This week I had an experience that prompted me to write about the frustrating realization of being a lone black voice in a room. I’m sure some, if not majority of this will resonate with my black peers, and non-black peers. I ask that you read, reflect, and learn. I currently serve on several diversity, equity and inclusion committees, which I enjoy, however an experience this past week left me shocked and wondering how many people don’t get it.
Currently I serve on a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee for our region, majority of the members are Caucasian (and that’s okay considering where we live), for some time now this group has worked to figure out what its mission and vision is, and how we will advise those that are looking for our support. This week we met over Zoom, we discussed, and we challenged each other, and we held several hard questions in tandem . After a while, I felt exhausted and was hoping that our regional leader ( a middle age Caucasian man) would provide us with some insight as to what his vision was for this committee. I asked what his vision was, and it became clear to me that he didn’t have one. This was his idea of saying that “we” were doing the work without ever doing really any work – in turn I said exclaimed “this is bullshit”! Needless to say this didn’t sit well with our leader, he then went on to lecture me about how my language was inappropriate (fair enough it was) and say that I was self-serving; I then responded and asked how I was self-serving, his response “I don’t know”. DEEP SIGH.
This story is fresh on my brain and happen on Wednesday of this past week; however, I have countless stories where I’ve been the only black person in the room and have asked hard questions about diversity and what systems an organization will be putting in place to ensure all voices are heard. Just about every time I’ve questioned or made individuals uncomfortable in the room, the responses have been:
“that’s not an issue we have here”
“let’s not be political” (SN: if you can’t say a specific people group matter, that’s bullshit)
“we’re not ready for that conversation”
“we’ve included the blacks and gays in things forever” (SN: this is offensive on so many levels)
“I played football and basketball with black guys”
“I served in the military with blacks”
“this wasn’t a problem until you came along”
“I don’t see color” (SN: we all see color. acknowledge and recognize it.)
I’ll stop with the quotes. At this point, I’m hoping those of you reading this can feel my frustration with these statements and how they don’t lend a hand to celebrating all of the diversity, equity and inclusion we have in the year 2020 (I know we have a lot of work to do still). Statements like those above and many others are offensive and hard to hear for this black man . Sitting in white spaces, trying to help others see the bigger picture, to see the glaring divide between us is EXHAUSTING. It is traumatic, mentally taxing and not to mention it’s BULLSHIT. I am constantly having to wrestle with the idea of saying too much and not saying enough to protect the ego of my white counterparts. Protect the ego of those walking around blindfolded to the truth and blindfolded to their privilege.
Let it land here, if you want to hear about what is means to be black in America, genuinely listen and seek to understand.