Being in the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging space surely has its ups and downs and can cause fatigue. You start off reflecting on your journey and the journey of others that look like you. You then welcome those people who want to make a difference with you, yet, educating them is also taxing on you because of the learning gap they have. As much as they may have positive intentions with allyship, you have re-live your experience again and again before they can grasp the gravitas of what the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging agenda.
Once again, I am left to heal from that experience…again.. while either their privilege or guilt takes the spotlight. While they try to ‘figure out’ their comfort level or the level they want to be an ally. This is not a criticism, but it is unfortunately part of the journey and my reality.
I have had several conversations with individuals and key stakeholders in a company about facilitating Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging workshops. I always have and encourage open & honest conversations about where they are as an individual, a business, the attendees and also expectations for the sessions while sharing my experiences & vulnerability of what could happen and how I would need to manage and prepare.
There’s a recurring theme in how the conversations go after I say that and it begins with;
‘You are coming in with a human approach without making it personal’.
First of all, the whole topic of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging is about human rights, so that’s a given. To be reminded of this is very insulting. Secondly, the insinuation that this is a my ‘personal agenda’ is further insulting as you cannot have these type of conversations without talking about your personal experience. I was perplexed into silence and was asked to ‘argue’ the statement. (My face must have told a story). I wasn’t about to ‘argue’ the statement as that’s not what this was about. This was now about Emotional Intelligence and putting into context what I had just explained.
Conversation progressed to;
‘You need to separate yourself from the trauma and experience so you can see it for what it is – like a counsellor or trainer’.
I explained that I was not a counsellor or trainer. I am a facilitator and educator and it is not possible to separate myself from myself and my experiences, ESPECIALLY with this topic. These conversations always leave me feeling some type of way and I had so many mixed feelings;
ANGER – I was asked to separate myself from my experience and yet educate and progress the conversation. Meanwhile society could care less about me and my experiences. So, on the value scale, where do I sit if you ask me to separate what I have gone through?
FRUSTRATION – Lack of understanding of the implications topics like this have on me and people who look like me. This is our daily, lived experience and it has been minimised.
DISAPPOINTMENT – It sad to say, but I have heard worse and had to overcome it, so I wasn’t going to let this stop me.
MOTIVATION – I almost felt defeated and I was like HECK NO! Heavy is the head that wears the crown. In order to have meaningful conversations, the truth needs to be told. Sometimes, you will have to feel and deal with your feelings in a safe space with those who truly sympathise and empathise with you. I prayed and a fire lit inside me and now…
I always need to go back to my why. Why am I doing this? Why put myself in situations that will make me have to re-live said trauma and experiences? In this context, my why is to change peoples perception of their responsibility in society. This is not a ‘me’ problem, this is a human rights problem and it is all of our responsibility.
Word To The Allies
Allies, you will also have to feel and deal with your issues so you don’t start to offload your guilt or blind spots of privilege on someone who is already carrying the burden you place on them. Listen to understand and not just to respond or downplay someone’s experience.
Allyship is admitting you are not perfect and being vulnerable about what needs to change. Allyship is a long-term commitment and not a tick box exercise.
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