Photography by Emma Nathan For Warrior Women Like ME ™
BIPOC (and other oppressed groups) are often the ones expected to forgive and forget when we see those posts about diversity policies, promises of change, new initiatives or someone who looks a bit like us joining the team. If it was that easy, racism would have been solved decades ago.
All of these things are there to fix what has and continues to be broken. It wasn’t broken by us but we’re the ones with the insights. Whether we’re called upon for help by leadership or we decide we want to speak out on the issues ourselves, we’re in a tricky position.
For us to move forward - as individuals, organisations and a society, we need to acknowledge the wrongs, problems and failings that have occurred in the past. It’s impossible to heal from old wounds if we ignore them. Without healing, the best we can hope for is a process fostering underlying resentment and most likely, a continuation of the harm that has been inflicted for years.
We also need to make sure we protect ourselves once the healing has begun to create change- it’s just common sense.
So how do we determine whether it’s worth engaging or establishing a long term relationship?
Sitting in my email drafts are two detailed letters of complaint that I wrote a few years ago. T
They outline problems with individuals and an organisation written with the help of a professional.
They were never sent because I was asked some great questions that I want to share with you:
Do you know what you want to achieve?
Sometimes we just want to let off steam. Other times we want to see specific change. Knowing what response you want before speaking out will help you choose your next steps and prepare for what could happen.
How do you feel talking to the people in positions of power?
How does even the idea of talking to them make you feel ? Excited and hopeful or intimidated and full of dread? Have you or others shared similar issues before and how did they react? Being Nice isn’t enough. It’s often something people use to hide behind - they know it makes it harder for you to bring up problems and for others to excuse their actions (or lack of).
Do you honestly believe there is hope of positive change? (and enough of it?)
We’ve seen organisations say the right things at various points over the years but we STILL experience or hear about ongoing problems. If the changes are superficial and made to tick boxes, save face or simply look good, BIPOC who aren’t aware of the organisation’s history, are more likely to stumble into bad situations. The last thing you want is to go in with the hope of healing and problems being fixed whilst leadership are still focused on making excuses or justifying.
Can leaders take responsibility for their mistakes and flaws?
Take a look at their past work, management style and what they’ve previously said about diversity. Do they know where they’ve gone wrong in the past and are they willing to do the uncomfortable work to deal with those mistakes? Or do they assume they just need a new scholarship programme or recruitment drive to fix things?
Will you be doing free work for others at your expense?
Is the information you’re sharing basically Diversity, Equality and Inclusion work? Are you providing valuable information? There’s a good chance you or someone who works in this area should be getting paid. As well as your time, effort and insights, this kind of work can take a toll emotionally and mentally.
How will you feel if you don’t get the response you hoped for?
Are you ready for the reaction you could get? We all want to hope for the best but we have to be prepared for excuses, gas lighting, minimising and possibly a backlash. Make sure you’re prepared and in a safe position if you decide to move forward with discussions.
Letting go doesn’t mean forgiving and forgetting.
It just means taking care of yourself and other BIPOC. You don’t owe anyone anything and protecting yourself as a BIPOC is essential. On a positive note, letting go often frees you up for bigger and better things.
We all want to see changes being made but being the one who has to take a lead in that battle isn’t easy. Sometimes stepping away is the best thing you can do for your own healing and for other BIPOC.
If you went through these questions and feel positive about approaching leaders in your organisation - then great! Sounds like you’ve found some decent people and you might be the catalyst for some positive and exciting changes.
As for me?
Am I glad I walked away and didn’t send those emails?
Let’s just say, I don’t replace - I UPGRADE ;)
Minder Kaur Athwal
Facilitator, Consultant, Professional Trouble-shooter.
PG (Cert) Intenational Management & Marketing
BA (Hons) International Relations & Politics
Mental Health First Aider.