Have you ever won or enjoyed playing a game where the rules were not explained to you? Let’s try this another way, have you ever enjoyed a game where the people you were playing with started switching up the rules midgame leaving you at a disadvantage and them ahead? If I have to take an educated guess, I would imagine that no one loves a cheater or a manipulator. It is a manipulative move to not make sure all the players in a game know the rules from the beginning. It is downright cruel to tell all the players the rules at the beginning of the game and switch it up when you think they will win, so the outcome of the game is always favorable to you winning.
This my fellow human friends is how white supremacy works against people of color every day for decades upon decades. How do you win a game where even something as simple as how the government comes up with census numbers is skewed on purpose? Have you ever examined the self-identification forms we lightly urge people to fill out upon hire? The Caucasian count in the U.S. on self-identification forms includes North Africans. North African countries are Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara. I don’t know about you, but I have had countless friends from these regions and even have some familial lineage to Egypt. The people in these regions are far from “white”. Additionally, it is puzzling to people from that region who emigrate here from North Africa as to their inclusion in the white demographic, but it’s the least of their battles in assimilating here to take on arguing the point in a real way.
Let’s talk about our Latinx and Latino friends, on a self-identification form “Hispanic” is not a race, but an ethnicity. Therefore, someone who identifies as being Latinx or Latino must choose the “Hispanic” for ethnicity and choose either “Caucasian”, African-American/Black, Asian, etc. Let me clue you into a little something called “Colorism”. If a “Latinx or Latino” person has to choose a race, it will be “White/Caucasian” more often than not. Why you may ask? In their minds, it puts them at an advantage by identifying as “Caucasian” rather than “Black”.
It’s time to look at numbers and the minority agenda. African-Americans as of the last census are 14% of the US population. Anyone alive and living in this country for 35 plus years knows that number hasn’t budged but maybe 1% every time they do this. You have to ask yourself how and why numbers are staying relatively the same while Whites remain the majority. Furthermore, how are Whites the majority when clearly they are cheating by adding other demographics who have very little aesthetic let alone ties to regions that are historically Caucasian? Of course, Whites would be the majority with Latino, Latinx, and North Africans included. I didn’t even add the bi-racial people who think they can pass who will also choose “White” as their identifier all in an effort to appear as anything other than of color.
If we all buy into the narrative from the beginning of this supremacy game that White is the majority then naturally we will do our best to get as close to being “White” in aesthetic, ideology, behavior and more because taking up more space is better than being a minority who is always in the land of scarcity getting close to the carrot, but never catching it because every time they see us coming it gets moved to a new location. If we buy into the narrative that we are less than, a minority, we start off our lives already believing we are at some disadvantage and therefore helpless.
When resources are unequally disseminated on purpose to give one group an advantage over another is crime, poor education, and low mortality among other things, not the outcome?
Do yourself a favor and stand several feet back from everything you have learned at your family’s dinner table, school, your house of worship, or communities. The game being played is bigger than mere diversity, inclusion, and equity. What always tickles me is how the affected parties have gotten better at understanding the wicked web you have weaved through white supremacy. In fact, we are getting so great at picking apart your systems and intentions that you now have to hire us or tap into us to help you understand why you or your ancestors set the game up like this to begin with. How are the players now informing the creators of the game? It’s absolutely ludicrous. Personally, I’m not playing. Every time you think it’s time to switch it up, we will figure it out. It’s predictable at this point and as you can see from some of the latest stories in the media, a racist president is making it increasingly difficult for even the best of you to hide your racist roots and upbringing.
The game is changing and that is the fear. People are awakening to the fallacy that people of color are less than or creating their own disadvantage. For the record, there are maybe only 4 or 5 DNA lines responsible for every human walking the Earth currently. The social construct of race was yet another ploy to dominate and wield power over others. Do your research.
Here’s the final question, will you keep playing as if you didn’t create the game or are you going to finally own how you have participated in an effort to create real change? Hint: None of us signed up willingly for your game of supremacy chess. We won’t be pawns or forced to play anymore. Our forfeit is your loss. Get on board.
I am no stranger to a good debate. In fact, I quite enjoy a healthy conversation comprised of fact, experience and well-placed opinion every once and again. The operative word here is healthy and by healthy I mean all parties in the debate are allowed their perspective and are illustrating a unique perspective rooted in actual facts.
I have often heard from colleagues, friends, and family that having conversations about inequality and racism are difficult. They have said it is an argument you can’t win and so they just don’t touch for any reason. Conversely, I have taken a different stance. I have an extremely difficult time seeing society run amuck with incorrect narratives about groups of people. I have an even harder time seeing how injustice doesn’t just stop at narratives and propaganda but extend to gross violations of civil liberties.
I have been increasingly outspoken about how we are all participating in this matrix of social constructs that oppress and label groups of people so we can perpetuate the lie that one group is more superior to another. After countless conversations, some solicited and many more not, I have come to a few conclusions about why it isn’t necessarily a good use of my time to engage in racial conversations.
Here are my conclusions:
- Most people have made up their mind about the history of events that led us here and why racism and inequality remain pervasive. In making up their minds, they have actively absolved themselves of any wrongdoing while making the assertion that every man has free will to overcome these significant obstacles that they intentionally created to have an enduring and lasting impact on the socioeconomic status of specific groups.
- I’m a black woman which makes almost anything I say dangerous and aggressive. If I sat around spewing fake news all day that would be simple, people would simply say my ignorance is just another example of why black people have found it difficult to reach the upper echelons of society. That I pride myself on being well-versed in the issues, history, complete with reasonable explanations for the usual rebuttals makes me a threat.
- Being a credible activist for what is right and just is exhausting. I’m not nearly close to fighting the good fight in the way that civil rights leaders did in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, yet there is a soul-deep lethargy that sets in when I find myself having to explain basic tenets of human decency, empathy, and fairness to people who see themselves as reasonably intelligent avatars.
I can’t help someone see beyond my color and the threat of my presence if they have decided that black means bad and white means right. It’s not always in my best interest to dialogue even superficially if you can’t separate fact from lies you have been indoctrinated with to preserve your social status. I am not your Racism 101 professor that you get to tap into because I appear to be tempered in my approach to the subjects at hand. I’m likely consumed by fire on the inside every time a white person finds my perspective unfortunate which is really code for I really wanted to like you Janine, but your desire to be forthright makes me uncomfortable.
As I mentioned in the last #BlackBlogsMatter post, my north star is peace. Don’t be shocked if my chatter sometimes goes quiet. I am tired for myself and for my ancestors. I have tried my best with some of you. Preserving me and addressing what I can fix among my own is starting to look like the best thing I can do for us all. Sometimes the loudest thing you can say is to say nothing at all.
As I continue on my journey of life, I find the one thing I consistently seek is peace. I enjoy peace in my relationships, peace of mind, peace in matters of the heart, and just general equilibrium as much as possible with most things in my life. Please do not discount the effort it takes for me to create my little oasis of life. I do so amidst a country in civil and moral upheaval. I keep the faith alongside increasing numbers of reports where white people are beating up, shooting at or intimidating women, elders, men, and children who are otherwise seen as colored, unwelcome, and useless portals of life they have to live among.
I have never been one to argue with someone who doesn’t like me. If you don’t care for how I present or who I am, I see this as a matter of personal choice. I have absolutely no reason or right to convince you to feel otherwise. That I operate from a place of allowing others the latitude to exercise their free-will as it pertains to my existence brings up a conflict of interest for me regarding my work and interest in all things diversity, inclusion, and equity. How have I become a part of the D, I, & E movement which stands in stark opposition to allowing people to act as they choose?
Let’s examine. Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity say I, as a woman of color, should be accepted as a whole person regardless of my physical and unalienable attributes. It tells white people that I should be included in everything from employment to society equally when they can manage it. It also says that when white people think it is reasonable, they should do their “best” to see that I am treated equitably by ensuring I receive not only what I earn, but what would be offered to anyone similarly-situated. Even if I could convince white people that I am worthy of such treatment I have to also prove that I positively impact their bottom-line. If my presence and contribution don’t make dollars and cents this whole diversity and inclusion thing is nothing more than charity and we all know you’d much rather make a charitable donation than contribute to real and sustainable change.
Can we be honest with one another? The issues as it pertains to people of color and white people aren’t human issues, they are hate issues. It was fear and hate that had white people enslave, kill, torture countless groups of humans throughout our history and it is still fear and hate that causes them to want to thwart even our best efforts to elevate ourselves now. It sounds nice to say we are better together and that the problems we have would be better solved diplomatically in unison. The reality is separatism is what many white people want. They want access to us, our ideas, our culture, and labor, but it ends there. Sadly, I think it is people of color who are pining for white people to love and include us, not the other way around. From a conditioning standpoint, it is hard to break free from a group of people who pride themselves on the fact that they somehow liberated the heathens of us from the animus of the wild and primitive living to the so-called free, societally-acceptable, unequal, and semi-liberated lifestyles so many of us cling to today. We people of color need to get right about why we so love the very same people who wouldn’t think twice to kill us in cold blood or to harm us. It’s kind of masochistic this relationship we have with one another.
