TagBlack History Month

#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.

#BlackBlogsMatter – Week 5 – Working Woke vs Woke Work

“Woke” remains a common phrase used to point out discriminatory behavior by people and institutions and to encourage people to be mindful and aware of the lowkey discriminatory behavior.

As I’ve discussed previously in the posts …

What Woke Means To Me

Tao Te Woke

and The 7 Levels of Wokeness

… once you are Woke, there is rarely a day that goes by when you won’t notice discriminatory behaviors at work thru our systems of supremacy and privilege.

It is admittedly difficult not to allow that to impact how you operate. All around you, you’re seeing people who are mistreated, overlooked and left out for factors outside of their control. All around you, you’re seeing problematic systems of selection and promotion that are setup to maintain status quo, not diversity or inclusion. All around you, every day. Within the organization you serve and in the general world. All around you. Every single day.

Sometimes, you’re a victim of these systems yourself.  You’re a Black person. Or a Woman. Or a Person of Color. Or a Person with a Physical Disability. Or a Person with outspoken Religious Beliefs. Or a Person who is not Heterosexual or who does not identify as the Gender of their birth … You work to advance organizations built on systems designed to limit your own success.

Let that sink in.

“Working while Woke” means operating for 8+ hours every day for at least 5 days of your week within organizations built on systems either actively or subliminally designed to prevent you from achieving at your highest level.

If you are part of a majority group within the power structures of such systems, can you imagine for a moment how difficult that is? Imagine how you would feel spending 40+ hours per week for 40+ weeks per year for 40+ years in that kind of system while at work. If you’re fortunate enough to work in an environment where this somehow isn’t the case, imagine spending every hour of every day of every week of every year for your whole life in that system when you’re not working.

Tired. Frustrated. Disappointed. Angry. Hopeless. Invisible … Those are the words that come to my mind as I cross the halfway threshold of my own career and look ahead to the next half in these systems.

It is hard to accept this as the only available reality for me. It is hard to accept this will be the only available reality for my children, who will be entering the world of work themselves in a few short years and are at ages/stages in their development where they start to see the systems.

How do I fix this? What is the cure for Working while Woke?

Woke Work.

“Woke Work” are the active efforts put forth to dismantle systems of supremacy and privilege. Woke Work is activism on behalf of yourself and communities of disenfranchised people.

If you’re in HR, like me, Woke Work starts by advocating within the organization you serve for  inclusion in your hiring and promotion practices along with your policies as well as fair wages and equal pay for equal work and comprehensive benefits and appropriate paid time off for people to rest, recuperate and achieve balance in their work and home lives. Woke Work is the work of our profession when you’re doing HR right.

If you cannot do this work in the place where you are, you have some difficult choices and major moves to make. What is not a choice is staying put, doing nothing and continuing to let the reputation of our great profession suffer. This is not an option. People depend on us to ensure workplaces are fair and good. HR must step up.

Beyond your chosen profession, whatever it is, this means speaking out and taking action. Share the stories. Do the research. Support the causes. Show up then show out.  Raise your voice against the systems of division and oppression. Give your time and money to the causes and the people who are lacking resources and opportunity. Create space for people who are so often cast aside with the power of your privilege.

Working while Woke is hard, heavy and hurtful.

Woke Work is freeing, filling and fruitful.

Our world needs both. Our world needs you to do both.

#BlackBlogsMatter Bonus: 365 Days of Diversity

While Black History Month has ended, the #BlackBlogsMatter challenge has not. The Weekly Flavor of the #BlackBlogsMatter challenge will continue for 11 more weeks.

In addition to my own writings, I will be incorporating some guest posts and round-ups on topics into the lineup to continue efforts to center the voices of Women and People of Color. 

Today’s post is from Dr. Kimya Dennis. Her bio below speaks for itself. She is a long-time friend, Soror and strong, unrelenting voice for diversity and inclusion. 

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Most often, diversity, inclusivity, and multiculturalism are catch words for “kumbaya”

Many people pretend life is a 1970s Coca-Cola commercial in which everyone’s common denominator is “buy the world a Coke”

An item on society’s “to do list” is racial diversity/inclusivity training/workshop

This training/workshop puts people in a room and expects most people to be soft spoken, cordial, polite, and well behaved. People are essentially told to play the Diversity Game and to pretend minds will be changed and it will not be “business as usual” for most people after they complete the training/workshop.

That is how white people (the power dominant group which  includes all cultures and ethnicities around the world that racially identify as “white”) are told to be polite and non-offensive to non-whites. Even avoid those “hilariously fun” race jokes.

Through this, whites learn to wait until there is a racial threat—which happens routinely and especially during social shifts, economic shifts, and political shifts. Whites learn to wait until their power, privilege, and status are threatened.

Whites learn to focus on covert, less obvious expressions of prejudice and discrimination. Covert is encouraged until overt is allowed in certain environments (e.g., “you will not replace us” in Charlottesville, VA was just a result of lovingly polite white men who innocently appreciate freedom of speech).

Robert K. Merton’s typology of prejudice and discrimination illustrates how people can be prejudiced (or unprejudiced) and be discriminatory (or nondiscriminatory). This is important because it addresses variance across contexts, power dynamics, and decision making.

Grasping context, power dynamics, and decision making is important. It also explains why I am not in favor of most racial diversity/inclusivity training/workshop in which people (perhaps most of whom have, at the minimum, high school education) tend to be told to get in a room and do the following:

  1. Pretend they do not know anything about racial and ethnic identity, racial and ethnic relationships, and need to be taught (in one training/workshop) everything
  2. Pretend they do not have daily Internet access (Internet has existed for a few days (sarcasm)) and have no idea to access (factual) information about racial and ethnic identities and racial and ethnic relations
  3. Pretend they do not normally use the Internet to find stuff when they care enough to find it
  4. Pretend they do not exist in environments in which they could have almost daily discussions about social issues and tough topics. This includes ruffling feathers, disagreements and debates, and sometimes people being angry with each other. That’s the purpose of challenging ourselves and challenging each other to learn new things, and learn what we previously believed is incorrect, rather than waiting to be summoned into a diversity/inclusivity training/workshop

Here’s an example of how I engage in almost daily discussions and debates to give people fewer excuses for lazily waiting for a diversity/inclusivity training/workshop:

I discuss the creation and continuation of “colorblind racism” (Racism without Racists). For instance, some whites will swear up and down that they saw a diverse representation at Parkland, Florida shooting protests. These whites will claim not to have a way to use Internet search engines to learn Parkland, Florida is middle-upper-socioeconomic status and more than 70% white including white Hispanic.

Being held to a high standard and challenged to learn is shocking to many whites. Racial power dominance allows many whites (both liberals and conservatives) to claim colorblindness, racial objectivity, and racial neutrality. Pretending to be colorblind, objective, and neutral helps whites to accuse non-whites, particularly African-Americans, of “blacksplaining” and making every topic about race. This is furthered when whites claim non-whites, particularly African-Americans, are “the real racists” and “the real reason” for racism.

I believe in 365 Days of Diversity. The same way Black history is 365 days, more than a month, diversity is a daily process not relegated to training/workshop. We have 365 days to dialogue, learn and challenge ourselves and each other.

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Dr. Kimya N. Dennis does multidisciplinary community outreach, teaching, research, and consulting to address mental health, suicide and suicidal self-harm, criminal justice processes, childfree-by-choice, and reproductive freedom. This work reaches general population with emphasis on disadvantaged and under-serviced populations. Contact Kimya at kimya@kimyandennis.com

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