Resistance and Retrenchment

Community change almost never proceeds in a straight line from assessment, to planning, to action, to the changes one hopes for. There are always things that go wrong, competing priorities that draw resources and attention to slow the work, and the need to pause, reflect, rethink and move forward. In racial equity work, however, a group can also anticipate that the work, if it is successful, will be troubling to many of the individuals who benefit from current power arrangements, and disruptive to institutions and organizations that want to move forward in new ways. Even very positive changes face resistance, sometimes from those who stand to benefit in the long run, when they alter current relationships of power in the short run.

Resistance, as used here, refers to the actions (or inactions) that people use to slow work that is threatening to them in some way. Retrenchment refers to a phenomenon in which racial justice or equity gains are often followed by losses; this is a form of organizational, institutional or structural resistance to changing the status quo. Just in the beginning of the 21st Century, the forces of resistance and retrenchment have appeared following gains in racial equity via affirmative action and health care reform, and in debates over reproductive rights and immigration reform.

Resources in this section offer insights about resistance and retrenchment as well as examples and strategy information to anticipate and counteract their effects. See also History of Racism and Movements under Fundamentals.

Also in this section: