Pardon, Your Bias is Showing

Pardon, Your Bias is Showing

I’m going to let you into a secret: I didn’t learn the term “microaggressions” till decades after I’d already experienced my first one.

Microaggressions don’t just happen at work, of course. Black people who live in countries where they are in the minority experience them every day, in every sphere of their lives.

(And, just so you know, post-colonial societies where Black people are in the majority aren’t exempt from microaggressions, either, but that’s a story for another time. I talk about that in “Exploring Shadeism”, a study of colorism in Barbados and the Caribbean.)

Most of my experiences of racial microaggressions happened in the UK, where I lived and worked for 15 years. But they’re identical to the experiences my Black relatives and friends have in workplaces in the US.

At first, I was simply perplexed by what I considered stupid questions and asinine comments. But it turned out those questions and comments were all subtle ways of letting me know I didn’t belong.

Here are some of the experiences that stood out most for me. Let’s start with the questions:

How did you get here?

When I first started working in the UK, a few of my colleagues asked how I’d got to England. They knew I’d come from the Caribbean, but they couldn’t conceive of island nations like ours having modern transportation technology like planes. A couple of colleagues wondered if I’d traveled on some sort of “banana boat”, but if I’d said I’d swum 4,000 miles I’m sure some of them would have believed me.

What kind of house do you live in?

This sounded like an innocuous question until further conversation revealed that my questioners pictured me living in trees. Seriously, I’m not making this up — this happened to me in the early 1990s.

It’s not that trees are necessarily a bad place to hang out. It was the assumption of my inferiority that underlay that question. Honestly, I was staggered by the level of ignorance this question revealed.

Can I touch your hair?

Some people ask; others just lean in and before you know it they’ve got their fingers in your hair. That’s just rude. Once more for the people in the back:

Hands off Black people’s hair. It is not your exotica or curiosity. We had 400 years of that BS and we’re over it, OK?

As if the questions weren’t bad enough, there were a couple of statements I heard over and over again during my years working in England.

You’re so articulate/you speak such good English

This is one that’s happened to me in many workplaces. As I’ve said elsewhere, the tone of voice is what separates a compliment from a microaggression.

If there’s admiration, it’s likely genuine. If there’s a surprise, then there’s the underlying assumption that Black people aren’t articulate.

And there’s also an assumption that we come from countries where English isn’t the first language. That’s true for some people, but the colonizers got around and imposed their language, so there are a bunch of places Black people live where English is the first language. Learn some history, people.

I don’t see color

This one always makes me think the speaker’s living in an alternate reality. I’m a tall Black woman, so I think my color is pretty hard to ignore.

Truth to tell, I wish more people would see my color. Then they would acknowledge the whole of me, instead of denying my history and culture.

A twist on this, that I’ve talked about elsewhere, is when my white American roommate in France told me she thought of me as white. Even today, I struggle to wrap my head around all the biases contained in that simple sentence.

In addition to the questions, there are other microaggressive experiences (actually, sometimes there’s nothing “micro” about them:

Being a curiosity

I remember when a colleague told me about the “colored chap” who lived in her village. From her tone, you’d have thought he was another species.

Don’t get me wrong; she wasn’t being unfriendly. In fact, she was going out of her way to make me feel included, but it had the opposite effect. She knew nothing about him other than the color of his skin.

And having been that lone Black person in other places, I can tell you it’s a lonely and uncomfortable place to be sometimes. And it’s equally lonely and uncomfortable as the lone Black person in an office where you’re dealing with this kind of foolishness every freakin’ day!

Not seen as a professional

Another biggie is when people come into the office where you’re working and assume you are “the help”, for want of a better phrase. Just as I’ve seen the double take in interview settings, I’ve also seen it when someone’s come in for a meeting and realizes the Black person he just walked past dismissively is actually the person he’s supposed to be meeting.

Sometimes there’s the “whitesplaining”, as if you don’t have skills, too. I had a bully of a boss who was prone to this, even though I had more industry experience than he did.

Skimming through the #BlackintheIvory hashtag on Twitter, there are also stories of how any issue related to Black people is somehow less worthy of study and attention.

Passed over for promotion

This can be hard to judge, but you get a feeling, don’t you? The same way you recognize the double-take, you know when you’re seen as not quite good enough, simply because you’re Black.

