#BlackBlogsMatter – Week 10 – Don’t Let Yourself Be The One Black Friend

It is not unusual when you’re Black to find yourself being the only Black person a White person knows and regularly interacts with. At work or school or even church, you’re it.

And because you’re the only Black person they know, your White friend talks to you about all the controversial topics surrounding race. Before you know it, because you’re the only person your White friend knows and talks to, you become their resident expert about all things Black.

Don’t let yourself be the one Black friend.

Throughout the #BlackBlogsMatter challenge, I’ve said over and over that Black people are not a monolith. Our experiences and opinions are as diverse as our skin tones and hair styles. While our culture and history unites us, we are not the same and no one Black person is equipped to speak for all Black people. They should never be asked or made to feel as though they have to do so.

Don’t let anyone force you into that role — especially one who calls you friend.

Forcing you to be a personal Black-opedia is hurtful, manipulative, unfair and racist. Someone who is a real, sincere friend would not do that to you. Asserting they do not see your color is just as bad. A real, sincere friend wouldn’t do that to you, either.

Real, sincere friends see you as a whole person — including your race, gender, physicality, economic standing and background, sexual identity, relationship status and changes, etc etc etc. Real, sincere friends value every aspect of you; they recognize and respect you. Real, sincere friends admire and celebrate you.

Asking you to explore, express and explain painful aspects of your existence on a regular basis for their education is not something a real friend does. Certainly, if your White friends have questions and curiosities, they should feel comfortable asking you. Real, sincere friendships are the best, safest places for these conversations and they should be reciprocal. But if their learning starts and ends with you, they’re abusing your friendship and damaging you in the process.

This is not OK.

If you find yourself becoming someone’s resident expert and educator on Blackness, take these steps:

  1. Bring it to their attention. Tell your friend that you’ve noticed how frequently they ask you about these topics. Be as brash or polite as you feel necessary based on your desire to maintain the relationship once the conversation ends.
  2. Let them know this is hurtful to you. Specifically state how it makes you feel to recount these issues to your friend and why you need their regular questioning to stop.
  3. Suggest alternate resources. If learning about these topics is a sincere effort, your friend will welcome other, independent resources to assist them.
  4. Refuse to participate further. As issues arise going forward, hold back your opinion when asked. Not forever, just for awhile so your friend can get used to using other resources and not just you. If they don’t use the other resources, know that the issue isn’t really important to them and don’t participate in the conversations further. Talk about other stuff instead.

The burden is on those with power and privilege to educate themselves and use what they’ve learned to help those without power and privilege achieve inclusion, equality and equity. Disenfranchised and oppressed people should not be exclusively responsible for educating those in power.  It perpetuates the supremacy that they claim they’re trying to stop.

Information is at our fingertips. There are thousands upon millions of resources online and offline available to get information and education about the issues facing Black people, Women, People of Color and any other group, if wanted. Your friends don’t need you to hold their hands through the journey. They  justneed you to point them in the right direction.

Friends don’t ask friends to consistently hurt themselves to help them be a more educated, inclusive individual.  Don’t let anyone relegate you to being the one Black friend.

#BlackBlogsMatter – Week 9 – Addressing MicroAggression

A micro-aggression is a statement, action or incident regarded as an indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against people of a marginalized group.  Micro-aggressions are dog whistles; they are coded language that appears to mean one thing but has a different, specific and usually negative resonance for the target marginalized group.

In our workplaces, we do a lot of training and reminding of people surrounding bullying, discrimination and harassment. We provide long, detailed lists of behaviors to refrain from in order to not bully, discriminate or harass anyone. We provide even longer and more detailed lists for managers of these behaviors.

But we never talk about micro-aggression. We don’t talk about what it is. We don’t talk about how or why it shows up. We don’t talk about the best way to address it when it does.

In our workplaces, we are slow to act on complaint issues that are not overt. We immediately know what to do when someone uses a racial slur or touches someone inappropriately. We don’t  know as quickly what to do with someone who regularly describes Black men as “aggressive” or asks Black women if their hair is real or volunteers the women in the meeting to take meeting minutes.

We should. But we don’t.

We’ve been conditioned to ignore micro-aggression. We’ve been conditioned to ignore the dog whistles. We tell ourselves that we didn’t hear what we heard. We tell ourselves that the aggressor “didn’t mean it like that” or that the target is “being too sensitive”.  When we do address it, we often approach the aggressor apologetically and downplay the severity of the issue. “What used to be acceptable back in the day will get you fired now” 

Newsflash: It was never acceptable. TimesUp!

