Leadership & Learning Letters

Written by Deanna Rolffs, Senior Design Consultant
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Let's talk about whiteness - Part 3: What exactly is oppression?

Posted by Deanna Rolffs on Aug 25, 2021 6:00:00 AM

How do you define your purpose in this world? The reason you walk this earth? The thing that gets you out of bed in the morning and is the fire in your belly?

The way I describe my purpose has changed quite a lot since my twenties, when I was a social worker supporting women experiencing homelessness. Then, I would say “I want to help people.” Over the years it’s morphed significantly. Now I say something like:

“I want to use my power for good instead of evil. I work at the intersection of leadership development, organizational theory and anti-oppression. I want to be a force for justice.”

Or perhaps

“I want to work with brave leaders, working for justice to build bridges and break apart inequitable mindsets, relationships, organizations and systems.”

I’m learning, growing, and changing. Instead of getting the perfect description, I'm embracing what I'm learning as my why develops.

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Topics: power, anti-oppression, oppression, systems, systemic oppression

Let's talk about whiteness - Part 2: You always talk about race; do you hate white people?

Posted by Deanna Rolffs on Aug 11, 2021 6:00:00 AM

“Your survival has never depended on your knowledge of white culture. In fact, it’s required your ignorance.”
Ijeoma Oluo

What is whiteness? If you are white, what do you think or feel about your whiteness? If someone generalizes about white people, how do you typically react?

I noticed years ago that my friends of color knew patterns of whiteness better than I did: what it looks like, what it sounds like, how to interact with it and how to survive in spit of it. Particularly enlightening are the ways People of Color have taught about how whiteness uses power, interacts in-group and out-group (with People of Color), and how whitness dictates how we react when we don't know something. Most illuminating has been my increased learning about the ways we aren’t fluent in or cognizant of whiteness. The patterns of whiteness are predictable and known to People of Color.

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Topics: leadership development, whiteness, anti-racism, anti-white supremacy, diversity, equity, inclusion, anti-oppression, Miseducation, definitions, race, racism, white privilege

Let's talk about whiteness - Part 1: Who are you, white person, to work for racial equity?

Posted by Deanna Rolffs on Jul 28, 2021 6:00:00 AM

Recently a white woman asked me: "Who are you to do anti-racism work? You are white."

Good Question.

Just as my husband is a feminist but isn’t a woman, I'm a white person committed to racial equity. I’m glad my husband speaks up, demonstrates that he doesn't know all of the things about gender oppression, and is willing to take risks. He knows that women are experts in their own lives. He's willing to disrupt misogyny with other men, and believes we are all free when women are liberated.

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Topics: leadership development, anti-racism, anti-white supremacy, diversity, equity, inclusion, anti-oppression, Miseducation, definitions

Is there a secret to strong teams?

Posted by Deanna Rolffs on Jul 14, 2021 6:00:00 AM

Healthy teams are the lifeblood of organizations. How much do we invest in them?

Teamwork can be so hard. On teams, we truly see each other: the good, the bad, and the ugly. A million barriers get in the way of strong teamwork, and dynamic teams don’t happen by accident.

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Topics: leadership, learning, diversity, teams, continuous quality improvement, interdependence, purpose statements, group vs. team, stages of team development, teamwork, Partners in School Innovation

What are you learning about your learning? Applying triple loop learning to equity and inclusion.

Posted by Deanna Rolffs on Jun 30, 2021 6:00:00 AM

Did your organization write a public statement about diversity, equity, and inclusion last year after George Floyd’s murder? Did you join a march for racial justice? How have you breathed life into that statement since last summer?

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Topics: leadership development, triple loop learning, Design Group International, White Supremacy Culture, anti-racism, anti-white supremacy, diversity, equity, inclusion, anti-oppression, Miseducation, definitions, Leadership & Learning Letters

But do we have to call it white supremacy?

Posted by Deanna Rolffs on Jun 16, 2021 6:00:00 AM

“Why do we have to call it white supremacy? Wouldn’t it be received better if we called it something else?”

“The term white privilege is too off-putting. Can’t we use a softer term?”

“You talk a lot about whiteness. Do you hate white people?”

I could paint a sign on my forehead that I don’t hate white people, but I’m doubtful that would help. We could change all the words above, replacing white supremacy, white privilege, and whiteness, but we'd still need accurate terms to describe the concepts used. The revamped terms would likely still be off-putting and threatening.

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Topics: leadership development, Design Group International, White Supremacy Culture, anti-racism, anti-white supremacy, diversity, equity, inclusion, anti-oppression, Critical Race Theory, Miseducation, definitions, Leadership & Learning Letters, Deanna Rolffs Consulting

Meet my best friend: burnout

Posted by Deanna Rolffs on Jun 2, 2021 6:00:00 AM

I am an utter failure at self-care.

It’s not because I haven’t tried, I swear! I’ve tried five million strategies: journal, schedule exercise, prioritize me-time, modify my bullet journal strategies to get more organized, set more healthy boundaries at work, practice mindfulness, embrace intuitive eating, breathe, etc., etc. and etc.

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Topics: leadership, Women leaders, learning, brave, burnout

Are you afraid?

Posted by Deanna Rolffs on May 19, 2021 6:00:00 AM

What scares you? Your hands shake and you can’t catch your breath. Butterflies swirl in your stomach. Your internal voice yells: “I can’t do that. They’ll know I’m a fraud. I’ll mess everything up! Why would I even try?”

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Topics: leadership, Women leaders, learning, brave, fear, vulnerability, voice, justice, lead, vision, retreat

But I Earned That! How Dominant Narratives Impact Us.

Posted by Deanna Rolffs on May 6, 2021 6:00:00 AM

In my Midwest, Christian middle school I learned about manifest destiny and westward expansion. I was a wide-eyed youngster, listening to glorified stories of Lewis and Clark and the California Gold Rush. We spent weeks creating models of wagons traversing the Oregon Trail.

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Topics: leadership, learning, equity, racial equity, counter narratives, dominant narratives, systemic oppression, bootstraps, lens, dehumanization, individualism, meritocracy

What Do You Mean Brave Spaces? I Want Safety!

Posted by Deanna Rolffs on Apr 21, 2021 6:00:00 AM

“OK, now I feel like you are attacking me,” Katie said quietly, as she shrank into herself. MTV’s #whitepeople video illustrates Katie’s conviction that People of Color took scholarships that belonged to her. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and filmmaker, Jose Antonio Vargas, shared data illustrating the fact that white students receive a higher percentage of scholarships than students of color. Katie held an expectation of safety; agreement to her is safety and disagreement is an attack.

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Topics: learning, brave, power, White Supremacy Culture, privilege, safe, leading

Deanna Rolffs
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