Sometimes it’s the recognition that your white colleagues, who don’t work as hard as you do, get a raise or a better raise than you do.

Sometimes you have to apply twice for the promotion that less qualified people seem to get as of right.

And sometimes, as I’ve said before, you don’t get the promotion at all, and are subtly disrespected till you choose to leave.

These are only a few of the experiences I’ve had at work. There have been many others in other contexts, which I’ll write about another time. White friends, this is why your Black colleagues are stressed out, unhappy and ready for change.

Want to be an ally and help reduce racial microaggressions in your workplace? Join our Anti-Racist Leaders Association for ongoing support to eliminate racism through consistent action.

Reprinted with permission from Sharon’s Anti-Racism Newsletter.

The White Person, Paid Anti-Racism Work And Elusive Reparations

The White Person, Paid Anti-Racism Work And Elusive Reparations

There are many white voices talking about racism and anti-racism in the DEI space; it seems to have become yet another arena where white people feel entitled to have their voices heard and elevated (said the white woman).

Robin DiAngelo is a notable one. The author of the 2018 ‘White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism’ has made a hefty buck from sales of her analysis of white people’s defensiveness around discussions of race.

So what’s wrong with that? We all have to make a living, right?

And she’s expanding white people’s knowledge of and discussions around race and racism. Surely that’s a good thing?

Unfortunately, when white people position themselves as ‘the’ DEI experts, other white people tend to flock to their resources…

This then perpetuates inequality, by centring whiteness and white people’s voices as THE voices to listen to…

Their popularity leads to them featuring high on bestseller lists, getting paid speaking and training gigs in the corporate and political workplace and then being lauded and paraded around as the experts…

In turn this minimises the voices of those actually on the receiving end of racism and keeps the attention on the white experts and their fragile white customers, like me, as they make a white industry helping us deal with our racism. Sigh.

So, should white people and hopeful allies even be involved in DEI or social justice work?

And if so how can they do this without it becoming all about them and without silencing or minimising the Black and Brown voices of painful experience?

As a white woman writing a regular column about my anti-racism journey and working in my Brown wife’s company, these are frequent concerns!

From discussions with the Black and Brown people surrounding me, what is crucial is that white people – as the perpetrators of racism – do need to be involved in the process of eradicating it, and even taking a lead in doing this (after-all we created the problem in the first place).

However, the bit that we white people often seem to get wrong is that taking the lead does NOT look like taking over, centring ourselves, our work, our pain (because dealing with our racism is sooo hard compared to actually experiencing it!?!?!) and being paid well for it in the process.

So what could/should our work look like instead?

Reparations…

Here at DLG there is a transparent policy that:

  • There will always be more Black and Brown people than white people on the team, and especially at leadership level.
  • As a form of reparations, Black and Brown people will always be paid 30% more than white people.

How does that land with you as you read that?

For most of us white people there’s probably an inner wrangle…

An initial “…But how is that equal? My work should be valued the same, surely?” and for women especially given we are, on average, already subject to lower pay than white men.

However, many of us are also aware of the systemic racism that means Black and Brown people have historically been paid less than their white counterparts, never mind the atrocities that have been enacted upon them by our ancestors, as well as being perpetuated and continued by us (however unknowingly or unintentionally).

This seems like a really simple way of beginning a process of levelling things up.

  • I am not paid for this column.
  • I currently work for DLG as a volunteer.
  • As and when there is money to pay us for our work I do not intend to be paid for the column by DLG.
  • If I make any money for the column from other sources I intend to donate 30% of it back to DLG.

How powerful would it be if all white DEI practitioners or anyone who profits from anti-racism work were, by default, to commit to similar reparations?

Black & Brown People Remain The Experts…

As white people we seem to need to hear from other white people when dealing with our racism. It is ESSENTIAL that white people ALWAYS be guided by the teachings of Black and Brown people themselves (without adding to their emotional or practical labour).

All my learnings come from the Black and Brown people in my life or those I follow on LinkedIn and Instagram. And I make mistakes, regularly.

The aim of this column is to share my own messy, often embarrassing journey towards anti-racism and some of the learnings I’m finding out about. My hope is that other white people will choose to start their own anti-racism journeys and be led, to and by, the Black and Brown leaders I’m learning from.