Honestly, I could take some time away from having to fit my aesthetic into an overall narrative that was never meant to include me. I would be immensely happy to live among my own in peace never having to explain to another white person why they are racist or how they can stop their own lab-made disease. Nothing would make me happier to live among my own, thriving with lucrative businesses, education for our children that was designed for them to succeed rather than to fail, and a return to our spirituality that is rooted in existential truths rather than man-made rules created to scare and control people. We could celebrate each other and create an agenda for our people to thrive. Future generations would have a blueprint for success. Our skin color would be praised and looked upon in the streets with love and adoration instead of contempt or met with questions masked as insults.
I can think of no better existence than to live among my own in peace if it means I never have to explain why my existence matters to another white person for as long as I live. White people are humans. They bleed, defecate, pee, die, and dare I say sin like anyone else. I will take being separate from them happily if it means we as black people and other people of color never degrade ourselves again by proving our worthiness or take instruction on how to be a human from a group of imperfect mortals.
Let’s separate for peace sake. You go your way and we will go ours. I’d rather you live freely as you wish than to convince you of the universal truth that all humans are one and better together. You can hire whomever you want. You would never have to worry about our social welfare or us infringing on your ability to amass all the riches. Separate works for us, just know we get to take all the inventions, art, music, medical advances, entertainment, agriculture, and more we have contributed willingly throughout the ages. This is a fair dissolution of toxicity don’t you think? Our ancestors deserve to see us bring another Black Wall Street to fruition. Truthfully, it’s not you, it’s us. We’re just kind of tired being in this toxic relationship with you. Our issues are beyond therapy and reconciliation, it might just be best; for peace sake.
We are entering the last year of the 2010s. One year from 2020, a year painted as the poster child of human advancement and something of a sci-fi fantasy. From all I can tell, we haven’t exactly accelerated into a Jetson reality of flying cars, robot maids, and buildings in the clouds, but we do have Sophia the first humanoid robot citizen of Saudi Arabia, the beginnings of currency beyond government-driven assets, and a shift in everyday living, retail, and consumerism as proposed by Faith Popcorn where everything we need and could want is available via our homes and/or our mobile devices (otherwise known as “cocooning”).
As resolutions and grand plans waltz together in the hearts and minds of the collective, I offer a few of my own perspectives on society, work, life and the challenges we ought to be focused on as we approach a new decade.
Here are 10 perspectives for you to digest in 2019 and beyond:
- Lose the notion of “best-in-class”, “best practices”, “best-of-breed”. What seems to be the “best” is in the eye of the beholder. What your company deems a “best practice” is seldom the best set of solutions for your competitor. What works best for you in your life is not likely the blueprint for another human being. We have spent decades trying to be the best and create the best. Scenarios change. People change. Each passing moment diminishes the likelihood that something will be best or even suit the needs of those your practice or product are meant to impact. Focus on making a positive impact. Do your best whether through practice, action, or developing a product. Focusing on positive outcomes on a consistent basis is the best thing you can offer anyone.
- How can we be creating things in the likeness of a human when we have yet to perfect being human? Nobody loves the prospect of the future and technology more than I do (well maybe Elon Musk). My concern is we are creating things in our image when we have yet to perfect what it means to be human. Let’s face it we are failing at humanity currently and have been just passing to borderline failing at being human for some time now. We’re smart enough as a species, but can we honestly say we have lived this human existence to the best of our ability? It is likely that we are creating things like AI and robots in an effort to pass the buck on this human existence thing. There is still time to get it right. The question is are we up for the task?
- Fewer resolutions and more resolving to do a little better every day. Who are you trying to impress with your “new me, new year, who dis” posts? Better yet is this thing you plan to change or you wanted to be accountable to something you’re even passionate about? Most resolutions are baseless. When you resolve to change or accomplish something typically you have either grown tired or weary from the anguish and/or unfortunate outcomes a situation has brought to your life. In other words, those things that really caused you the most suffering in previous years are more likely to be a true catalyst of change rather than social coercion to make a random resolution. Change because it is necessary for you to do so, not because it’s popular.
