I realize that there is an increasing tide of fear in some quarters that whites will be “replaced” as our society becomes increasingly one where BIPOC people outnumber whites. Those that harbor that fear assume that BIPOC are waiting to impose revenge on whites for all the injustices whites have inflicted on BIPOC people. This is a fear born of isolation. Those who think this way are primarily whites who have lived in white-dominated settings. Whites who have lived in settings where BIPOC people have power have seen no desire to exact revenge for past harms. Instead, one sees an atmosphere of peace and a stance of embracing everyone. True, there are class divisions, but these show up just about everywhere on the planet.
At the same time, leadership is always in short supply. Leadership is extremely valuable. Leaders are people who are able to get others to follow them. For people to do that, they must feel several things: (1) they must resonate to the vision that the leader serves, (2) they must feel confident that the leader knows how to get the organization to that vision, and (3) they must feel that the leader cares about them. Notice how none of these items relies on power-over. To the contrary, what is pivotal is the felt connection between the leader and the followers. In my experience, most people who occupy the role of manager have no conception of this connection. Instead, they rely on their position power to coerce the workforce to perform the tasks the manager wants them to accomplish. In some cases, the coercion is “sweetened” by the offer of enough money or career advancement to induce compliance, but compliance buy the same level of commitment, because it is not include a sense of ownership or allegiance to the vision.
Any organization that is built around leaders will have a capacity to identify and support individuals who display leadership skills. Prime among these skills is the ability to listen and then respond to what people are saying. Leaders know that their mandate to lead is dependent on incorporating the input of those they lead. In order to follow someone, people need to see that the leader is responsive. That does not mean that the leader always accedes to what people want. However, it does mean that people know that they can influence the leader, and they know that because they have experienced just that. This is in stark contrast to those appointed managers who operate on power-over strategies. They are extremely difficult to influence and they are experienced as poor listeners.
So why do I say that some whites will still be selected as leaders even when white no longer are the majority racial group? I say it because organizations need leaders. They need people who listen and care about the needs of their followers. Those whites who listen and care about all those around them will stand out in the same way as BIPOC people who listen and care about all around them. For some whites, this is not possible because they show an inability to consistently put the needs of their BIPOC colleagues on the same plane as those of whites. This automatically excludes them from consideration for leadership. Their pattern of myopic investment in supporting whites over everyone else excludes them from consideration for leadership roles.
This means that whites who wish to rise up in a post white-dominated society need to develop the skill of listening to those whose views vary from their own. This requires the ability to treat those views with as much care as they treat the views of those whose experience is similar to their own. Many whites will not do this. They are too engaged in holding on to their position in a racial hierarchy built on the exclusion of BIPOC people.
There is another key skill that whites must display if they are to be considered as leaders in an organization that has racial equity. This is the skill of “followership.” By that, I mean the ability to fully support their leader, without hesitation. In an organization that has racial equity, whites must be able to fully support a BIPOC leader to whom they report. They must demonstrate that they will follow without second-guessing the direction of that BIPOC leader. In demonstrating this, whites prove that they can be trusted to support a leader who is not white.
Doing this requires a change in our thinking. For whites who have only followed white leaders, this is something of a challenge. We are familiar with white approaches to getting things done. Most of us lack experience in seeing how BIPOC leaders get things done if those approaches do not match the approaches that we are accustomed to seeing in white leaders. The approach varies from that used by white leaders. This is even more the case if your experience is primarily in working for white leaders who are men. How many whites have experience supporting the leadership of a black woman? – not many, in my experience
As mammals, we humans are creatures of habit, like all mammals. In the corporate world, I see a habitual pattern where men of Asian background will be appointed as leaders in the areas of IT or even R&D. I see this happen much less for positions in production or sales. In these positions, the pattern is predominantly one where white men are selected for leadership. In these positions, that govern the income that companies require, there is a long pattern of successful white men as leaders. The fact that so few whites have seen Asian, black or Latinx men successfully lead these units acts as a barrier to them being appointed to those roles. The default position is to go with what is familiar in terms of leadership appearance and style. It is even more rare to see a BIPOC woman chosen to lead those units.
For whites who wish to be leaders in organizations that achieve racial equity, now is the time to prepare themselves. They can practice the skills of listening to and following people whose perspective is different than their own. This will feel awkward at times because it is something new, but it is the only way to acquire experience in operating in a new way. Fortunately, there are some whites who have experience doing just that. Rather than “re-create the wheel” so to speak, whites can seek out other whites who have that experience and have those skills. They can use them as mentors who know what it is like to move out of the sphere of white cultural experience.
Right now, I know many whites are focusing on how to limit any change from the racial status quo. That stance does get a lot of attention. For those whites who are not drawn to do that, now is the time to expand their experience and build a repertoire that will serve them in those organizations that have dismantled much of the racial hierarchy. This new reality also means that white parents will best serve their children by exposing them to situations where they learn to operate outside the white cultural sphere. Young people do this so much easier than adults, so this is an opportunity to prepare them to operate in the coming world.