Every day I trepidatiously scan the latest news on the internet hoping to avoid the most egregious triggers. This week began with a debate on “white Hispanic” trending in social media regarding a Deputy Sheriff in Los Angeles who shot and killed a Black man. That debate was similar to the “blue dress / gold dress” debate of 2015, with the exception that it was about race, and racism, and death. As a woman who has spent too much of her adult life responding to the statement: “You don’t look Puerto Rican!” Meaning: “You look white,” these debates make me cringe. Yesterday had its share of reports of violence against people of color by law enforcement officials, politicians, and haters-in-general, but one story jumped out at me. “A white professor lied about being Afro-Latina for years.”
I spend a great deal of time thinking about the construct of racial and ethnic identity. Throughout history there have been people who chose to pass as white (if they could pass as white) because they sought the privilege provided by passing safety from violence, job opportunities, improved housing conditions, etc. Many mixed-race people do not have to try to pass. Genetics are a funny thing. We do not all carry the same percentage of our ancestors’ DNA. We come out all mixed up. I have siblings with blond hair and blue or grey eyes and siblings with black hair and dark brown eyes. We have a range of skin tones. I was encouraged by my mother to stay out of the sun long before fears of skin cancer were a common concern, as she did not want me to get too brown.
The point of all of this is that we have been taught and conditioned for hundreds of years that there are clear advantages to being white. In recent years, people of color – Africans, descendants of Africans, Asians, descendants of Asians, Native Peoples, descendants of Native Peoples, and every possible combination of the above with varying degrees of European DNA mixed in – have begun to learn to value themselves. The assertion that Black Lives Matter, that people who are not 100% white matter, comes at the price of being attacked by those who disagree (aka racists). Those attacks may be verbal (hate speech): “You dirty spic!” Those attacks may be written (racist billboards) “Diversity = White Genocide!” Those attacks may be physical “The police shot into the crowd of protesters with rubber bullets at point blank range.”
What this woman, especially as one in the academic sector wielding an incredible sphere of influence, did by impersonating people who are born into a world where those attacks and the threat of those attacks are a daily experience was to disavow the value of our lived experience. I once had a friend who said, “I cannot compete with you!” She was referring to my childhood of poverty and abuse, my first husband being killed in a taxi accident in Beijing, and other personal struggles and tragedies that I have experienced. She also referenced my being a Latina. This ‘icing on the cake’ apparently made it hard for a white woman to complain about how difficult her own life was. This was long before I was facilitating discussions on white privilege in my workshops, but her complaint created a breaking point for me. White, non-Hispanic / non-Latino people cannot even let us have our suffering. They even have to co-opt that! I have survived being spit on, having a full soda can thrown at my head, having a bucket of water with laundry soap thrown in my face, in addition to many verbal racist attacks by people who did not like having dirty spics as neighbors in our public housing projects in Astoria, NY. These are traumas that I would gladly trade for a life of safety and prosperity or privilege.
Every time we are confronted with the assault of a white person passing as a person of color, we are forced to face our internalized racism. The many shades of internalized racism within our own communities that focus on whether someone is being Black enough or Latino enough. The debate over how Hispanic a ‘white Hispanic’ person is versus an ‘Afro-Hispanic’ or ‘Afro-Latino’ causes us to fracture further and further apart. Racism has been part of Latino culture for as long as there have been Latinos (think of the Conquistadors). As we gain self-realization, self-esteem, and work to unlearn the internalized racism that we have been taught for millennia, we must remember that teaching to value shades of color perpetuates the Spanish system of la Casta* which was a very effective way of keeping people divided and disempowered. As long as we focus on shades of color as a value system we perpetuate racism. This perpetuates our division, our separateness, our lack of connection and inclusion, and ultimately our ascendance to full privilege. We have an opportunity to stop reacting to the racism that we have been taught and to start intentionally being who we are: the legacy of those who came before and new, beautiful, and whole people.
Genuine Change Requires Genuine Self-Examination, Strategies, and Transparency
During the past week my partner, Paula T. Edgar and I have received at least two dozen requests for help from potential clients. These requests have varied in terms of the specific type of help that they were seeking, but mostly people wanted help drafting their “Black Lives Matter” statements. Several people reached out asking if they could “pick our brains” (aka get free consulting), but that is the subject of another blog post. We have provided several of our clients with feedback on their statements, which is totally appropriate as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) consultants. These statements should be personal and reflect an organization’s culture and history. (Please see Paula’s blog post “Say Something. Organizations Cannot Be Silent About Black Lives.” ) In other words, if you want to make a statement about an emotionally and politically charged issue, it really needs to be genuine. Here, as an example, is the statement that Paula and I released on “Black Lives Matter” last week.
We get frequent requests from potential clients interested in diversity, equity, and inclusion work that fall in the ‘window dressing’ (not really genuine) category. Some examples:
“We don’t have the resources to do a whole DEI assessment or strategic plan. Can you just give us a checklist of dos and don’ts?”
“We have had several ‘issues’ lately. Can you do a 45-minute webinar on unconscious bias?”
There are many more examples that I could share, but you get the idea. Racism, bias, inequity, and exclusion have dominated human interaction for millennia and yet people expect this to be effectively addressed by a single 45-minute ‘diversity workshop’ or an email from the CEO expressing their commitment to being inclusive. These ‘strategies’ give meaningful diversity and inclusion efforts a bad name.
The Walls Are Porous
The walls are porous. I have been saying this for a very long time. What I mean is that what happens out in the world impacts people inside of the walls of the office or hospital or restaurant where they work. Whether employees are comfortable discussing the Black Lives Matter protests or not, does not mean that they have not been impacted by racism and violence against Black people. The devastation resulting from the Coronavirus on a global scale has made this point painfully clear as many people are doing their jobs while being out in the world. The new workplace walls might be one’s bedroom or closet or kitchen walls. WFH (working from home) is what many ‘non-essential’ employees have been doing for the past few months. It is impossible for any organization regardless of function or size, to avoid being impacted by this pandemic. There have been hundreds of articles providing advice on working and managing from home. (I wrote a blog and presented a webinar on this in March: “10 Inclusive Management Best Practices for Remote Teams” ) The challenge of navigating the Coronavirus and its impact on the workplace was greatly compounded on May 25th.
On May 25th, the video of George Floyd being murdered by Police Officer Derek Chauvin ‘went viral’ and the traumatic impact was immediate. I have conducted thousands of investigations of allegations of discrimination in my career. It is exceedingly rare that ‘smoking gun’ evidence exists. The almost 9-minute video (which is extremely difficult to watch) is more than a smoking gun. In response, protests calling for justice and asserting that Black Lives Matter have been happening in cities and small towns from the United States to New Zealand and include people of all races, ages, genders, and religions. The protests have been inclusive and effective. Elected and appointed officials across the country are scrambling to write and pass legislation that creates accountability and transparency for law enforcement agencies and protects people from hate crimes. As with the Black Lives Matter’s protests in 2014 and 2016 White people have marched alongside Black people to call for justice. Unlike in 2014 and 2016, however organizations have had to acknowledge the impact of these events on their employees and customers and figure out if, and how to address and share their position on Black Lives Matter.
In the midst of the complicated process of trying to bring staff back to work safely (as more and more states ‘open up’ during the current recession of Coronavirus cases), leaders also have to assess the impact of institutional and systemic racism on their organizations.
The walls between the members of your organization and recent events have virtually disappeared. People are streaming life; and personal-life and work-life are now blended. So, the porosity of walls – when external issues seep into and impact an enclosed space (office) – has become more complicated for organizations to manage.