- There is only so much that can be achieved in a given year, so cut yourself some slack. I am guilty of assuming I could conquer the world in a year and then some. The truth is there have been years when I achieved all goals on the list and years where I achieved everything but what I set out to do. This life is a journey. Some years we are prepping the field. Other years we are planting and yet other years we are reaping from the fruits of our labor. Set goals, but leave some wiggle room for serendipity, failures, and setbacks. They are all a part of the process.
- Are you good? Are you well? Do these questions make you uncomfortable? Wellness and wellbeing aren’t just some new age hippie concepts. People are suffering. Your employees are suffering some in small ways and others in some profound ways. Your pursuit of market domination is largely to blame too. You can’t operate in an industry that employs human beings to perform work and not be concerned with their wellbeing. I mean you could do that, but the road forward is looking disastrous. Prioritize your wellbeing and make sure your people do the same.
- Hippies in HR. Yes, this is a thing. I spoke at an event this year where we got into a debate about the need to do our jobs as HR practitioners in a way that adds to the greater good. In other words, can we be effective at our jobs by being ethical and human-centric while also focusing on impacting the bottom-line? It may seem like an old gripe, but it is front and center for younger practitioners who have yet to be initiated into an HR ecosystem only concerned with being seen as something more than a support function. The younger practitioner I spoke with said Hippie HR needs to be a thing. What do you think?
- Data isn’t our problem, accountability is. According to Forbes Contributor, Bernard Marr we produce 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day. We have produced 90% of the data we have currently in the past two years. Having more data to equip us with better insights isn’t any longer an issue. The issue we have is we have no clue how to slice and dice the data to get to the crux of some of our more pressing issues. Even more disturbing is the fact that in some cases we are refusing to do the data cleansing and storytelling for fear of what it will reveal about our practices, outcomes, intentions etc. If we were that transparent we would actually have to be accountable to fixing some things rather than parading accolades that make us seem like we are doing the right things. More accountability, please?
- Be careful. Your bias is showing. Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity is either part of the fabric of your company or you are simply looking to skate by on hiring the one or two poster humans that will serve to show how “hard” you are trying not to be diverse and inclusive. At this point, it would be much easier on diverse groups of people if you simply say in your job description that you are intolerant. You should simply have your CEO deliver a personal video message on your career website stating that you see no necessity in promoting the interests of a variety of people. He or she should say they are afraid of reasonable accommodations and have no desire to learn which is why you lack differently-abled people in your workforce. Your bias is showing and you will lose every time. Masking it doesn’t make it any less obvious. We see you.
- Control is a disease. You can’t control anything but yourself. The deafening cry to end hierarchy isn’t because the hippies of the world of work just want to obliterate it; it should be reimagined because it is an old framework that has very little utility in our modern world. Every system we have created through the decades is flawed in some way. Nonetheless, the inherent flaws are ones we can manage so long as there is overall utility in using a particular process or control within a given time and circumstance. The abuses of power have been many and much of it has hinged on these tightly-wound organizational structures that were meant to wield power from the top leaving an unhealthy lack of power further down the food chain. How can we evenly distribute power without relinquishing the necessary order and structure needed for the run of a profitable business?
- Privacy and boundaries take center stage. It’s fair to say there is no such thing as privacy. Every day there are breaches exposing us and our information in ways we couldn’t imagine a decade ago. Platforms like Facebook are busy selling our data to companies unbeknownst to us. Is privacy the new luxury? We started the decade with the message that sharing of information is the new currency. It’s possible that the end of the decade will bring more talk of sharing less and having more boundaries around how much of ourselves we give to the matrix and each other.
I almost gave you 19 perspectives, but I think these 10 perspectives are enough to chew on for now. My hope is that you walk away from this article with a more expansive focus on all of the things impacting the humans we employ, service, and the ecosystems we are all playing in. Increasingly, we have to step outside of our oftentimes narrow focus on executing HR or business strategy to see clearly where we can improve what we do.
Wishing you all a prosperous, balanced, and insightful 2019 ahead!
Before I get to my story, a quote from a 2017 Forbes article titled: “How Empathetic Are You, Really?”. On empathy, the author Liz Guthridge says:
“Being empathetic is similar to cooking. You may know the recipe for how to prepare empathy. But until you actually use the recipe a few times, taste the results, see how everyone reacts and adjust the recipe, you and your guests don’t know how satisfying and nourishing your efforts will be.”
Empathy continues to be a challenge in life and at work. For most people, empathy has conditions and limits. It goes something like this, “if I agree with what you are saying and how you say it pleases me; I will support the breathe with which you are speaking your truth”. If by chance, you share something that fundamentally debunks a point of view or has earth-shattering ramifications for a particular position someone holds, empathy is (more often than not) enqueue to meet an imminent death.