When micro-aggression goes ignored and under-addressed , a few  things happen:

  • It continues … Our gentle approach to addressing micro-aggression sends the message to aggressors that their behavior is OK and the target is the problem.
  • It gets worse … Our gentle approach to addressing micro-aggression sends the message to the aggressor that their behavior is protected and the target is the trouble-maker.
  • It escalates … Our gentle approach to addressing micro-aggression leaves the target feeling they have to defend themselves. They begin to argue back with the aggressor publicly.  They refuse work assignments which cause them to have to interact with the aggressor. They exit the organization and pursue separation claims or disparage the company online. They commit acts of workplace violence.

Think I’m going too far? Do a google search on recent workplace shootings. Read some negative Glassdoor ratings. I promise you’ll find ignored and under-addressed occurrences of micro-aggression at the heart. The same can be said for many if not most occurrences of bullying, discrimination and harassment.

Micro-aggression is the seed. Failing to address it allows it to grow.  Eventually, it will choke out all the diversity and inclusion you’ve worked to achieve in your workplace.

So what do you do about it?

  • Believe the targets … When an employee brings a complaint of micro-aggression to you, believe them. Believe they heard it as intended. Believe they received it as intended. Believe their right to be offended. Believe their story and affirm them.
  • Get understanding … If you’re not a member of the target group yourself or familiar with challenges they face, you may not understand why the behavior is so upsetting. Don’t discount the issue just because it doesn’t make immediate sense to you. Research the context of the statement if the negative meaning isn’t clear or obvious to you.
  • Educate yourself and others … Learn in general about common micro-aggressions in our workplaces. Take a look at your team or organization’s population. Become aware of how people identify and the racial, ethnic and religious make-up. Incorporate teaching about micro-aggression into your required trainings.
  • Address issues firmly … Treat reports of micro-aggression behaviors as serious as all other reports of bullying, discrimination and harassment. Investigate it. Document it formally. If the issue repeats or escalates, use progressive discipline against the aggressor. Do not send mixed messages, blame shift or coddle aggressors. Apply the same zero tolerance approach to micro-aggression as all other inappropriate behaviors.

Micro-aggression is bias. Conscious or unconscious. Intentional or unintentional. It doesn’t matter. Bias is bias. And it has no place in your workplace if inclusion is one of your goals.

Micro-aggression is the seed that, if allowed to grow unchecked, will become bullying, discrimination, harassment, disengagement, turnover, liability and violence.  Stop it before it does irrevocable damage.

#BlackBlogsMatter – Week 8 – White Privilege STILL So Fragile

I spoke about the Theory of White Privilege Fragility during last year’s #BlackBlogsMatter challenge.

I made fun of it and got into some interesting conversations online and offline as a result. Mostly with White people who were triggered by me making fun of their fragility and chose to argue with me because of it … which was ironic and cool because that’s exactly what the theory says will happen when a person’s privilege fragility is triggered, thus proving the theory as true.

I also heard from Black people, Women and other People of Color who felt I didn’t do enough to talk about what White people can do to deal with their privilege fragility. This too was ironic and cool because it is exactly what the theory says White people want us to do in order to avoid having their privilege fragility triggered, again proving the theory as true.

As the group in power and with power, it is on White people to do the work to check their privilege and all the supremacist attitudes and fragility triggers that go along with it. Black people, Women, People of Color and any other group are NOT responsible to sugarcoat thoughts, opinions, the recounts of their experiences, feedback or requests in order to make easier for White people to handle. Shrinking and editing this way is a form of enabling, which we all agree is very very bad and unacceptable.

I’m not here to tell White people or anyone else in a privileged place what to do to be more comfortable when triggered and uncomfortable while the Woke among us are out here trying  and dying to dismantle supremacy and patriarchy.

Nope. Not gonna do it. And I will never encourage anyone else to give this kind of advice as it helps nothing.

What I will tell White people and anyone else in a privileged place is what NOT to do when the fragility of their privilege is triggered:

  • Don’t say “All Lives Matter” … If you haven’t figured out that this is the absolute wrong response to the cries of hurt, frustration and anger from Black people when someone is murdered senselessly and/or denied justice under the law, I have little hope that you’ll ever overcome your biases or fragility. However, managing NOT to say this or anything resembling “we all have pain” in response to the cries of hurt, frustration and anger of systemically oppressed people is a good place to start in checking your privilege.
  • Don’t say “I don’t have Privilege” … It is often difficult for White people who are not male and wealthy to see how being White works to their advantage. I get it — but that doesn’t change the fact that it does. Denying that you have privilege and/or choosing not to acknowledge it while still benefiting from it does nothing. Stop saying this and start learning more about how your privilege really works.
  • Don’t say “Choose Love” … Thoughts, prayers, positive thoughts and love alone will not dismantle systems of oppression that are centuries old and rebuild them with systems that are fair, equitable and inclusive. It takes hard work and difficult conversations over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. Also, love is not oppressive or controlling so speaking out against oppression actually  is choosing love.
  • Don’t say “Do we have to talk about this every day?” … In a word: Yes. What you focus on is what gets addressed and ultimately improves. Would you tell someone who was trying to get healthier that it was a good idea to neglect diet and exercise for long periods of time? Not if you wanted them to succeed. Similarly, if we’re going to succeed at the understanding inclusion, equality, equity and overcoming oppressive systems, we have to talk about it. A lot. Black people, Women, People of Color and other disenfranchised groups have been talking about this stuff all the time for centuries. It’s time for White people to catch up.
  • Don’t say “I can’t say anything right” …  Chances are that your response is lacking empathy or a balanced informed opinion and that’s why it’s being rejected. This is what should happen to a response that is ignorant and/or rude. Don’t defend your ignorance  or ask hurting people to give you a pass for speaking out of turn.  It may not be the place or time for you to have opinion. It might be a perfect opportunity to shut up and listen instead.