In every organization, employees have been disparately impacted by the Coronavirus. Black and Brown people have been disproportionately impacted by the Coronavirus in terms of infections and deaths. Some employees have had family members die because of the virus, some employees have had the virus and are struggling to fully recover and deal with its long-term impact on their lives. Others are primary care givers of a family member with the virus or must cope with their kids not going to school or summer camp. People are being bombarded by a tremendous amount of negative news and images. All the above is impacting our ability to sleep, eat properly, relax, renew, and refuel. We are asked: “How can you expect organizations to manage DEI during all of this?” My response: how can you not? DEI impacts everything that is happening now. So, now is the time to mindfully address your organization’s DEI issues.
Do The Work
Inclusion takes work. Equity requires an investment of time, money, and other resources. Inclusion doesn’t happen organically. No one wants to hear that. Potential clients sometimes think that when we recommend a thorough, multi-leveled and strategic approach to DEI that we are simply trying to sell them more services. We are not. We are being genuine with you and we know what works
Paula and I try to explain that a coordinated and sustained effort is required to achieve healthy organizational change, especially if the organization has a demonstrated history of racism or other forms of discrimination. Employees need tangible evidence that leadership is serious in words and deeds about creating inclusion.
If your organization has not done anything in the DEI sphere, say so, along with sharing your commitment to change. If your organization has had false starts in terms of your DEI efforts, say so, while sharing how you have learned from those failed efforts. If your organization has done some genuine DEI work and realizes that the elusive goal of being an inclusive organization requires ongoing work, say so, while mapping out how you intend to continue doing this vital work! Expect that those who are reading your “Black Lives Matter” statement can read between the lines and determine how genuine you are based on what you do and do not say. Members of your organization know what you have and haven’t done in the past and so, if you distort that history, they will know that you are not being genuine or transparent.
I have been writing and talking about the importance of (DEI) being part of an organization’s strategic planning process for years. We do not recommend that you invest in a strategic planning process and then, three months later stitch on a DEI patch. That “patch” will inevitably fall off after minimal wear. DEI needs to be woven into your strategic planning process – from the beginning. All stakeholders need to be part of the process – from the beginning. Organizations need to be prepared to implement the strategies that they commit to and establish a budget and other resources for that purpose. The plan needs to be communicated to all staff and key stakeholders along with an invitation for their participation and feedback. Too often, executive teams craft DEI statements and plans in a vacuum without inviting the input of those most deeply impacted by the outcomes of those plans. The fear of hearing the truth does not make the truth disappear. Many organizations reach out to us for help in cleaning up the messes that result from not being genuine in the first place.
Once you have crafted a collaborative, time bound DEI strategy, complete with accountabilities and dedicated resources, you need to communicate that plan to those impacted by it. Then, you must actually carry out the plan, to the best of your ability, including modifications as needed for unexpected situations such as, the Coronavirus. Communicating a plan without carrying it out will make it difficult for employees to trust that your commitment is sincere, especially if there have been DEI challenges in the past.
Organizations need to conduct a DEI assessment so that they can incorporate the findings into their DEI strategic planning process. A rigorous assessment will employ methods that make it safe for all employees to share their perspectives and challenges including: an anonymous DEI survey, confidential interviews, and focus groups. A review of an organizations’ DEI histories, documents, prior DEI training efforts, and public image, including social media should also be conducted. (It is amazing that in 2020 many organizations have websites that require multiple clicks before there is any hint of where they stand on diversity, equity, and inclusion. That is too many clicks for most people to bother with.)
These best practices are developed to support an organization’s unique culture and sub-cultures. Asking us to come in and facilitate a workshop without having a clue as to what DEI issues the members of your organization are struggling with is like asking a doctor to prescribe medication without conducting an examination. The results can be unhealthy and require more serious treatments. Many organizations waste an incredible amount of resources by not making an appropriate investment in the first place. DEI workshops should be customized (by experienced, qualified professionals) to meet the specific needs of your organization. This can only be established through an unbiased (externally conducted) DEI assessment and collaborative DEI strategic planning process.
