You’ve Got to Let Go of White Comfort in DEI Programs
An open letter from your Black diversity consultant
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.