to perpetuate this characteristic over time…it cannot be understated the importance of boards taking the necessary steps to include those who have traditionally been underrepresented (or flat-out excluded),” William said.

“As we live in an incredibly racialized country, organizations can benefit from having racially diverse board in order to address racial injustices and disparities; seeking to improve the recruitment and retention of its talent pool, and perhaps most importantly, helping the organization plot a course for the future in a country where whites are expected to be in the minority within the next 25 years,” William said.

Professor Raymond Hall, retired sociologist at Dartmouth College, said, “The white majority controls virtually all the levers of power in American society. Black people, holistically, are relegated to circumstances which make it difficult, if not impossible, to extricate themselves from the bottom of the American economic ladder. This is bound in the history of America…the move from slavery to freedom in the aftermath of the American Civil War did not then, and has not yet, brought a much needed avenue to economic viability for African Americans.” 

Broadening recruitment pipelines, multicultural representation, antiracist policies and practices and narrowing wealth disparities will increase equity across racial lines.

What will you do to increase equity in your organization? We cannot continue doing the same things and expect different outcomes. Abby Wambach, who wrote the book “Wolfpack” writes about women and leadership creating new rules and a better path forward. Here are my simple suggestions for taking steps forward to create a new way:

  • Make new, hard decisions elevating underrepresented classes that won’t please everyone
  • Listen to voices predominantly not heard in the past
  • Everyone has some type of privilege, which means you have some power. Share it!
  • Prioritize being empathetic to others
  • Acknowledge when you and others fail to be antiracist. Forgive yourself and do better.
  • The arc of justice is long. Persist and never give up

“The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it.” – Amanda Gorman

Bonnie J. Walker is the director of equity and inclusion at Worcester Academy, plying this arena in education in Mass. for 16 years. Contact her at

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