I have both written and spoken about some thorny subjects in the past year. I knew going into it that there would be people who praised me for my bravery and others who would chastise me for sharing my truth. When I speak up on issues, topics or instances that matter to me it is just that — it matters to me. That I have something to say about matters of societal and economic importance as someone who also happens to be an HR professional should not rub people the wrong way in 2018. Working in any industry (and more importantly HR) is not an opportunity to operate as if dumb, deaf and blind nor is it a sentence for being mute when it matters most.
Last month, I had the privilege of attending and speaking at Connections 2018, an annual user-centered event curated by Ultimate Software designed to engage, enlighten and empower their user community. During my Women in Leadership panel, there were two women who questioned why a white man was moderating my panel and moreover why most of the event’s speakers were white males. Admittedly, it was an awkward moment and not one we had solved for in our discussions about managing questions as a panel. A part of me was overjoyed that someone saw the obvious inequity of the panel. The other part of me felt sorry for my moderator, Jason Lauritsen who I personally chose to be the moderator and is someone who I do believe is inherently good despite the gender and race he belongs to. Time stood still, but something had to be said.
Empathy in motion…
I shared the truth and posed a question. I shared that I had been asked to moderate and asked the two women how that made them feel? They perked up and said that would have been much better. In response, I said: “Really? Not for me. Why should I moderate a panel of all white women in 2018?” To which an Asian woman yelled out: “What is wrong with that?”. What I shared with the group is that I wanted the ability to speak my truth as a panelist, not as someone on the periphery of the discussion. I went for what I wanted and chose Jason as a moderator because I admire him as a person and because we cannot exclude men from the discussion of how women are treated in society and in the workplace.
I have my views and strong ones at that. Nonetheless, my views are always rooted in experiences and fact and never devoid of the ability to see how it may affect another human. My panel could have been one big feminist party where we talked about how the patriarchy needs to die and how Ultimate got their programming wrong and how patronizing it must be for me to be the only black woman on the panel. What would have been accomplished by this? Isn’t this part of the problem and what we have always done?
That question was a twist of fate that I ultimately thanked those two women for. It opened us all up to have a more authentic conversation than was possible with my carefully-curated script of questions. We moved on to share openly and listen to one another’s experiences. From that moment on, we weren’t just listening we were feeling every word uttered in that room. Isn’t that the hope and prayer for empathy and also the challenge in exercising it?
The truth we all need to embrace and settle with is we are all right and all wrong at the same time. Life is a continuous cycle of contradictions. For every view you hold, there is at least one instance to debunk the position you hold. Even in a world of contradictions, it still means that what I experience is true for me. My experiences and knowledge of the world cannot be diminished or diluted. You can challenge it, but it cannot be dismissed as a data point. Dismissal is the typical reaction to hearing things we don’t want to accept. Empathy means that even if your individual or collective truths tell you that anything I say is bogus it warrants further investigation or at a minimum your heartfelt consideration if you can muster it.
People are not naturally wired to say or do what is convenient for others to feel good about a situation. This is also a part of the problem we have at the moment. Stop looking for convenient truths and answers to serve your agenda. Instead, ask yourself if what you hear, see or read could have the slightest possibility of being true. If your answer is “yes” (and it should because anything is possible), then it requires extra effort to understand on your part.
We are recalibrating as a human race which means an industry founded upon human relations should be doing the same. I challenge professionals everywhere to do the following:
1) Say less. People are finding their voices again and feeling more and more empowered to speak out. This is not the time for you to debate them and take up space. Instead, say less and hold space for the most vulnerable in our workplaces and society to share their truths.
2) Stay curious. Some of you grew up in towns of 1000 with not a dose of cultural or ethnic difference to color your world, yet others of us have grown up in complex environments with a myriad of influences. In both regards, there is a need for more curiosity, fewer assumptions, less convenient truths and judgments. Be open to learning a new perspective.
3) Exercise your empathy muscles. The road to becoming more empathetic is not linear. You will fail, you will be awkward, you will resist it at times. Still, you ought to try to be more empathetic and willing to endure all of that at the same time. I know it is a tall order, but what if it could shift budding interactions with people you admire or help someone you love feel more heard and understood? Trust me it is worth it.
For the livestream of my Women in Leadership panel click the link below:
Connections 2018 Women in Leadership Panel
Here is Jason’s account of the Women in Leadership Panel and lessons learned:
Gender at Work
May we all rise to the challenge of exercising more empathy.