By Jennie Lusk
The City of Albuquerque’s Culture Change Leader, Tim Green, knows that coming to grips with America’s structural racism is key to establishing a strong democracy.
A tall man who has been described as “light-skinned” in Black communities, and as Black in Hispanic communities, Green’s primary job is to educate the City’s 6,000 employees to be anti-racist.
That means acknowledging that today’s social and political structures discriminate against people of color and other vulnerable groups and acting accordingly. It’s not a matter of whether individuals are racists. Instead, racism is built into today’s reality.
Green provides workshops, training sessions, and conferences, and advises each City department on anti-racist best practices. He sits on the City’s Human Resources hiring committee, whose aim is making the City an inclusive employer. He also spends a good deal of time in data analysis and in supervising the City’s employees in Black Engagement, Native American Affairs, and the Office of Immigration and Refugees.
Coming from a long line of accomplished African-American leaders, Green grew up in Albuquerque’s South Valley. His great-grandmother in Mississippi began her graduate studies at Ole Miss only the semester after John F. Kennedy sent federal troops to protect James Meredith’s entry into the public university. That heritage is precious for Green, as is growing up in the South Valley with a family that proudly noted it did not cross the border to come to New Mexico; the border crossed them.
Now finishing his Ph.D., Green came to the City from the State’s Judicial Education Center, received his masters’ in Political Science and African American Studies and undergraduate degree in Black Studies. He’s passionate about his work and about the human ability to lean into discomfort.
Green said the people he trains have mixed reactions to his presentations—some resistant, some agitated, and some emotional. Some people apologize, some distance themselves, and swear they are not racists. But, he noted, we’re all racist, and every state is racist in its own particular way.
It’s common, he said, for people to be uncomfortable talking about race and racism. “We live in a culture of silence. We are taught not to talk about racism.” Still, he said, we must: “People have civil rights, and the right not to be physically or sexually accosted, but they do not have a right not to be uncomfortable.
“In any class of 10, I expect I’ll never be able to reach two of the students because of what I look like,” he said. “One or two will be ready to change. Six or seven are on the border—they are the ones I especially try to touch.”
“We have to deal with people who won’t change and don’t want to change,” he continued, “but we still have to deal. In a country with structural racism that benefits white people, the best you can be is anti-racist.”
To help people become anti-racist, Green works on “intersectional” issues to leverage more power and open more doors for minority communities. He works against the umbrella of discrimination as it affects people of color, but also people targeted because of age, gender identity or physical abilities. Doing so furthers radical diversity, innovation, ingenuity, and intercultural education—and, ultimately, the kind of democracy we seek.
Starting with one’s own family, Green suggests, is a way to begin being an anti-racist. “We can lean into uncomfortability,” he said, “lean into weakness and reckon with that in oneself, and be open to learning.”
He suggests discussions within your family, then stepping out and using the same principle in the workplace, then the community. Finally, he believes working at the community level, practicing for justice locally is the key to creating an equitable democracy. “We have to organize. It’s uncomfortable, but we have to build coalitions and collectives to solve these problems. We start at home, not top-down, to shift practices,” he said.
“I see a cloud over Albuquerque right now,” Green concluded. “There’s a culture of discrimination—and all the ‘isms’ (such as ageism, sexism). “My job is to let some sunlight in.”