Dear Well-Intentioned White People,
I’ve been ruminating on this for a while but wasn’t sure how I would formulate my thoughts in a way that won’t come across as accusatory or angry. Because that is not what I’m feeling. I feel sad and disappointed. I’ve spent over a decade leading conversations about diversity and inclusion, but the longer I’ve done it, the more disheartened I’ve become. Not because of the obviously racist people, but by well-intentioned white people. You know the ones. The ones that want to do good and promote racial equity but when given the opportunity to do so they fall back on old patterns of the dominant culture. This type of silent racism reinforces institutional racism (there are journal articles about this).
The final straw with Well-Intentioned white people came from a well-crafted, “thank you for your application, but we went with another candidate,” letter. I had applied for a Strategic Planning position but they were also seeking to incorporate more DEI initiatives into their plan with local nonprofits. With my years of experience working on DEI initiatives in town and elsewhere and my education focused on non-profits and public administration, I know I was amply qualified. I was hopeful.
When I learned that the position went to a white woman, I was disappointed and filled with that old familiar hurt. But I wasn’t angry. That came later when the organization sent me the letter explaining, “…we wanted to go with someone who was more familiar with our work during our transition but will be hiring a permanent position in the coming months…” Blah Blah Blah. We don’t want you now….but maybe, when things are better, we’ll want someone like you, someone who is BIPOC and queer, to handle our DEI initiatives. Tomorrow, Tomorrow, we’ll practice what we preach in some distant future that is always a day away.
Out of all the groups that I’ve worked with maybe they’d be open to hearing my feedback on their hiring process. Hopefully. Maybe I wasn’t the best candidate, but don’t tell me there isn’t a BIPOC person out there that could do that work with the right supports. As a white woman friend consoled, “white women are always the beneficiaries of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives.” Published studies confirm this, but I also know this to be true because it’s pretty much what is happening everywhere in the city I live in. I recently ran for city council, as did a handful of other BIPOC individuals who ran for other elected offices. Every candidate, BIPOC and white, emphasized the importance of DEI initiatives in our town. White women won a majority of the seats. Replacing white men with white women is marginally better for gender equity but it’s not the best when it comes to addressing racial equity.
I have been working on, studying, and researching how we can find a pathway towards racial equity, and when I provide suggestions they are invalidated and minimized. Is it because it’s coming from me? However, if my white colleague says the same thing it’s as if we’ve all had a collective “Aha” moment. Sound familiar, doesn’t it? Isn’t’ that what is called “mansplaining” in feminist circles. Let me answer that question for y’all, yes.
I’m not going to get into all the journal articles and race theories about dismantling racism. Most people, don’t get it and I feel they don’t care about all that theory. So, I will speak in plain and practical language. What we’ve been doing isn’t working so our way of doing things needs to change. How do we do that Vangie? Be honest with yourselves and do the work.
I was having this conversation with a group of well-intentioned white folx and the conversation was centered around how can we attract more diversity to these spaces? Mind you I’m usually the only person of color in this discussion. I listened to them go back and forth about their thoughts on it. I’ve been in several of these conversations and generally hear the same responses. What I’ve finally taken away from these conversations is: Y’all are trying to figure out ways to make BIPOC people fit into YOUR space for example work culture.
When I was first hired at the Diversity Council, I was freshly out of college with my Bachelors in Political Science and had spent a year interning at my university’s Diversity Center. I knew there were probably other candidates that had more education, experience, etc… than me. However, after I gave my interview presentation on teaching the panel what diversity, inclusion, and bias meant. I was unsure if I’d even be considered for the position. The Executive Director at the time who was a white woman took a chance on me. And I spent almost 7 years at that organization that still to this day profits off of my intellectual labor. I am thankful for my old ED for seeing my potential and believing in me to do the work and be passionate about it. I was and still am. Additionally, that opportunity elevated me out of college student poverty. Isn’t that what our intent is, to lift people out of their situation and elevate them so we all can benefit? Equity means providing the resources, support, space, and opportunity to succeed and thrive where they weren’t able to in the past.
Hiring from what I’ve experienced in the past as a POC is 1.) Qualifications and skills, 2.) Ability to fit into the current work culture. I know right!? We’ve never thought about how problematic number 2 is when considering diverse candidates. The reason we are not able to attract, hire and retain Black, Indigenous, and People of Color candidates in our town, as in so many other towns just like it, is that you want them to already know how to acculturate into your workspace. You want BIPOC people to feel comfortable and succeed in white people spaces. Take a moment and marinate on that statement.
Here is my simple solution to attracting, hiring, and retaining BIPOC talent. Find a well-qualified candidate that has wonderful potential and create a work environment where that candidate is given resources, support, and mentoring to be able to succeed and thrive. Once you do that and show other potential candidates that your work culture is truly welcoming and inclusive to BIPOC folx and other diverse candidates the possibilities are limitless. If that’s not what you want and you want to just keep checking off the DEI boxes, keep doing what you’re doing because you’ll continue to have the same outcomes you’ve been having.
That’s my two cents.
Be well, stay safe, and take care.
Chapter 12: Common Patterns of Well-intentioned White People