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An in-depth conversation with Suzanne Plihcik - Co-Founder, Racial Equity Institute (REI)

There’s a reason that racial progress in America has been so slow. Activists need to deal with two challenges — a broken system and an often unconsciously racist culture. And as Suzanne Plihcik, co-founder of the Rational Equity Institute explains, “culture eats structure for breakfast.” Today we speak with Suzanne about her work for the institute and what we can do to not only implement structural changes but to shift our culture. Early in our discussion, Suzanne chats about her background and how she realized that America’s system was preventing many people of color from empowering themselves. To illustrate her point, she shares an example of how black students were denied opportunities within the North Carolina school system. An uncomfortable idea, we dive into how white people are complicit and therefore partly responsible for systematic racism. Suzanne provides details on how our systems have been designed, going back to the early 1600s, to benefit white people and how many people do not acknowledge this. Later, we touch on the differences between mobilizing and organizing, why organizing is key to enacting change, and how our belief systems impact our perceptions. Suzanne then brings decades of experience to bear on what white people can do to fight for racial equity before unpacking the dangers behind the normalization of white culture. Near the end of the episode, we explore the deep roots of Suzanne’s hope, and she gives her take on the effect that Black Lives Matter has had on society. Tune in to hear more of Suzanne’s nuanced insights on how you can help “organize the truth.”

Key Points:

• Suzanne shares how she began her fight for racial equity.

• Realizing that systems are preventing people of color from empowering themselves.

• How culture “eats structure for lunch” and why culture shifts are needed to enact change.

• A shocking example of how racial injustice easily occurs in school systems.

• The ‘Moving Walkway of Racism’ and white responsibility within a racist system.

• Defining systematic racism; a system set up to disproportionately disadvantage certain groups.

• The beginnings of ‘oppression as a strategy’ in the United States.

• Hear what Suzanne has learned from 30 years of working for racial equity.

• The sense that people in America don’t respect the problem of racial disparity.

• Why organizing is the key to shifting America’s culture.

• Using our conscious brain to justify unconscious biases.

• Why Suzanne focuses on training people who are receptive to her message.

• The top things that white people can do to help enact change.

• Understanding white culture and why only calling things out does not get anything done.

• Hear about the work that the Racial Equity Institute does to “organize the truth.”

• Why the Racial Equity Institute is run as a for-profit organization.

• Suzanne discusses the root of her hope and reflects on the progress she’s witnessed.

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

*Suzanne Plihcik - Co-Founder, Racial Equity Institute (REI) -- Suzanne Plihcik is a trainer and organizer with the Racial Equity Institute. She is also REI’s co-founder and Associate Director. She works locally and across the nation to assist communities and organizations working to strengthen grass-root and institutional relationships through an increased understanding of systemic racism. In Greensboro, she and her colleagues organize to address social justice issues. Suzanne has a long history as an anti-racism trainer, having worked with Dismantling Racism and the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. She was executive director of the National Alliance for Non-Violent Programming, a coalition of national organizations seeking to reduce violence in entertainment through media-literacy. Her community experience includes extensive work organizing for changes in public schools and city government, as well as service on the Commission on the Needs of Children. She is a founding member of the Greensboro Public School Fund, rewarding innovation in teaching and Dance on Tour, a professional dance experience for children. She has served on the national boards of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the National Assembly of Health and Human Service Organizations and the Association of Junior Leagues International, where she served as President. Suzanne is the recipient of the Kathleen Price Bryan Award for community service, the YWCA Women of Color Committee Community Service Award, and was the Greensboro Woman of the Year in 1994. She is the co-recipient of the Nancy Susan Reynolds Award for race relations and received the Mary Harriman Award for Community Leadership from Association of Junior Leagues International.

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