I’ve been working with several Black and African American clients lately and this work reminds me everyday about the subtle ways that racism pops up. And moreover, the reality that the Black experience and the white experience really are different.

I’d just like to take a minute to catalogue a couple of the comments that I’ve heard lately because they are illustrative of what many Black and African American people encounter everyday.

“White people – we’re glad you’re at the party, but we’ve been here for hundreds of years and we are tired.”

This quote was in reference to building a DE&I committee and the number of white versus Black people who had signed up. When I asked the client why she thought the Black people in her company weren’t signing up that was her response. She said it wasn’t trust, it wasn’t the intentions of the white people on the list, or the content, or the structure, it was fatigue and lack of energy to indoctrinate “one more group” of white people on what it means to be Black.

Personally, I think she is 100% right, and it speaks to the responsibility that I believe white people have if we are going to engage in this space. I’ll write more about white responsibility on another page, but for now let’s just say that if white people are going to sign up for a DE&I initiative there are a few things that we should be honest about:

  • We ARE new to the DE&I party. That isn’t good or bad, and most people at the party are glad that we’ve decided to attend. However, the people who are already there have been working a long time on this issue. Beyond lived experience, many have experience studying and teaching about these subjects. So if we come in be-bopping along, that type of ignorant enthusiasm in itself can be exhausting to others. Think about how you feel when you come home after work, your are dead tired, but your young toddler comes up and says “let’s play”. They have all the energy of a young kid, and they are special for having that energy, but it is still exhausting to have to entertain a toddler when all you really want to do is sit on the couch with a glass of bourbon and a mindless movie.
  • It isn’t the responsibility of our Black friends to teach us. So often I see white people show up and we are like “I’m here,” “I’m ready to learn.” While “ready to learn” shows a level of commitment it also has a passive connotation that it’s someone else’s job to teach us. Here’s the thing, It isn’t anyone else’s job – we own that responsibility. That is why so often, Black people will suggest to white people that they read a book on the subject. From a responsibility standpoint it isn’t asking a lot that we come into the conversation prepared with more than just our opinion.
  • As white people, there is a lot that we don’t know about DE&I. Again, that is just a statement of fact, not a judgement. But as white people we’ve been taught that we need to make an impact, we need to make our presence known. Your first day at on a DE&I committee isn’t the time for that. In fact, a little humility, and spending some time learning goes a long way toward establishing relationships, and building trust.

“There is a world Black people experience that white people don’t even know”

This is so true. None of us can know things that we haven’t been exposed to or we haven’t made an effort to learn about. So it should be no surprise that there are many things about the Black experience that we don’t know. If we white people want to learn then it requires us to acknowledge that lack of awareness. For instance, many Black people will talk about how they have to code switch when they around white people – particularly white people at work.

My questions for you are:

  • Did you know that most Black people have to code switch?
  • Do you know what code switching is? I’m deliberately not linking it in this article, because you can Google it pretty easily.
  • If you have Black colleagues, do they code switch around you?
  • How do you feel if they do, and what responsibility do you feel for removing that burden if it is there?
  • What else don’t you know about the Black experience?

“It isn’t because Black people are broken or wrong, it is because the world treats us differently”

Yeah. There is so much to say here and I just need to be with those words for a while before I can respond. But I hear them.