by Milo Primeaux, Esq. (he/they), CEO, Just Roots Consulting, LLC
When I founded Just Roots Consulting and my virtual civil rights law firm in 2018, one of the first things I did was get clear on what anti-oppression values, norms, and hopes I wanted to center in my practices and services. It was easy enough to outwardly say that I care about anti-oppression, but what would that mean in daily practice with every meeting with clients, planning sessions with BIPOC co-creators, or sitting with myself as a white trans-masculine person after a training session to reflect on how my privilege played a role in its success? Saying I’m anti-oppression and anti-racist is not enough – I need to live it, too.
I knew then and have come to appreciate more each day that I need:
Clarity. I can only breathe anti-oppression values into my work if I first articulate them for myself, specifically and clearly.
Consistency. Others will only respect me if I live my values in all that I do (not just in work settings).
Applied wisdom. I can only avoid recreating an unfair, unjust, non-inclusive, toxic, or abusive workplace for myself and others if I first name how I’ve experienced and witnessed these harms elsewhere. Without deliberate disruption, history repeats inevitably itself, especially in our white supremacist capitalist paradigm.
Accountability. I can only take responsibility for deviating from my values if I know what those values are and do not become defensive when someone tells me I’ve strayed.
This sounds simple, but it’s not. Our society strongly discourages this kind of critical self-reflection, honesty, integrity, and accountability. It’s counter to the capitalist mindset and ethos that drive to us toward success (or at least maintaining our status quo) often at the expense of our values.
Specifically, we are taught to work with a scarcity mindset – one that firmly believes that there is not enough of anything to go around, that we are at risk of losing everything with any misstep, and that we must put our own self-interests first to stay afloat.
But the scarcity mindset is an illusion. Like in a fun house of mirrors at a carnival, the scarcity mindset intentionally invokes fear and instability through distortion and disorientation. When in that mindset, it’s hard to make any moves grounded in our core values with confidence and certainty because it’s impossible to know what response you’ll get from the echo chamber of images and voices reflecting our fears and insecurities back to us.
Photo Credit: C. Wang Ning
The scarcity mindset is a driving force behind failure of workplace DEI and anti-racism efforts. Have you noticed that your workplace culture doesn’t shift at all or soon goes “back to normal” shortly after all those DEI and anti-racism trainings you went through or after hiring a DEI Director? That’s because even with the best intentions, we (individually and collectively) will always err toward self-preservation at the expense of others, cower from anything that makes us uncomfortable without examining why that’s so, and tear down anyone or anything that we perceive to threaten our standing or career trajectory. Everything about good, fruitful, impactful DEI and anti-racism efforts will trigger these exact responses when everyone involved (and especially those with power) operate from the mindset of scarcity.
But there’s an alternative: an abundance mindset.
An abundance mindset is the opposite of a scarcity mindset in every way. Abundance firmly believes that there is more than enough of everything to go around, that we are gifted with opportunities to grow in compassion, grace, forgiveness, and resilience when we make mistakes, and that each and every one of us benefits by prioritizing solidarity and equity (fairness, justice) before the illusion of personal gain.
“The world we want is one where many worlds fit.” – Zapatistas, indigenous-led liberation group in southern Mexico, quoted in adrienne maree brown's Emergent Strategy
We are all very unpracticed at doing this, don’t know where to begin when we try, and are easily discouraged when we run into even a modicum of resistance from others around us.
But don’t despair, it is possible!
So, how do we adopt an abundance mindset for ourselves personally and for us all collectively (in our workplaces and beyond)?
There are many ways to approach this, but here is one we like:
1. Start with a declaration about who you are and what you are worthy of in this life. This can be a bullet list, poem, prayer, or any other form you choose. For example:
I am worthy of being valued and loved for who I am. There is enough love to go around.
I am worthy of experiencing joy and satisfaction in all aspects of life, including my work. There is enough joy to go around.
I am worthy of being safe in my own skin and to move fearlessly through life. There is enough peace and security to go around.
I am worthy of being welcomed openly and joyfully as a fellow citizen of this planet. There are enough resources to go around.
My voice is worthy of being heard and honored. There is enough space for me to take without depriving someone else of the same.
My experience is worthy of being shared, acknowledge, understood, and defended. There is enough time for me to exist without detracting from someone else.
I am worthy of being compensated fully and fairly for my work. There are enough economic resources for us all to thrive without depriving others of the same.
I am worthy of trust and loyalty. There is enough friendship and companionship to go around.
2. Next, re-write this in the plural – such as, “We are all worthy of being valued and loved for who we are,” and so on.
3. Reflect on how this shift from you as a singular person to us all as a collective shifts the meaning for you. How do you feel? Do you feel yourself opening to the idea of abundance from which we can all benefit together, or do you find yourself feeling protective of your singular version that focuses on you? Write down your thoughts.
4. Reflect on how some of these affirmations may already be true for you but are not accessible for others in our current social paradigm that does not equitably value people of the global majority (i.e., people of color), disabled people, LGBTQ+ people, and/or immigrants, etc. How could an abundance mindset open new possibilities for we can all access these things equally without causing a deprivation for anyone, including you?
“The plant people have taught me to be generous and not be shy about blossoming, that it is our nature. I think when others see us, it can inspire them to open up and blossom too and we can be a field ablaze with dignity and beauty together.” – Brenda Salgado, first-generation Nicaraguan-American spiritual teacher, speaker, healer, organizer, movement leader, quoted in adrienne maree brown's Emergent Strategy
5. Now, write down at least 5 woes plaguing your workplace now in terms of racial inequity and other forms of exclusionary practices, policies, or cultural norms. For example:
Recommendations made by your workplace BIPOC Affinity Group systematically bottlenecked or ignored by majority-white leadership
Human Resources focuses almost entirely on “diversifying recruitment and hiring” without making changes to create a truly equitable workplace where historically marginalized people feel valued and want to stay and will thrive
Even after all the trainings on implicit bias and microaggressions, managers consistently fail to address microaggressive behavior when it happens, only asking the person harmed to “be patient” and “not take it so personally”
6. How do each of the woes you identified reflect a scarcity mindset among your coworkers or within the organization as a whole? Drawing from your own experience, can you relate to that particular symptom of scarcity mindset? Looking back at your abundance musings, can you see an antidote to the scarcity mindset that you identified? What would it look like to apply a mindset of abundance to the situation you’re facing?
Doing this exercise at the founding of Just Roots and doing it again regularly as we continue to do this work offers so much clarity, focus, and resolve to live into and stay accountable to the anti-racist values we try to teach others. These serve as a basis for our operating tenets, and serve as a compass in all our work. We encourage you to try this exercise, and let us know how it goes!