We really want to help you and I am being genuine when I tell you that with very rare exceptions, we can. The question that you have to ask yourself is: “How much do I want to change?” (That is an intentional double entendre.) If you want genuine change within your organization, then you need genuine self-examination, strategies that have been developed mindfully, and transparency about your history, intentions, and commitment.
If you want genuine change, isn’t today the right day to begin?
Wendy Amengual Wark
June 10, 2020
I have written blog posts in the past about the tragedy of racism and specifically, about Black people who have been murdered by police officers. It is chilling to re-read these posts that are four and six years old. Today, we are experiencing continued violence against Black people and in response hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets despite the risk of contracting the Coronavirus. Legislation is being submitted at the Federal, state, and local levels to create accountability and transparency of law enforcement agencies. The good news is that many, many organizations realize that they cannot stay silent regarding their position on “Black Lives Matter.” This makes me optimistic. They are embracing the need for genuine change. We can do this. It will not be easy, but we if we are willing to do the work, can do this – together.
My July, 2016 blog post, “In Light of Recent Events” Addresses strategies that employers can implement to support employees traumatized by the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
In December of 2014 I wrote, “Divided We Fall” about the responses to the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.
Inclusion Strategy Solutions LLC was founded on the principle that we must work to accomplish equity and inclusion for all people by educating and encouraging self-reflection and empathy. We assert that Black Lives Matter because throughout the history of the United States of America, Black lives have been restricted, endangered, and ended by institutional and systemic racism. We assert that every one of us must do what we can to fight racism and to be affirmatively anti-racist. We are committed to this based on our personal perspectives, our academic research, and our professional experiences. The methods we employ to value and save Black lives must be strategic, intentional, and collaborative, and must be informed by history and knowledge. This is more than a movement to us. This work is critical for the future of our nation and future generations who should be able to sleep, walk, run, breathe, and live in peace.
The first time that I saw a billboard with the message, “Diversity = White Genocide” I was honestly a bit confused. After all, what most people call diversity (the inclusion of diverse people), is the opposite of genocide. Groups subjected to genocide historically include: Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Rwandans, and Bosnians. Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day. This matters because once we forget what happens when we exclude any group of people, we are destined to repeat the horrors of the holocaust and other shameful episodes of human history. “Genocide” is a combination of the Greek word génos (“race, people”) and the Latin suffix -cide (“act of killing”). The United Nations Genocide Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”. Genocide conjures up the most horrific images and acts that humans perpetrate against ‘others,’ members of groups other than their own idea of their specific sub-set, whether race, religion, or tribe.
I have since learned that there is an entire movement, a growing movement, of people who claim that Anti-Racists are ‘Anti-White’. Yes, that is an oxymoronic concept. In my blog post “What’s in a Word,” (December, 2013), https://www.inclusionstrategy.com/blog/?p=11 I wrote about the importance of vocabulary, the power of words to harm and to exclude. I will continue to posit that words and how they are used is a critical element of advancing equity and social justice. I must continue to use words to try to persuade those who are threatened by diversity and inclusion that we are really not so bad, those of us who work to bring humanity together, to find our common ‘touch points’ and share some love. Words are actions and our words can be loud and clear and true.
I must also continue to use words to state the truth. Racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, and Islamophobia all rely on distortions of the truth. Racists have embraced the false premise that they, based on a concept of what race is, are superior to others, hence the term ‘White-Supremacists’. Obviously, there is no single group or sub-set of human beings that is superior to any other sub-set, yet all we need to do is look at a chronological list of genocidal epochs to know that the lie of superiority over, or the fear of, others has resulted in the murder, rape, mutilation, imprisonment, and ‘bans on’ or exclusion of people for millennia. How do you ban an entire group of people? This is not only a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Charter of the United Nations, it violates several U.S. treaties, most notably the Treaty of Tripoli ratified unanimously in 1797 by the US Senate:
“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen (Muslims); and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan (Mohammedan) nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” (Art. 11.)
