I’ve been thinking about the irony of the escalated focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion, fed in part by #metoo and #blacklivesmatter, when we’re experiencing the most divisive time in US history that I can remember. The pendulum is swinging wildly these days as Americans become increasingly more polarized around the subjects of race, gender, sexual orientation, and political affiliation, to name a few.
The time for nice, white, straight, cis people to remain on the sidelines has passed. If we are not actively part of the solution, we are part of the problem. In order for us to create real change in this country, we must all come together and support each other as brothers and sisters, acknowledging that every human being is intrinsically worthy of safety (psychological and physical), belonging, and love.
The question is: HOW? In not knowing the answer to this question, many would-be allies have chosen instead to remain silent. I clearly remember the moment it dawned on me why potential allies weren’t speaking up– not because they were afraid of losing privilege, but because they were afraid of making a mistake, of saying the wrong thing and feeling badly or hurting another.
We need to get over that, stat. The tide has already begun to turn, and there’s no going back. As a meme about women I saw recently said, “We’re not the weaker sex, we were the more compliant one. That stopped yesterday.” I’d say that’s probably true for People of Color as well. So many of us are unwilling to be compliant and silent any longer. #timesup. It’s time for would-be allies and accomplices to get to work and support our brothers and sisters.
Here are some suggestions:
- Let’s talk about pie. Privilege is not like pie… or at least it doesn’t have to be. With a pie, there’s a finite amount to go around. Privilege is based on power, which has historically meant “power over.” When the context is power-over, we’re dealing with pie. If I take a large piece of pie in this paradigm, you have to live with a smaller one. Inevitably, some of us will be happier than others. It’s time to change the paradigm to “power within” and “power with.” There is no limit to how much power we can access inside ourselves, and when we work together toward a common goal. The pie becomes infinite and ever-replenishing, because it’s sourced from within. And yes, there are learnable skills to increase both power within and power with.
- Educate yourself: here are a few places to start. There’s plenty of good material out there about unconscious bias, microaggressions, white supremacy (yes, I went there. Say it with me now- if you can’t name it, you can’t tame it) and the history of systemic privilege in the U.S. You can do it in private, or form a learning group to learn and grow together. You can listen to a really good podcast here.
- Get used to it. Get comfortable being uncomfortable if that’s what it takes, because this isn’t going away. If you’re in the conversation, you’re going to make mistakes. We all do. But don’t hide behind your male and/or white privilege: People of Color don’t have the luxury of walking away from a conversation when it’s not convenient. They live in this each and every day. Make your mistakes, own them, then apologize and move on.
- None of us are free unless we’re all free. Let me be crystal clear: this is not a war against white men. We need you in this, too. No movement ever becomes successful by alienating a group of potential allies. There is a quality that can be a white man’s best friend in the quest for equality: that trait is humility. Even if you were taught (overtly or implicitly) that your voice matters most or that your needs and desires matter more than another, doesn’t make it true. Become a student; humbly admit that your perspective isn’t the most– or least– important.
- DON’T let your guilt and shame stop you. It’s not our fault that we were taught to be racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. (even if you think you weren’t raised that way). Anyone who grew up in the good old U.S. of A. grew up with deeply ingrained patterns of privilege and oppression. Even People of Color. Even women. Even LGBTQ folks. It’s the water we all swim in. But just because it’s not your fault, doesn’t give you a free pass. No. When we know better, we have an obligation to do better. We may not have had a choice about what we learnt, but we can choose what to unlearn. We can do better.
At NextGen Orgs, we help companies become radically inclusive as part of building Brave Cultures™. But we don’t do this part alone; we partner with trusted colleagues who are deeply steeped in equity, diversity and inclusion work as People of Color. Our founder has lenses of being female, queer, and having a disability, but we don’t presume to speak from the Color lens. That would only perpetuate the problem. Are you ready to dive in?