I had a plan. I had recently declared my plan to get consistent with my diversity and inclusion blog posts. With this progress in mind, I created a beautifully flowing content calendar that was going to develop a powerful arc about the importance of inclusion strategies. I had the social media templates prepared, and, I was developing the services section of my website so that anyone visiting my site could see the countless possibilities of strategically including inclusion in all aspects of our lives, but especially in workspaces. I was going to start this journey by taking my readers on an awesome mental walk through the LEGup Model of Inclusion that I painstakingly built up over the past decade. I was ready to go all in. And, it was supposed to launch today.
But, that’s the thing about plans. Even the best-laid ones tend to go awry, often because of forces seemingly outside of our control. That is what happened in my case. In the past four weeks, as I was merrily developing what seems to be a new and rare line of thought, and as I was going about it quite passionately, and cheerfully, with all the determination in the world, I was subject to three separate incidents where my voice, experiences and perspective were minimized, scoffed at, and even ridiculed. My passion was misconstrued and misrepresented as militant thoughts that were unnecessary, and, closed off and unrealistic. I was told that my identity, deeply imbued with my cultural heritage, was not important. In one case, my literal physical presence in the space was not even acknowledged until I intentionally and actively spoke up far beyond what I should have. And, none of this was done in an overt way that would have justified my inner Hulk to rage openly. No. These occurrences were thinly disguised as insights, politeness and advice from apparent well-wishers, who also apparently don’t wish me well enough to even consider the validity of my thoughts. They are just one manifestation of the dozens of daily and constant microaggressions that anyone who is not a cishet, able, White male is subject to. What made it sadder is that in one of the incidents, it was a White woman who initiated the ridicule, in a message that I assume was meant to be private, but got sent out to the overall group that I was a part of.
I could have chosen to ignore this noise just as well as able, White America seems to ignore all perspectives not its own. The art of ignoring, minimizing, erasing and revising has certainly been perfected over American history. I could also have chosen to “not let it get to me” – to be the bigger person. This is what made me livid over the course of the next few hours.
I am willing to bet that none of these White people involved in my experiences thought twice about how their words affected me or how they so easily and dismissively devalued the entirety of my life’s work. I am certain that their days and nights aren’t affected by the added weight of their judgments to all the other judgments that society places on people like me. But, my life is always affected in such situations precisely because of the fact that when I speak my truth, there isn’t even an attempt to understand it. When I brought up the importance of every individual employee’s wellbeing for the greater good (read: better profit margins and lower employer healthcare costs) of the overall organization, I was told that I needed to develop some empathy for those very elite executives who can already afford to live comfortable lives of privilege. Yet, the burden of this empathy falls on those who are the victims of these disparities and inequities. It is almost like we are expected to somehow be the bigger people and not only appease those who do have the privilege and power, but then, we also have to grovel for the things we rightfully deserve? Yea, I don’t think so. Not on my watch.
So, here I am with a new intention and new action – talking to people about what real Inclusion entails. I was really hoping to never have to write a “Dear White People” (and I don’t mean the movie) type of post; I truly was, because on the surface of it, the idea doesn’t seem inclusive. At this point, there are so many other brilliantly written perspectives on it from powerful voices within the POC communities. There are several bloggers and authors that address the various harms that White people inflict on POC and other marginalized communities’ messages and experiences. There are posts that talk about the best ways for White Americans to be true allies, the power of really listening, the power of empathy, and the importance of not minimizing POC voices and perspectives. On the one hand, it seems like there is enough content there, but on the other, as long as such points of disconnect are prevalent, we need to keep having these conversations to keep the issue of inclusion strategies in the spotlight.
Here is what I have to say about this, and for the official record, I will never quit saying it:
1.) Inclusion strategies HAVE TO BE Intentional.
There is quite literally no other way in which inclusion – especially in spaces that operate within long-established structures of White privilege – can actually work and be sustainable. We need to do this because when we take care of all the marginalized people in the group, we also take care of everyone else who isn’t. Intentionality necessitates that every person with the privileges has to step outside of their safe little bubbles and support those who have none. It means looking past the checkboxes that have to be marked off for the sake of paperwork, and actually lifting up those who are different. It entails hearing, seeing and acknowledging the validity and reality of the experiences of marginalized people. But, when you ask those who are marginalized to empathize with those who are complicit in the marginalization and who have not experienced even the lightest shades (pun intended) of the discrimination that the rest of us have, that is not an inclusion strategy. It is a demeaning and demoralizing exercise to establish power. It is the worst smelling fertilizer I can think of. I’ll leave the details of that to your imagination.
2.) Intentional inclusion strategies have to start from within.
This is a big part of my new model, so I will dive deeper into this in my future posts. But for now, I will say that you cannot actually include anyone when your internal biases and assumptions are preventing you from seeing the importance of others speaking their truth. The truly terrifying part of my experience is that the White people in these incidents are all in the profession of mental health care. They have the power to intensely harm those who seek them out for exactly the kind of support that they were supposed to be giving me – one of their own. How many more marginalized voices are going to be silenced because the very people who are meant to help are unwilling to actively overcome their preconceived notions and biases? How are we going to ever be able to have whole conversations about the essentiality of inclusion if those with the power in society dismiss the ideas as being “novel and cute”?
You might be thinking at this point that I may have misread or misinterpreted these situations. You might be trying to find justifications for their behaviors, wondering if I provoked them in any way, or if I deserved it. If you are thinking this, you are part of the problem. As members of marginalized groups and communities, our identities, our intersectionalities, our limited resources and powers, and the biases from us and toward us are always salient in our minds. Our survival depends on it because we are never allowed to forget our differences and our “otherness”. We are doing our internal work. We have to. All I ask is that you do yours too, especially if you are a member of the dominant power group.
3.) Inclusion strategies actively require speaking out against any perceived slights and injustices you witness.
The truth about the way corporate America seems to work is that if I were able to walk into any boardroom as a White male, armed with a brand new model of Inclusion that is practical, implementable, and far more cost effective than what leading consultants charge for Diversity and Inclusion initiatives these days, I would probably be hailed as the next savior. I would at least be seen as a revolutionary person in the field. But, the fact is that I have never been and never will be a White male.
Here is why this point is so important, and also why I know I’m not blowing things out of proportion with my experiences. What I went through is not unique in the marginalized segments of our population, by any means. There are hundreds of cases and anecdotal stories of marginalized people whose experiences and worldviews are minimized and devalued by their peers and professional supervisors. It is to the point where we hit all kinds of artificially placed limits and ceilings on us – barriers that aren’t addressed even as we break through them; instead we are applauded for our grit and drive. Think of all the angry, Black person tropes you may have encountered, or the prejudice that dark skinned people instantly and constantly face about their propensity for violence. Think about the harmful negative language about mental health (are you having an OCD moment or a Bipolar/PMS day) that is used in the course of everyday conversations. Think of the South Asian stereotypes of the loyal and busy little worker bees with a great work ethic and with no regard for their development or advancement. Think about all the recruiters who pass on perfectly reasonable candidates because their names are hard to pronounce.
It is systemic. It is harassment. It shows us that inclusion is not being addressed strategically or intentionally. And, it is truly an injustice to every person who has to be subject t to these experiences, at the cost of their mental wellbeing, just so they can pretend to fit in. This is where I come in. I will not stay silent about this; especially since I have what I know is a viable solution. So, sit back and enjoy the next few weeks as I take you on a journey of the connections, engagement, and community we can unlock with the continued, intentional, sustained practice of intentional inclusion strategies.
Finally, for those individuals who were a part of my negative experiences in the past few weeks, I especially hope you’re reading and watching this magic unfold.