Director, Courageous Inclusion
There has been much criticism recently about white diversity and inclusion (D&I) specialists profiting from antiracism work, often focusing on Robin Di Angelo (this Forbes article is one example). I completely get this point. The very core of antiracist practice is about elevating Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPoC), so they can take their rightful place in all aspects of work, including D&I. It is also about redressing the economic disadvantage of BIPoC’s experience in our white supremacist society. Having white people lead on antiracist topics, on the surface at least, serves to reinforce white dominance. For me, this also creates an ethical issue, in fighting for social justice, how can I as a privileged white person, relinquish some of my power, whilst at the same time, fighting for other (mostly invisible) aspects of my identity? I am not Robin Di Angelo, and I too understand the struggle to pay my mortgage (and my privilege of owning my own house).
So, I don’t believe that this is a binary, all or nothing issue. It is complex and in our rapidly changing world emergent, as we evolve as people to create a more just society. As this implies I acknowledge that in writing this, I too am not a finished person, I'm evolving and learning as I go. That said the following points represent where I am now. I will appreciate and learn from any comments I receive.
1) Acknowledging that working with white people as PoC can be triggering*
In working with other white people, I aim to reduce the emotional work for BIPoC who are already traumatised from living in our society. There is a reason for books like – “Why I'm no longer talking to white people about race”. I don’t want to replace white people learning very different things from BIPoC or take away BIPoC’s choice in doing this work. I am saying; I think this is a complementary approach which can work alongside white people learning from BIPoC. White People who aren’t aware of their privilege need to earn the right to work with BIPoC so they can manage their privilege and not add additional trauma for the BIPoC. This is a lesson I learned regretfully when I threw all of my white fragility at someone who stuck with me in my learning, but paid a personal price for it.
2) Processing privilege is a different journey from processing subordination*
I can’t speak about experiencing racism. However, I can talk about and facilitate others journey about awakening to privilege - particularly white privilege. Processing privilege is a different (less traumatising) journey to freeing ourselves from oppression. It is still emotional and as the dominant group, even more of choice. When emotions run high, or the need for relinquishing power and money appear, it is all too easy for white people to turn away, focus on their disadvantage, deny and once more become blind to racism in our society. It is my job, as an ally, to help white people through this process to a more enlightened existence.
3) Putting racism first, for social justice
I am committed to social justice; everything I do is about achieving this for all members of society. My vision is “To evolve the human race so that everyone inherently values, and has the skill, to be truly inclusive of each other's diversity". Right now, I’m putting race first - even though I’m a member of other subordinated groups. I’m choosing to work out of my privilege, primarily, most of the time. Not an easy thing to do. But I feel the right thing in our current climate. Also I know this isn't going to be a short journey. I'm committed, for the rest of my life, to creating a socially just world.
3) Partnering with BIPoC
Where possible, I am partnering with BIPoC and loving the experience. We create deliberate processes to continually work on dynamics, including decision making, to ensure that we don't perpetuate patterns of behaviour in our society. For clients, this role-models how we can all work together for a better future. Also, I would never work with groups of BIPoC alone, I respect the power that spaces for BIPoC without white people can have and wouldn't attempt to try to suggest I know what the struggle is like for BIPoC. When alone, I only work with white people on their privilege or from a wholistic approach to D&I, holding BIPoC's experiences at the centre of the work.
5) How I profit financially
I work mostly with charities and charge a sliding scale, so higher corporate rates help pay my mortgage when I'm volunteering or charging reduced charity rates. I also continue to give time voluntarily to charities and professional groups. I am not earning anywhere near Robin Di Angelo’s fees! Also, antiracism and white privilege work is only a part of what I do, I mostly work with leadership teams on D&I as an inclusive topic, including racism as part of a wider whole.
6) Please see me in my whole, complex identity
I am not just my privilege. I also experience discrimination and structural disadvantage. Please don't only see my visible difference - look more deeply to my invisible ones. I know the journey to free myself from internalised oppression. I am travelling it through four aspects of my identity, as a woman, a bi/pansexual person, through my experiences of depression (particularly whilst continuing to work) and following an accident in 2017 now as a ‘wobbly walker’ with a spinal cord injury. So, for different reasons, I also struggle to be accepted in this society, have a voice and earn money. I use all of these experiences, at the appropriate times, to enhance my work too.
In writing this, I am not asking for or expecting praise, and I am completely aware I am still acting out of privilege as a white person expressing my views about racism and how we should tackle it. However, I am making a plea, BIPoC’s please don’t block white people out of antiracist work. Do screen us, do hold us to account, do make us work to a higher standard than other white people. However, do also please see our value in acting as your allies. I’m here, now, fighting alongside and for you as an ally. Will you fight with me, from your privilege, when the time comes?
* My views in points 1 and 2 are informed by this wonderful model (below) describing the different journeys to equity and inclusion. This model can also be generalised to be relevant to journeys from other aspects of identity (such as gender, gender identity, sexuality, disability, mental health, religion, age etc.) – see the second illustration.
Working from subordinated parts of our identity is a necessity to free ourselves from internalised oppression. It also means we constantly put ourselves in a position of being personally 'triggered' by people from privileged groups whilst doing this work (e.g. BIPoC's working with white people on racism).
In contrast, working from privileged parts of our identity means we choose to work on behalf of others, putting aside our personal needs to ally with and elevate people from other groups which we have traditionally dominated.
In reality, most individuals have elements of both types of identity within their whole being. The skill of the D&I practitioner is skilfully using this complete representation of themselves to work towards social justice for all.
Journeys of Race and Culture, Huntley, Moore and Pierce
Journeys to equity and inclusion (generic)