Updated: Aug 21, 2020
Dear Emerging Ally
Welcome. I don’t know what brought you on this journey: George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Tree of Life synagogue, Pulse Nightclub, or a personal event. Regardless thank you for coming along and joining me.
As I mentioned in "Why D&I is Important to me", I have been on this trip for a while. I believe Diversity and Inclusion is essential. I have led diversity committees. Helped write diversity strategies. Been active in Employee Resource Groups: a member, an executive sponsor. I mentor and have been mentored. I have seen several organizations struggle with this. I have also struggled. Beat myself up. Failed. As a white male found it difficult to navigate the space.
I have met many people who want to help but get paralyzed. I get paralyzed. I am not in the under-represented group. It’s complicated. It’s time consuming. You want to help but you don’t know how. You don’t want to make a mistake. Don’t want to make things worse.
Hence I thought I would share some lessons. Experiences. Thoughts. My hope is this might ease those concerns. As I said I have been on this path for a while and I thought I would share some lessons so that you might trip less than I have.
But this is a journey. It requires patience, a good deal of courage and more than a little work. I’ve been on this journey for a while and I am still learning. Like any journey you trip and fall. You make mistakes. I still remember an awkward conversation about suntan lotion: “Dave… black people get sunburned too!” (complete with eye roll) - apologies followed and embarrassment lasted for days. But you learn from them, get up and keep moving forward. Don’t expect perfection. As someone once said “any forward gear will do”.
The first is this requires patience. Patience is a skill. It must be practiced with a closed mouth and an open ear. Learn to listen. It will take time. Disenfranchised and underrepresented folks won’t open up just because you smile and say you want to help. You need to build trust. That takes time. It also take empathy. Listen with your heart as well as your head.
Next brace yourself. It will be hard. You will hear things that will be hard to take. Things you disagree with. Things you won’t perhaps even necessarily believe. Remember that merely because it doesn’t fit your reality doesn’t mean it is wrong. Your task is to learn and grow. That is hard. When you hear something it most likely comes from a painful place. Respect that vulnerability. It takes courage.
Your patience comes in here as well. It must be exercised in your reply. No rationalizations. No justifications. No defensive responses. You are an ally. Allies are there for the other person, not to convince them of your point of view.
Those conversations are a step. But only a step to the starting line. That’s where the work starts. Your work. You’ve been given an opportunity. A gift if you will. A door has been opened but you must walk thru. You must have the courage to take that step and commit to the work of learning.
While the conversations are a first step in learning, you need to move beyond that. It’s not someone else’s responsibility to teach you. We live in the age of information. It’s all around you! There are:
Books - How to be an Anitracist by Abraham X Kendi, The Memo by Minda Harts;
Movies - Selma, Philadelphia, Hidden Figures; and even
Graphic novels (MAUS by Art Spiegelman, March by John Lewis.
The web has tons of offerings such as:
Human Rights Campaign: www.hrc.org;
NAACP Legal Defense Fund: NAACPLDF.org;
Southern Poverty law Center: SPLCenter.org;
Or you can find topics and Google them: “Juneteenth”, “women’s suffrage”, “Stonewall”, “Forty Acres and a Mule”, etc.
Don’t stop the conversations but don’t have them become your own personal lectures. Others aren’t required to educate you. They are busy dealing with the problem.
I hope this helps get you started. I look forward to future conversations. Please let me know your thoughts and what topics you might want me to cover in the future.