You’ve Got to Let Go of White Comfort in DEI Programs

An open letter from your Black diversity consultant

Photo: Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

First, I usually hear it in your voice. Then, I see it in your body language: the SHIFT.

We’re on a call to discuss your newfound interest in diversity, equity, and inclusion work as an organization and as a leader. The second I shift from the word inclusion to the terms anti-racism, there is a visible shift in your demeanor. And maybe you don’t notice it, but I do because it happens so much that I’m prepared to expect it.

You didn’t reach out to me because you want to talk about race — you don’t want to unpack White dominant culture. You aren’t focused on equity because you think everyone is automatically equal. You ask, Shouldn’t we just make sure everyone feels like they belong at the organization?

Even as a Black woman who had experienced so much harm, I, too, prioritized your White comfort and held onto my internalized oppression to make you happy.

Sure. But what you’re really asking is for me to continue prioritizing White comfort over the real work and change that your organization needs to face. These two things are not the same.

When I started doing diversity, equity, and inclusion work, I admittedly began where you were. Even as a Black woman who had experienced so much harm, I, too, prioritized your White comfort and held onto my internalized oppression to make you happy. I felt that as long as I got the business and became your consultant — your “partner” in this work — that I could shift the conversation. Oh, how naive I was.

In the end, you gaslit, tokenized, and disrespected your trusted “partner” in the same way you do your Black and POC employees. I was not the solution; I was part of the problem.

I heard you when you said we couldn’t talk about race; we couldn’t upset your board; and your CEO wasn’t quite on board yet, so tread lightly. I prioritized your comfort over the real change that would help your BIPOC employees get liberated. I look back at those times with such shame and the recognition that once you know better, you do better.

And so here I am, telling you to do better.

It’s not okay to continue prioritizing your White comfort in diversity, equity, and inclusion program so that you can make sure “everyone” is okay. Do you know what that really means? What we’ve been doing all along in workplaces from all industries, making sure that one group stays comfortable while those who are non-White go to work every day and suffer. We prioritize your comfort in a world where you already have more privilege and power and allow for you to even try and make comfortable what it means to have meaningful change with a diversity, equity, and inclusion program. And let’s be honest: We keep letting you call it a diversity and inclusion program and take equity off the table for discussion, much less opening up the door for understanding what it means to have an anti-racist program instead of a DEI program.

Do better.

Stop asking consultants to come in and make it “comfortable” for those uncomfortable talking about race.

Stop pretending that equity and equality are the same.

Stop replacing the word “equity” with the word “belonging.”

Stop avoiding training on anti-racism, anti-Blackness, inferiority and superiority, and dominant culture.

Stop pretending that quick trainings and roundtable discussions without someone pushing and holding you accountable are all you need.

Listen, some of y’all need to even stop pretending you know what you need.

Stop asking me to prioritize your comfort if you want to do this work. My mission is to make sure that BIPOC feel safe, heard, valued, and respected equally at all workplaces. If this means you have to get uncomfortable in a world designed for your comfort, so be it.

Because the reality is for BIPOC, being uncomfortable is all we’ve ever known.

Committed to realizing racially-equity-centered workplaces for all BIPOC to experience and nothing less. IG: @dynastihunt

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