De-centring Whiteness…

In doing anti-racism work, de-centring our whiteness can be hard to do for a number of reasons…

Systems of enslavement and colonialism have created a sense of superiority in white people and left deep scars in the psyches of Black and Brown people living within these systems. This white sense of entitlement – to always have our voices heard – requires vigilance at all times, but most especially when working to be allies in this space.

It is no accident that this column is under both Lea and Sharon’s columns as presented on this website. Intentional acts such as that are how we begin to level the field.

I find this balance – of wanting the column to do well, to reach lots of people and to have an impact…but not centring myself in the process of that and keeping the focus on the end goal of more people working to be anti-racist – a tricky one to navigate!

And I’m still showing up. Will you join me?

If you, like me, want to work on making the world a truly equal place I can highly recommend the Anti-Racism Association.

There is a free membership option to dip your toe in the water, but the real magic happens in the paid membership levels where you’ll meet once a month with other people, like us, who want to learn to do and be better. I hope to see you there.

White Fragility: What’s It All About?

White Fragility: What’s It All About?

Given the name of this column, it seems useful to discuss in more detail what white fragility actually is! 

White fragility is a concept coined by the white author and professor, Robin DiAngelo in her 2018 book of the same name. The book was published during the protests about the murder of George Floyd and topped best seller lists. According to DiAngelo, (2020):

‘White fragility’ is meant to capture the predictable response of defensiveness that so many white people have whenever it is suggested that being white has meaning and advantage. For a lot of white people, just saying ‘white people’ will cause great umbrage. But the impact is not fragile at all. It becomes a sort of weaponised defensiveness. Because it marshals behind it the weight of history and institutional control. And ‘white fragility’ ends up functioning as a form of white racial bullying.

White people consistently make it so punitive for people of colour to challenge us, to talk to us about their experiences, that most of the time they don’t bother. Because they risk things actually getting worse for them, not better. And in that way, white fragility functions as a really effective form of white racial control. And that maintains our positions of advantage within a society that is set up to advantage us.”

So What Does White Fragility Actually Look Like In Action?

Personally I see my white fragility showing up in innumerable ways. Here are just a few of the biggest offenders (see how much work there is to be done?):

  • My white tears when hearing about racist incidents/murders 

My tears put Black and Brown people into a situation of having to comfort my sorry white ass while they are already having to re experience the trauma of racism. When I do this there is a veiled threat (the weaponisation) that says ‘you can’t expect me to actually DO anything about this,  just hearing about it is too much for me to cope with’. There is also an energy of ‘I’m crying tears for YOUR cause’ – shifting the responsibility for dealing with racism away from myself and white people generally.

  • Minimising racist incidents to protect other white people (or even questioning if it was racist)

The words ‘is it really that bad?’ have often flooded my brain and have led me to gaslight the Brown members of my own family, rather than have to stand up to other white people. This puts me in the role of arbiter (something white people frequently do around racism) where we see ourselves as neutral and capable of being judge and jury about IF something ‘counts’ as racism. This smacks of colonialist pomposity and superiority and is a weapon because as white people, we believe OUR opinion still counts for more and in doing this, we prioritise our own comfort so we don’t actually have to do anything that might disrupt it.

  • Getting defensive/huffy when challenged

I am still learning how to respond well when I am challenged on something in a way that is not fragile or harmful. Frequently (especially in my marriage) I get defensive and huffy about it, a classic tool of fragility, making it about me (because, let’s face it, I’m going to whinge about quite how awful I must be. Sigh) thus making it unpleasant for Black or Brown people to approach me with feedback or challenge me again.

So What Can We Do About Our Fragility?

DiAngelo talks about white people learning to build up our racial stamina, by which she means us having regular direct contact with Black or Brown people, including having conversations where we are challenged. I know I have to confront my racism on a whole other level now because I am married to a Brown person and have Brown step-kids.

Given that one of the reasons white fragility has festered is because white people tend to live segregated lives having little to no real contact with Black or Brown people, putting ourselves out there and not staying in our comfortable white enclaves seems imperative. The work is not allowing our fragility to cause us to give up when (and it will be when) we are challenged. 

