How your company’s diversity emails disempower victims of racism
A recent article from a popular news site, published what I can only describe as an insensitive and arbitrarily compiled list of advice, on how to deal with racist microaggressions in the workplace. On the surface it appeared to be a proactive article written in light of the conversations triggered by the murder of George Floyd, who was filmed while being brutally killed by one of the many currently employed and unprosecuted racist police officers. #Saytheirnames BreonnaTaylor, ElijahMclain, SandraBland. Like many of the diversity and inclusion articles currently flooding your Linkedin or work mailbox, it was yet another attempt to perform change but instead it lays out the various positions of oppression that Black people and other people of colour are advised to bend over to a racist system that constantly whips them with “a thousand paper cuts”. Cleverly, avoiding the root of the issue on how businesses should protect black people from these abuses through policy. My criticism of this article and the author might seem scathing but we are dealing with the issue of racism which scars and tears black people’s lives apart, so forgive me for calling it out unforgivingly, but let’s try to remember why we are having this conversation in the first place. Systemic racism is one hell of a beast.
The article I refer to, was written by a white woman and although she incorporated the advice given by diversity consultants of different races, the concept went awry for one illogical omission. The writer, for one reason or another, chose not to interview a Black person. Not a Black consultant, just your average Joe employee with a national insurance number, who believe it or not, would have had direct experience and an insight into the problem. A person who could speak from a place of unadulterated truth without their Diversity career on the line. As the writer flagrantly laments in the extract of the article, ‘microaggressions happen in the workplace all the time’, therefore, I think it is fair to say that finding victims was probably just a chair roll away. It seems the writer has been privy to witnessing these daily racist microaggressions, which raises some other questions that only the author, the victims and God can answer at this point however, it also ironically speaks to the problem of the distanced and ignorant way that racism is handled in the workplace.
Instead of imparting that innovative millennial advice I believe the article seeks to, it rather reeks of a voyeuristic privilege which apparently sees a problem but would rather speak to the suits who provide ‘support’ to victims, than getting too up close and personal with the victims themselves. The approach to writing this article is the privilege of being so far removed from the problem that typing these words is seemingly about finishing up another looming 500-word deadline with the light-hearted mindset of slamming the laptop shut after a long day before reaching for the Rielsing. Not realising that the since George Floyd’s murder, the whole Black world and their mother is watching and words like diversity might be good SEO but if misused, they are simply another tone-deaf catchphrase, dangerously whitewashing and ironically empowering racism in the fight against it.
The idea that Black people are expected to navigate these conditions is simply a reminder that there is a requirement to tolerate the intolerable, and that businesses which claim to have a zero-tolerance racism policies are exercising the latest corporate jargon and evidently aren’t prepared to tackle it in any effective way. Instead the onus remains on the individual to have the strength to speak out and take their issues in front of a jury which furthermore doesn’t provide any understanding, policies, guidelines or protections. As the article advises to ‘bring an ally with you when you approach the person as your words may be misunderstood or misconstrued’. In other words, bring a White person with you and there’s a chance you might be taken seriously. Black people are often accused of playing the race card, but it seems White people are the ones who invented the cards and have been using them for years, and the rules are that the only card that is worth something and matters is a White one, and all the Black ones penalise or send you out of the game. Therefore, when articles such as these arise, they are laced with the idea of establishing some form of defeatist mentality under the guise of strategy in dealing with these problems, which is more problematic than the problem itself. However, the truth is that this issue can be dealt with by single-handedly addressing it and labelling appropriately as ‘racist’, followed by companies acting swiftly in disciplining perpetrators with the decisiveness that got Wiley dropped from his label. Instead Black people are given the poor advice that one should seriously consider the consequences of speaking out as the article states it may result in indicting ‘the other person’s character… as they will immediately become defensive.’ If this is the barrier standing in the way of progress, we have all truly been gaslit into dismissing our own feelings for fear of being gaslit.
If we know the problem exists, then why are we quickly ushering it through the door? Why in the fight against racism are sensitivities always centred around the aggressors feelings and in this case the White aggressors feelings instead of those of the Black victim? Is it because that is how racism endures? As it is so entrenched in the White superiority that to defeat it, it relies on White people accepting its immorality? If so, then that is precisely what I take umbrage with. The fact that all these whitewashed diversity articles about inclusion and the Black experience in the workplace, are hell bent on moulding themselves to the misconduct of a system and doing very little to detach itself from it. This makes it virtually unachievable for Black person to reach the height of their careers without losing their humanity and identity in the process. A virus so coded into itself that it requires an immunity through adopting it as a norm, losing oneself in the process and dying a little inside so as not to feel its effects. A virus that infects whole organisations and lives under the radar of rational thinking, perpetuating racist ideologies and calling it banter. Articles such as these are essentially asking us all to wear masks while no one wants or can be bothered to look for a vaccine.
If we know there is a problem, let us not tackle it by throwing it a wave and then proceeding to let it take a seat and informing reception that it’s here. Let’s actually action the zero-tolerance policies and have zero racism in our places of work. As the article asserts at the very beginning ‘microaggressions are… often unintentional acts of racism’ and with that being said, I will assume the article’s suggestions are not an unintentional act of facilitating it.