What seemed to work before, our structures and norms, aren’t working anymore, and it’s clear that for many, they never worked. For the past two weeks, I have been deeply thinking about Palace Shaw’s resignation letter and the issues raised in the email circulated by her colleagues. They’re right to be disappointed. I didn’t speak directly to their pain or Palace’s. I sincerely apologize to Palace, our staff, our partners, and the wider community.
It’s past time; we have to change. Our work culture, led by me, a white woman, is white-dominant, and this has stifled BIPOC employees’ call for change. I’ve been asking myself if I could move away from my fear, defenses, and my responsibility for PRX and recenter on their well-being and needs, what would I see or hear differently?
As we heal the pain, I and all of leadership have to rebuild trust. We are deep in our engagement with a team of experts dedicated to creating equitable, diverse, and inclusive workplaces. That team has already done discovery work centered on the staff of color and is in the second phase of their process, a facilitated workshop with all PRX managers. Our internal work is through the lens of ‘targeted universalism,’ an approach that considers the inherent disparities within groups as we design the path toward a common goal, a more equitable organization.
Our employees are appropriately asking for immediate action and quick change. I have not fully understood and acknowledged where previous actions — or inaction — have exacerbated equity and inclusion issues. A leadership commitment to transform means that I have to make a psychological shift. To channel the optimism, hope, and criticism of our staff into making PRX better, I will recenter on the well-being and needs of our BIPOC staff. I commit to this, which means shifting the dominant white perspective. Those voices, including my own, jump to familiar problem-solving tactics. Haste often fails to correct structural patterns that contribute to mistakes. The mistakes often disproportionately affect people marginalized by structural racism, misogyny, or some other prejudice. When we don’t learn from failure, we continue to fail.
Racism is in our structures, systems, and institutions. Our business model has to support productions by, for, and with diverse voices. We have to recenter our work and our conversations and listen differently.
Regardless of the results of the investigation underway, one thing I can address personally is touching Palace’s hair a year ago. It was completely unacceptable, and I take full responsibility. At that time, my apology didn’t adequately address the significant impact of my behavior. I recently sent her an apology, this time acknowledging the violation and its effect.
In recent weeks, we have had smart discussions, and the staff has shared passionate insights; I am grateful for their courage in speaking their truth. I believe in PRX and am committed to building a stronger organization and a better future together.
While the work ahead of us is great, we have committed to transformational change, as well as to be as transparent with you as possible. Thank you for your partnership; we ask for your openness in sticking with us during this time of great change at PRX.
For more, read a message from PRX’s Board of Directors to BIPOC staff at PRX.