I have seen this ‘fragility when challenged’ in action on two recent occasions…

One when a white leader at a group our kids attended refused to take our concerns about racist behaviour seriously, or accept the feedback on her problematic anti-racism policy that used dated language and stated that white people could experience racism too. Her fragility involved stubbornly shutting down, stating that it was HER land (which felt very colonial!), finding a Black person who agreed with her and clumsily centering photos of the (very few) Black or Brown kids at her setting in all her publicity.

Similarly in the workplace I have seen the CEO of a self-proclaimed, anti-racist company hear challenge until it became too personal, reflecting as it did on her own poor performance, performative anti-racism and white saviourism.

I’m not relaying these tales from any position of superiority. My fragility shows up daily in my marriage and beyond. And many days I, too, want to go off in a fit of major fragile pique (some days I actually do!) But here’s the rub. Black and Brown people don’t have that luxury.

As a kid I grew up in a rural area, I have had very few Black and Brown people in my networks, even at University. There were only two Black kids at my secondary school, they were related and had white parents. I had no Black or Brown teachers. I saw my white children heading down the same path as me. Living in a very white area and having little to no communications with anyone other than white people, never mind friendships! We now live in the middle of a city and I am grateful for the diversity, both for my Brown family who get to see themselves represented all around us, and for me and my white children, who get to step out of our limiting white enclave and challenge our fragility, daily.

On ‘White Fragility’ Being A Big White Earner…

While white fragility has become a well used and useful term, DiAngelo has been criticised for directly profiting, heavily, from her anti-racism work, something that many Black and Brown people rightly take issue with. 

Which begs the wider question, is it ever ok for white people to work in anti-racism spaces and should they profit from it?

Join me next time as I discuss the thorny issue of paid social justice work and reparations. Plenty to get fragile about right there! 

Why Bother With DEI For My Company? Looking Beyond The Typical “Business Case” To The REAL Benefits For Everyone…

Why Bother With DEI For My Company? Looking Beyond The Typical “Business Case” To The REAL Benefits For Everyone…

A lot of attention has been focused on the ‘business case for diversity’ – it’s the classic Capitalist focus on “what’s in it for me?” when it comes to how it will benefit a company’s bottom line. 

Spending on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives has surged in the last decade. The global market for DEI reached $7.5 billion in 2020 and is expected to double by 2026. And we all know that Capitalism demands some kind of commercial return on ANY investment made…

But new research reveals that the business case for DEI may be having the opposite effect on the very people its aiming to support. 

Businesses hoping to attract a more diverse workforce may, in fact, be turning them off by STILL attempting to tie the benefits and business case to the bottom line…money over humans. Again.

So let’s look beyond the numbers and explore the real, human benefits of putting diversity and, ultimately, equality at the foundation of your organisation…

Representation

A common buzzword in the DEI world; what this means in real world terms is that your customers actually SEE themselves represented in your business/workforce. At a base level, if you’re a white man, who do you feel most comfortable talking to if you contact customer service? Who do you feel ‘gets’ you the most? A Black woman or another white man? The same goes for EVERY member of your customer base and they are NOT all white men! 

Building a workforce that more fully represents your customer base is a win-win-win for everyone. Understanding, awareness, communication and connection, between your business and who you serve, all stand to be improved with better representation.

Relevancy

Diversity and equality matter so you don’t, as my teen puts it, “get cancelled”. If you, like me, are not well versed on teen speak, this essentially means that you don’t become irrelevant or overlooked by huge swathes of your customer base. Diversity and equality are becoming more and more important to future (and current) generations; whatever you think of the more ‘woke’ generations, they exist. And they have and will have spending power. 

Never have we had more choice, never have we had the ability we have now to buy globally and research our options. People are voting with their wallets – they’re choosing more sustainable products, they’re choosing more socially conscious businesses. And on top of that, social media puts the power in peoples pockets’ – voices that previously had no platform, can now create their own megaphones. A business that is no longer relevant, risks being irrelevant…cancelled. 

Rewards

Many companies focus on hiring for culture fit with a strong focus on “people like us”. This feels comfortable, a known entity, a harmonious work environment with little friction, challenge or disagreement. There’s just one problem with that…the assumption that fricton, challenge and disagreement are ‘bad’. In companies which value homogeny over diversity, “groupthink” and agreement stifle creativity, diversity of thought (and therefore critical thinking) and miss out on the benefits of cross-cultural wisdom. 

DEI – whose true endgame is Equality – is here to stay. Like it or not.

