For Sista's on the job
Open Letter #1
Saturday July 11
I see You!
Dear Black woman who works in a predominantly white institution and has been asked to head a focus group on diversity and inclusion even though that has nothing to do with your job description,
Phew! I am so sorry. I decided to write this open letter to you because, over the past few weeks, many of you have reached out to me because you literally needed advice as to how to create such a focus group or how to gracefully decline. Turns out that in our time together, we laid down this task and focused on your well-being as a full and complete human being. And each of you drank it up like cold lemonade on a hot summer day. Where you were feeling overwhelmed and almost like a failure because you could not reconcile your desire to just do your job with the obligation you feel as a Black woman, we were able to make space for your humanity. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to work with you on that.
Folks seem to forget that you are a human “being” too and not a melanated human diversity “doing.
My intention in writing this open letter is that you will point your bosses to this open letter instead of speaking about this and arguing for the right to breathe freely in your workspace. This is a two part letter. This part is for you and the part for your bosses is linked at the end.
1. I acknowledge you as a full human being, Black woman (or man). (Generally, it is a woman that is asked because women are the ones who are asked to do “emotional” work in the workspace.) Now that race has become a workplace center piece, it has become a performative way of being “inclusive” and making sure the leadership of such a group is led by a Black body.
I see you, Black woman, being objectified by your gender and skin color and I ask you to please take care of yourself and set up boundaries around this occurrence. Please feel free to say, “no” to your employer and ask that there be no repercussions to your job because you said, “no.” You do not owe anyone an explanation. Your skin color does not make you a diversity, inclusion and equity expert. Permission granted to say, “no.”
2. The fact that you are asked to create a focus group means that your organization actually does not take this seriously. If the organization understands that racism is a concern for every single layer of the organization, they would not create a focus group. Instead, they would huddle together as leadership, hire a consultant and come up with a plan. A focus group is the bare minimum that they can do to say that they are addressing the issue. Your company is reacting to the recent social phenomena of the killing of George Floyd on video for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the vigilante killing of Ahmaud Aubery and the police killing of Rayshard Brooks. Racism is not cured by “reacting” to what is in the news. Racism is addressed by assessment, evaluation and cultural changes in the organization.
3. All those feelings you are feeling and not even knowing how to feel or what to feel or when to feel is normal. You are literally in a war zone that does not look like a war zone, yet you feel the bullets whizzing past. They are invisible and your guard is up, and your instinct is telling you to run but the “niceness” of white spaces is confusing to your brain. Yes, you are not crazy. Everything is functioning as it was designed to function. This is normal. Some of it is your heightened reaction to things going on out there in the world and your brain deeply knowing that you still have to get up to go to work because you have obligations. You cannot afford to shut down, “so-called “strong Black woman.” I know. I am sorry we do not live in a time and space where you are allowed to go through normal life cycles like everyone else.
So please, Black woman, take care of yourself. Protect yourself. Tend to your emotional health. You have more going on than most people realize, and I just want to say, “I see you. I recognize you. I want to support you.” I invite you to be part of a group that I have designed to specifically support people who are interested in doing no harm as they create communities of belonging.
Now please know that is is part one of two. The second post is for your boss/supervisor/peer/HR person who asked you to put the group together. You can click below for that link.
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“All too often women believe it is a sign of commitment, an expression of love, to endure unkindness or cruelty, to forgive and forget. In actuality, when we love rightly we know that the healthy, loving response to cruelty and abuse is putting ourselves out of harm’s way.”
― b .