Recently I became a member of our ad-hoc diversity committee at work. Let me backtrack a bit: Our most recent department-wide quarterly meeting took place in the days after the George Floyd murder really took off in the media. In response to that, leadership made the decision to focus the meeting on issues around diversity and the experiences our colleagues of color have as PoC. One of the initial tasks we’ve set ourselves is to do the 21-day Racial Equity Challenge. The committee members are doing this with the idea in mind to roll it out to the rest of the department once we can give feedback and offer our own insights to our colleagues about it.
It did not surprise me at all that our black and brown colleagues at times have a very different experience than our white colleagues, that’s the whole core of the issue and I think anyone who isn’t willfully trying to ignore issues around racial equity is aware of this. I work for a Southern university and the department I work in is part of the fundraising and communications group; we are in contact all the time with people outside the sphere of academia. Southern universities have fraught histories around racial justice and racial equity so it didn’t surprise me that our colleagues encounter it. What did surprise me was how overt, unashamed, and wide fucking open the racism they face is from the ostensibly educated people they deal with outside of our organization.
As we listened to story after story of the injustices they face on the daily and the callousness with which most white people react to their pain, a lot of us were in tears. We were also painfully aware that as heart-sore and exhausted as we were at the end of that meeting, our colleagues face that level of exhaustion and sorrow every. Damn. Day.
So what was born out of that meeting was a decision to form an ad-hoc working committee around racial equity to both foster a tolerance in the workplace for diversity, and to better support our colleagues who are trying to do a job in the face of racial injustice that we can’t control. When volunteers were requested, I volunteered. I think there’s about 30ish of us or so but it’s a huge department – well over 300 of us across campus.
I’ll be honest, as an extreme introvert I have a lot of trepidation about this. People are exhausting to me at the best of times, and we will be dealing with people and situations where there will be emotional intensity and hard work. But, this work is important to me. Racial justice and equity are important to me. I can certainly get the hell over myself enough to participate in this work. I feel like it’s important to stop making black people do the emotional heavy lifting of understanding racism and racial injustice for us.
I’ll talk about this more in days to come.