The truth can be distorted, ignored, and hidden. If it is raining, my saying that it is not raining is meaningless, as the apparent and obvious evidence of the falling rain dismisses my statement. So, if someone or some group states that ‘diversity equals white genocide’, the absurdity of that statement is blatantly obvious. However, the groups promoting this concept are growing and the current President of the United States has re-tweeted messages by these groups. A search on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) website for ‘white genocide’ brought up 179 results. There have been many billboards since the first one appeared in Harrison, Arkansas in 2014. These signs are not limited to the American south, but have also been put up in numerous locations from Washington State to Great Britain. People have come to Black Lives Matter rallies with ‘white genocide’ banners and they continue to appear at various events across the country.
The Hate Index created by City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism‘s NYCity News Service has documented 318 hate crimes in the United States since January 10, 2017. https://hateindex.com/ January 10 was only 18 days ago! In other words, we are averaging 17.6 hate crimes per day in the United States. That number includes only crimes that can be confirmed as hate crimes, not those where hatred based on the victims’ protected class status (race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or national origin, etc.), is the suspected motive for the act. The SPLC identifies 892 hate groups on its Hate Map: https://www.splcenter.org/hate-map. These numbers are staggering in comparison to 10 years ago.
The Uniform Crime Reporting program (1930), the Hate Crimes Statistics Act (1990), and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, 2009 require data be collected on all crimes motivated by hate based on race, age, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and physical and mental disabilities. The total crimes classified as Hate Crimes in 2009 was 688.3 (including murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, and vehicle theft) or 1.88 crimes per day.
Words are actions and words that are hateful incite actions that are dangerous and deadly. Words matter. It is also vitally important to remember that not only are those who are from certain countries, or members of certain religions being targeted by those who hate, those who appear to be foreign or gay or Muslim or Jewish or different are also being targeted.
Call to Action
So, why am I sharing this negative information? My intention is not to add to the already overwhelmingly negative news updates that seem to come at an amazingly rapid rate. Nor is it my intention to provide a political commentary. My arena is inclusion, the inclusion of diverse people in organizations, such as our entire civilization, the quintessential organization of people. When the daily news updates increasingly include decisions, actions, words, and thoughts that exclude, divide, defame, or discriminate against human beings, it is my business. Literally.
Many people have reached out to me in recent weeks and asked what I plan to do to help people and organizations to cope with so much divisiveness. Yesterday, someone reminded me that I need to be blogging every week and sharing a call to action. So, I will continue to do what it is that I do: to facilitate conversations intended to bring people together across their differences of opinion, to remind people that we all have a responsibility to advance inclusion, that we all have a great deal to lose if we isolate from others, that we all have SO much to gain when we are part of a diverse group of people – people from all parts of the globe, of all faiths, of all races, of all tribes. Diversity does not result in any type of –cide! Inclusive diversity results in creativity, intellectual growth, innovation, and better health. Lewis Mumford referred to cities as utopias because of their diversity which encourages curiosity! “Urban life in Greece began as an animated conversation and degenerated into a crude agon or physical struggle.” (1961)
So, let’s talk. Let’s talk about fears of the other. Let’s talk about anger resulting from conflicting views and opinions. Let’s talk about fear of change. Let’s have an animated conversation about our diversity. When we stop talking we resort to our primal or lizard-brained selves. When we stop talking, we lose our sense of connection and belonging to a tribe. We all belong to one tribe – the human tribe. There are hundreds of sub-sets; how can we decide which is better or worse? All that we can hope to do is learn and grow as a result of our connections. The concept of divide and rule (or conquer) goes back to the Roman invasion of Macedonia. We are not the masters of ourselves if we give in to hate. Hate does not participate or converse or receive or learn – hate blocks information about ‘the other’. Enemies are regularly de-humanized to enable their haters to kill, maim and attack them. Hatred cannot coexist with appreciation of another person’s beauty, brilliance, talent, or generosity. Hatred can only scream “NO”!
To me, you – my fellow human beings – are beautiful and complicated and brilliant and diverse, and that makes life, not death, possible and wonderful.
