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Design for Progress

Updated: May 31, 2023

Here is a short excerpt from a recent keynote I gave at the end of 2018 with community leaders from around the US as we explored how we move racial equity into action.

"But today, here’s the question - What are you designing for? Are you designing for comfort or progress for the collective good?

It’s the question I ask myself every day, sometimes multiple times a day (especially when I am working for collective good in spaces of whiteness).

By design I mean creation and action and the thoughts and intentions behind them.

When we design for comfort, we:

  • We accommodate the norms of the playbook we were given a playbook that does not guide us in the work of justice, liberation and belonging.

  • Use words that pathologize and problematize people of many beautiful colors (POMBCs). For example, we say: “this is a vulnerable community” instead of saying, “this is a community made vulnerable by systemic racism and bias”.

We create safe space not brave space. Space that is designed to minimize discomfort, to “meet people where they are at.” What about the people who are in front? Or at the front edge of the continuum? Our POMBC who need to be seen and supported? Who is designing space for them?

  • We say DEI and then only focus on the D. Maybe the I. The E? We don't talk about that.

  • We say racial equity, but don’t actually talk about whiteness and white supremacy as racialized.

  • We get fixated on things like perfection, efficiency, strategic plans, individualism and impact at the margins.

  • Designing for comfort means we continue to keep whiteness and the current power structure in a deep soothed contentment.

Take a few moments to reflect on your own mindset around risk, progress and comfort. Who feels heard at the end of meetings? Who feels empowered and safe? Consider how you can move your work towards more equity by centering progress for POMBC and the collective good.


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