After conducting numerous workshops on Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, I came to the realization that I had been taking psychological safety for granted. My confidence and ability in the topic led me to overlook the importance of creating a safe space for myself.

The Realisation

A client provided feedback about one of my workshops. A white female participant expressed discomfort and questioned the necessity of such workshops in the workplace, stating that she had never experienced the issues that were discussed and therefore it was not relevant to her.

Initially, I was taken aback by this feedback, especially since the same participant had given positive feedback and expressed interest in sharing the information with her team. It was then suggested to me that I needed to consider the psychological safety of this participant and validate her feelings over my concerns.

This highlighted the extent to which white people continue to police black peoples thoughts, feelings and words.

This realization was a wake-up call for me! I took time to reflect on the situation before responding. It highlighted the importance of first setting boundaries for myself and also creating a safe and inclusive environment in workshops and other settings where Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging discussions take place.

A Viral Tik Tok Example

I, then, came across a post on LinkedIn referencing a viral TikTok video in which a white woman answered a question about whether white women are scared of black women and if they can be allies to black women. The woman admitted to being afraid of black women’s strength and resilience, and the video received mixed reviews.

This incident highlighted the fact that many white people do not understand the weight of their words and behaviours, especially when it comes to our lived experiences. The woman in the TikTok video cited the patriarchal system as a reason why she and other white women may not fully support black women.

She mentioned being told to be quiet, not rock the boat, not be too much, and feeling jealous and uncomfortable when black women overcome more and do better than them.

As a black woman, I am glad that this admission has been made publicly but equally frustrated. These issues are not just limited to white women!  These are women’s problems. It is important to recognize that psychological safety is intertwined with equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging, and we must continue to work towards creating a safe and inclusive environment for everyone.

The Behaviours That Need To Be Addressed

Psychological safety is paramount when it comes to equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging. However, there are times when white individuals struggle with their privilege and experience blind spots that can be both triggering and dangerous. Guilt is a natural emotion that arises when we believe we have caused harm. For instance, in the Tik Tok video, the woman felt guilty for her behavior, while in the workshop, the woman avoided her guilt and played the victim.

These two examples demonstrate the following similarities:

  • The blind spots in white individuals can pose a threat to psychological and physical safety.
  • Whitesplaining can occur, where what was said, heard, and felt can differ.
  • The reality and depth of racial inequality is only now hitting some white individuals, which is baffling.
  • Additional support is necessary for white individuals to confront the truth of what black and brown people face.
  • White individuals may find it uncomfortable to hear the ugly and uncomfortable truths.

So, how can white individuals become true allies to black and brown people?

Word To The Allies

To cultivate equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging, it’s crucial to prioritize psychological safety.

This requires stepping out of your comfort zone and being open to discomfort. Embrace the learning zone, where you’ll encounter challenges and develop the skills to have meaningful conversations. Then, move into the growth zone, where you can take meaningful action and provide real support.

Use emotional intelligence regularly and acknowledge that biases take time to overcome. When participating in conversations or initiatives, be aware of your surroundings and audience.

Constantly educate yourself and admit when you don’t know something. Do not expect black and brown people to re-live their experiences and you use that as your learning. Follow individuals on social media who share their experiences and work to dismantle systemic oppression. There is so much literature around doing the work and what it means to be an ally.

Understanding language is also essential to avoid perpetuating microaggressions and stereotypes.

Call out racist behaviour and language. Be anti-racist and address these issues head on, consistently.

Be mindful of the impact of negative stereotypes on individuals’ well-being and choose your words carefully. Regularly check in with black and brown individuals to see how you can support them as an ally.

Black and brown people will need to set boundaries in order to enhance psychological safety in these conversations and initiatives, so be prepared!

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