Tackling racism from lived experience
Hue's Sonia Sofat & Elsa Tuet-Rosenberg use new frameworks to challenge systemic oppression.
Elsa Tuet-Rosenberg (she/her) is a queer, Jewish and Chinese woman of colour. She is an educator, facilitator, activist and performer. In 2017 she established the workplace training program at Democracy in Colour as the Director of Training.
She is an organiser for Here, Queer and Jewish in mutual aid projects and In 2020 she was awarded as one of Out for Australia's 30 under 30, for LGBTQIA+ role models and leaders and was recently appointed to the board of Switchboard, an organisation that provides peer-driven support to the LGBTIQA+ community.
Sonia Sofat (she/her) is an Indian woman of colour who combines her passion for community organising, facilitation and anti-racism campaigning to create inclusive educational experiences. Sonia was the Director of Community Organising at Democracy in Colour and established the Community Organising program in 2017. Sonia believes in the power of collective organising to create change and is passionate about elevating the voices of people with lived experiences of racism and other forms of oppression.
In 2020, Elsa & Sonia co-founded Hue, an organisation that provides antiracism and social justice training and consulting to organisations.
What prompted you to start Hue?
Too often people of colour are expected to educate tirelessly on their lived experiences in their workplaces, social groups and communities, for free, and as two women of colour we had both taken on this role far too many times.
In a lot of our experiences, we were seeing training and conversations about “Diversity & Inclusion” that omitted conversations about systemic injustice, ignored people with lived experience of oppression, and were much more lessons in politeness than tackling structural racism. Both of us had really been feeling the toll of doing this extra work and we are also both passionate about elevating the voices and experiences of people of colour, so we decided to combine the two and that’s when we took a chance and created Hue.
We wanted to create anti-oppression training and consulting where people of colour were valued and paid for their lived experience and where we could have honest and nuanced conversations about systemic racism and injustice.
Tell us a bit about the work you’re doing. Can you walk us through one of your workshops?
We run a range of workshops and provide consulting services for organisations and businesses. Our workshops build on one another to create deeper understanding of structural racism, and what we can do individually, and organisationally to challenge it. They are designed using peer-to-peer, strengths-based and trauma-informed frameworks to create safe and brave spaces for difficult conversations.
One of our newest workshops is our Deconstructing Whiteness workshop, which is specifically for white participants. This session starts with a conversation about the relationship of different systems of oppression to racism and colonialism, and then we dive into exploring whiteness as a culture, and the different beliefs, attitudes and ways of life that are normalised within a white dominant culture, and how we reward people for abiding by these in our organisations. We then spend some time exploring behaviours and attitudes that play out individually and organisationally that uphold white supremacy and are a barrier to racial justice work like white fragility, tone policing and white saviour complexes, which can be a really impactful and transformative conversation for reflecting on personal behaviour, and organisational structures where these may be present. We then finish the workshop by doing an activity specifically interrogating white supremacy workplace cultural traits, things like perfectionism, sense of urgency, the idea that progress is expanding or doing more, binary thinking etc and reflect on where these exist in our own organisations.
"Doing this work that speaks to your lived experience can be tiring, and the emotional labour required is high." - HUE
Around the world, in the last 12 months especially, there have been more discussions around privilege and responsibility. Do you think we’re progressing towards systemic changes?
Progress is a tricky construct, and maybe sometimes a bit of an illusion. We’ve definitely seen successes from our communities: incredible First Nations actions, mutual aid and land back initiatives, powerful community organising, and people with lived experience using platforms to elevate their voices and be heard. We can also see some shifts structurally: improvement in representation and greater organisational engagement on antiracism issues. Most of this is to the credit of Bla(c)k communities mobilising, and we’ve seen some incredibly powerful actions over the last 12 months. However, we’re also seeing an emboldened white supremacist movement, that receives validation from politicians, radicalisation in online spaces, and whose discriminatory beliefs go unchecked.
While our communities are doing incredible work, without genuine investment in a system overhaul from all communities, I’d say we still have a long fight ahead of us.
What have been some of the challenges & learnings in starting your own business?
One of the challenges for us has been how to embed our anti-capitalist, and community-oriented values into running an organisation. Not falling into the traps of what a good or successful organisation looks like based on white cultural standards, and remembering that we are creating something new that values lived experiences in a different way to other organisations we’ve previously worked at. Also, finding ways to support our clients to implement anti-racist practices is important, but at the end of the day, we are much more accountable to our communities. We are challenging longstanding systems of oppression and trying to build a business that reflects that, which sometimes has been a bit of a trial-and-error process.
Another big learning has been around resting and embedding self and community care into our structure, not just for ourselves but also for our recently hired staff. Doing this work that speaks to your lived experience can be tiring, and the emotional labour required is high. We want to be the best version of ourselves not only in the work we do at Hue, but also for our communities, and for ourselves. Building time into our schedules that are specifically for nourishing ourselves, tending to our communities, resting and growing, is important to us in valuing our lived experiences as marginalised people and resisting capitalism.🔥