June 19, 2020 -

Forget Independence

Today is Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the USA. It was on June 19th, 1865 that the Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation–which had become official on January 1, 1863. 

I was never taught about this holiday in school. Were you?

I am noticing that most organizations are looking for support on DEI and are asking both where to turn and how to proceed.  Welcome. This work is vital but not easy.

I invite you to consider a few things as you approach “the work,” from my experience as a co-learner in my own equity journey as well as a practitioner of DEI in the workplace for 25+ years.

  1. This is a long, long effort—it took 400+ years for us to get here, even though many insiders are just now arriving. Heck, Juneteenth was 155 years ago. Easy answers do not exist and much of the work resides in our homes, our hearts, our minds, and beliefs–not easy things to change.

  2. I do not know if you should hire a white consultant or a BIPOC person to support your organization. If there is a qualified, experienced, and available diversity and inclusion specialist in your circle who is also black or a person of color, and you seek to learn from them particularly, go for it. I am happy to see my colleagues in this space get all the work they can handle and make money doing so. Hire them. 

  3. Get really clear on your intention and your impact as you hire someone to help you. A few specific items to consider:

    1. Are you seeking education? Good idea. 

    2. Are you looking for a person of color to bring you up to speed on racism and to tell you their story as you evolve?  Or, have you done your own due diligence to educate yourself about the history of race in our country?

    3. Check your own willingness to actually do the hard thing rather than just seek an expedient solution.

    4. Change starts on the inside. Pretending that your life story is irrelevant to how you run your business is false: it is completely relevant.None of your hard won experience as a leader or employer or employee disappears now. It is important to examine what you know, rather than acting like in this one area you know nothing (aka, a blank slate.) 

    5. I recommend you make sure you are not hiring a black consultant in a vain attempt or hope that they can do that work for you. It doesn’t work that way. Even D & I consultants who are people of color report feeling tired, exhausted, and fatigued at having to tell their stories to white people over and over again in service to white learners.

    6. Whiteness itself has kept systemic advantage and racism in place in every system we have built, from capitalism to education; from politics to healthcare. It is whiteness that must be explored and understood in order to take down racism. What is it you expect to hear from your person of color or coach (or friends!) that will help you see what you have missed before? What is different now? 

    7. Diversity and inclusion efforts of the past 50+ years in all systems have largely failed to materially shift the dial on dismantling insider and outsider dynamics of oppression. The vast majority of specialists internally and externally advocating for inclusion at work have been people of color and women. The data tells us that things don’t change until the insiders (like yourself) actually intervene and speak up. It is time we carried some water. Nothing changes until insider (white, male, hetero, able, etc.) leaders in organizations speak up, stand up, and change things. White insiders built racism and we must actively work to unbuild it.

    8. Michael Kimmel, author of Angry White Men, says that until we identify our own self-interest, we will never reach equity or inclusion. Can you name your self-interest or are you doing this work to feel better, for optics, or because you want to be helpful? Those latter motivations simply do not last.

  4. For white insiders like me, it is an easier task to understand blackness and to empathize with the stories we hear (as painful as they are) than it is to look at, own, embrace, and manage my own whiteness. For me, looking at my own family’s history and actions, as well as my own internalized racism today hurts like hell, but that pain has served me the most on my journey of inclusion. I have been complicit. And so have you. In order to change your business culture to one that is truly inclusive and equitable, you must examine and understand the bias, the privilege, and the beliefs that are driving you to do what you do in hiring, in designing your products, in making sales, and in developing and retaining your staff. Until we understand the impact of our whiteness, we cannot change anything.

  5. We must talk to each other to change the arc of white supremacy, but not at the exclusion of doing the hard, real work. What matters here is the action we each take once our beliefs shift. You should not ONLY talk with white people or insiders about this work. But until you do talk with people like you, nothing will likely change. Your long-term actions MUST include working with your white colleagues as they become engaged in inclusion (including dealing with their defensiveness and incredulity); working with your BIPOC colleagues and friends to hear what they need and how best they want you to support and uplift their work and partnership; and digging in and dismantling the systems of advantage that benefit some and harm others in your company, organization, church, home, and vendors.  

  6. Many white people struggle with their own guilt, shame, embarrassment, cluelessness, anger, and incredulity as they wake-up to systemic advantage and privilege. In the face of these emotions it is often easier to listen and take notes than it is to actually do the internal work that is necessary. I understand the triggers and land mines that can trip us up as insiders and keep us from meaningfully committing to change for the long run. I’ve been there. I am trained in shame resilience and can stand beside you with empathy and tools as you go through the rollercoaster of awareness and fortify yourself to become sturdily in ally ship with people of color and other outsiders in your system. This will make you better.

It is all hands-on deck to seize this moment in time and to create lasting change in every system in which we operate. Truly. Human lives depend on it.

Oh, and know this: It matters less that you do it perfectly than that you get going. &nb

I am so in awe of my BIPOC colleagues and friends who are getting inundated with calls, texts, and emails from white people right now asking for ideas on what to do, where to learn, and how to proceed. They are gracious and loving, open and clear, willing to help and present. They are doing all of this while also working, raising, families, managing trauma, and living their lives. I appreciate them, even as I long to help.

I am alert, activated, engaged, and tender as I bear witness, cultivate hope that the sea change amongst us will last, and try to stay in my lane as a consultant who has been supporting leaders and organizations in this space for decades. The current racial conversation is present in every city, town, business, and home in the nation as protesters organize, families discuss, and workers ask employers to show up and take a stand. 

Let’s dig in. It is time.



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