Look at Black Lives Matter. Look at the reaction to the overturning of Roe vs Wade and the reminder that feminism and women’s equal rights still has a long way to go. Look at the LGBTQ+ movements.

Marginalised communities will not go silently into the night and continue to accept less. The push for more – which isn’t even more, it’s simply a push for “the same and equal” – will continue.

Your business can get on board or the very real risk exists that it becomes an incumbent dinsoaur in your industry, overtaken by agile, adaptable businesses who ‘do DEI baked in as a default’.

Want To Lead The Way To Equality For Your Company?

We can help. We provide a safe, supportive and action-oriented space to work towards anti-racism with no BS, no judgment and nothing but unwavering, kind support on your journey to lead the way to equality. For $50/month only.

An Open Letter To White People: On The Benefits Of Being Anti-Racist

An Open Letter To White People: On The Benefits Of Being Anti-Racist

You keep being told you MUST ‘do the work’. That you ARE racist even though you don’t feel it. That you ARE causing harm even though that’s the last thing you’d want to do. And yet, apparently, you are.

“WTF?!! This is SO unfair. Why do I need to repair the harm my ancestors caused and what, exactly, do I get out of this? Equality? Hmmm. But doesn’t equality mean that WE (white people) have to give up power to ‘them’? WTF?! Why would we do that?”

And there’s the rub: What is in it for white people to give up the power they hold and have worked so hard to gain and maintain over the centuries?

To understand that I believe we have to go right back to the beginning…Why did white people (men) feel the need to subjugate and dominate their fellow Black and Brown men in the first place?

Fear…

  • Fear of superior physical strength.
  • Fear of superior intellect.
  • Fear that if they didn’t dominate they would be dominated.
  • Fear that they would not be/were not enough. 

And so they crushed that fear by crushing what they feared…

  • By enslaving the people they feared.
  • By colonising their lands.
  • By taking everything they had.
  • By setting up the world in a way that maintained their own dominance.

…in an attempt to demonstrate their superiority, when what they were really doing was covering up their fear of inferiority.

Fast forwards to today and NOTHING has changed.

In fact, in the intervening centuries, things have actually gotten worse…

The Black and Brown people they feared haven’t actually become inferior, they’ve grown even more superior. Black and Brown excellence has thrived out of necessity and the gulf – instead of closing as white people hoped it would – has become ever wider. 

“Shit. This wasn’t meant to happen. Now what do we do? There is NO way we’re giving up our power now. And here we are…in a vicious circle of our own making. WTF?!?”

So what IS in it for white people to give up their power, to even up the balance of power and work towards equality for everyone?

Here’s what is in it for you…

  • Freedom from fear.
  • Freedom to know you are actually (good) enough, flaws, weaknesses and all.
  • Freedom to be enough, just as you are.
  • Freedom to stay in your own lane and focus on yourself.
  • Freedom to focus your energy on becoming and being excellent without spending all your energy trying to maintain your power at the expense of someone else.

…Because while you’re busy looking over your shoulders out of fear, working hard to keep ‘others’ out, from a place of fear and continuing to be driven by fear, you are STILL being controlled by and reacting to the very thing you fear…

And the people you fear? They are far too busy working to become excellent just to overcome the hurdles you put in their way to even be seen as ‘good enough’ by you.

What if…

  • Instead of being driven by fear of others’ excellence, you focus on cultivating your own? 
  • Instead of denying your fear, you acknowledge it? Embrace it? Actually deal with it instead of being driven, unconsciously, by it?
  • Instead of ruling by domination and subjugation to cover up your fear of not being good enough, you lead with trust and faith in your own abilities to be good enough?
  • Instead of leading with/by fear, you lead with love and trust that people will follow you because they choose and want to not because they fear you? 

What if – by giving up the power you hold and keep currently by force and threats – you actually stood to gain more authentic, more real power than you could ever imagine in the process? What if THAT is the strongest, bravest thing you could do? 

Wouldn’t that feel good? Wouldn’t that feel a relief? Wouldn’t that feel like…freedom?

That’s what I call leadership.

Ready To Face Your Fear?

We can help. We provide a safe, supportive and action-oriented space to work towards your anti-racism with no BS, no judgment and nothing but unwavering, kind support on your journey. For $50/month only.