I could keep going but I think you get the gist.

If you were born White, it is not your fault and neither is the privilege that comes from it. No one expects you to feel bad or apologize for it. However, it is your responsibility to recognize your privilege and use it to help people who have less privilege and opportunity than you. It is your responsibility to cultivate awareness of the impact your bias has on others and to check yourself at every opportunity. It is your responsibility to stop seeking to be coddled and be willing to be uncomfortable in order to learn, un-learn and re-learn.

Just know that the Woke work and the people doing it will not wait for you to get on board or catch up. Progress will continue, with or without you.

White Privilege is still fragile.  But you don’t have to be.

#BlackBlogsMatter – Week 7 – What Black People Be Thinking

This has been one of the hardest posts to write within the #BlackBlogsMatter challenge. Considering that I setup the calendar, that is hard to admit and make sense of. But the truth is I sat down to write and suddenly felt both blocked and burdened by the idea of speaking on behalf of Black people and what we think.

For so long, that’s been the case for Black people across so many mediums. We are represented as all being only one way. We must look, think and act alike.  We must want the exact same thing in the exact same way — or our message is too confusing and dis-unified for anyone to understand how to help us. This is unfair and untrue.

Black people are as diverse in our appearance, thoughts, behaviors, upbringings, dreams, aspirations, accomplishments and accolades as anyone else. We are allowed to have the full range of emotions and expressions and evolution as anyone else. We must be able to learn, grow, make mistakes, live to be forgiven, rebound, succeed and flourish just like anyone else … Yet for so long, we’ve been presented as a monolith only allowed a very narrow definition of humanity. Anyone who doesn’t fit the stereotypical definition is rejected, criticized and ostracized.

The only thing I can say is what I be thinking. And what I think is, as it relates to work, we are still waiting for the majority to recognize that we are both part of t and different from the majority group at the same time — and that both of these are OK.  I think I don’t want to forced into a caricature or stereotype. I think Black people deserve — all people deserve — to be seen as fully realized humans who bring our complete selves to work each day. This includes our Blackness and the wide range of experiences that includes.

Telling me that you don’t see my race does not make me think I’m included. It makes me think I am unseen, unimportant and devalued. It makes me think I have to edit myself and shrink for your comfort. This makes me sad, for me and for you.

Because of this, I look around for other Black people wherever I go. I do this because I think I can trust that they will see me and value me, more often than not. If there aren’t very many, I count to note exactly how many there are. Sometimes there are so few Black people, I count the Women and People of Color to bolster my sense of diversity and inclusion. I think this is sad and pathetic.  Sometimes, I size myself up against those people and think about the probability of outrunning them if some isht pops off so I don’t end up in the Sunken Place or worse. Hahaha — joking not joking.

I think I just want to be accepted, comfortable and confident in places where I have to spend significant amounts of time. I think work is one of those places. I think everyone is entitled to this. I think this shouldn’t be some lofty, future aspiration. I think it should be something we demand of our workplaces right now. I think it is something we should regularly be thinking about and moving toward. I think this is key to breaking down the walls that keep us oppressed.

I think I want to see this in my lifetime. I know this is something I want for myself. Not my children or their future children — I want it for me. I don’t want to work for 25 more years thinking I’m being shorted on opportunities and earnings and acceptance because of attributes that I had no choice in and that have nothing to do with my abilities.

I don’t think White people want this, either. I don’t think oppression is the goal for most. I think the majority of the majority wants everyone to have a fair share. Some are even willing to give up a portion of their share to achieve this if necessary.

But the difference is, I don’t have a choice in whether I show up or advocate for these things. My existence and my choice of profession mandate it. It is not optional.

I think everyone’s existence mandates the same thing. I think the fight for inclusion and equality is everyone’s fight and we must choose it actively, thoughtfully and purposefully. I especially think everyone who’s chosen HR as a profession or whose path has led them to a leadership role are mandated to take up this mantle. I think it is time more people also start thinking this way.

That’s not what all Black people be thinking tho. I don’t speak for all of us.  Just me.

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