P.S. If you are in the greater NYC area, let’s meet for a conversation. If not, let’s Skype or talk on the telephone, or at least email.
P.P.S. Next week I will share some other positive steps that we can take to protect human rights and each other from hate.
In light of recent events, employers are asking if they should be discussing race and violence in the workplace. Discussions of this nature have been avoided historically as they can become emotionally charged and may result in more division than inclusion. Diversity ‘subject matter experts’, such as myself are often in the awkward position of being the first to observe and address what difference difference makes. What are we to advise employers to do? Does it sound like a sales-pitch if we recommend that we should be facilitating town hall conversations in the workplace about the state of racial and ethnic tensions in our nation?
What Are They Talking About?
Everyone is talking about the recent shootings of and by police officers in the United States – everyone. So, whether you employ people who design widgets, make widgets, sell widgets, count widgets, or monitor the impact of widgets, your organization is affected by these events. People are talking about this violence around the new water cooler which is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This new water cooler offers the cover of anonymity that eliminates the need for people to be ‘politically correct’ or even civil. The water cooler of choice might be Twitter or Facebook or some other internet vehicle. Then, employees will discuss what they just read on the internet in person – at the actual water cooler in the workplace. Of deeper concern, is what is not discussed – what is simmering just below the surface of polite workplace discourse that can erupt at any time in response to the latest headline.
Every controversial issue has sides or camps such as, “Blue Lives Matter” versus “Black Lives Matter”. Members of various segments of society have strong feelings and opinions on these subjects. Helping people with entrenched philosophical differences to find common ground or to resolve their conflict often requires a facilitator or mediator. In the world of EEO (Equal Opportunity Employment), this is a regular part of resolving complaints of discrimination or harassment. Holding people accountable for their actions, having them take responsibility for those actions, and requiring them to treat each other with respect, is a critical element of conflict resolution. Getting people to move from anger and enmity to a place of empathy is the ultimate goal of the interaction.
Pop-up stores have been a trend for the past few years. They might sell seasonal items, such as beach chairs in the summer, or the latest fashion craze, such as stuffed animal purses, but they are meant to be temporary and to fill empty real estate between ‘real’ stores. Pop-up experts, on the other hand, especially in areas fraught with complexity and nuance such as race relations in the United States, can cause a great deal of damage. (I have discussed this in earlier blogs when examining the history of and strategies for the work of diversity and inclusion. Link) There is a great deal at stake when we ask people to trust each other enough to discuss subjects that are painful, and as we see every day in the news, possibly dangerous.
In working to resolve conflict between employees I have been screamed at, threatened, spit at, and assaulted. This work is not for the faint of heart. It takes many years and much training to learn appropriate techniques for diffusing conflict. People, unlike widgets, are unpredictable, messy and well, human. So, in considering strategies for dealing with employees’ emotional responses to traumatic events be sure that the facilitator has experience in conflict resolution.
Employers have an opportunity to address the state of diversity-based conflict that is affecting everyone, hence every organization. The high level of frustration resulting from too much talk and too little action provides an impetus for implementing strategies that can support employees suffering from an over-load of traumatic events in the news. The City of New York, for example is providing information and support for those overwhelmed by the frequency of violence in the news: LINK
In addition to emotional and psychological support, there is an opportunity to provide structured dialogues across cultural differences to create empathy, find community, and develop respect. This goes beyond examinations of unconscious bias, white privilege, and political correctness. This is about creating an organizational culture that is actively, intentionally inclusive. That means that when the Twitter-sphere lights up with chatter about disparate treatment of people of color, your organization is prepared to respond in a thoughtful way, ensuring that all voices are heard and that employees have an opportunity to discuss the issue among their peers.
Organizations, regardless of geographic location, sector or industry, have an opportunity to resolve conflict resulting from diversity. If you employ people and you are not creating a space where they feel safe, supported and respected, isn’t this a great time to begin?