It’s been a year of reckoning, a year of racial awareness in America. One year ago this week, a man named George Floyd was murdered in the streets of Minneapolis. The world watched and cried as a white man knelt on a Black man’s neck for over 9 minutes. The world watched as a grown man called out for his mother who had long since passed, and then died uncomforted in the streets of America. One year.
The passing of time is a strange thing. Every January, I’m amazed by the number of people who set out ambitious goals for how their lives are going to change in the forthcoming 365 days. And then nearly just as adamantly 365 days later those same ambitions are abandoned, left in favor of excuses, like ” it was too hard, I don’t have the resources, there’s no time, no support, no know-how. Human beings have a remarkably limited stamina for creating change. And so I thought what have we accomplished in this one year since George Floyd’s murder?
What Changed In A Year?
As a Black woman who works as a consultant with companies around their racial awareness, equity and inclusion strategy and goals, I will tell you that I’m sure many of you already know. The past year has been one marked with a flood of white tears, guilt, of folks looking to “get it right” and hoping not to “get canceled.” It’s been rough on the psyche of Black, indigenous and other people of color. Because for us – well, I’ll speak for myself – for me it’s only been a year. And by that I do want to point out that for marginalized people the events of the last year of George Floyd’s murder, and the subsequent murder of over 1000 people at the hands of the police, as well as hundreds others who have died by the hands of radicalized domestic terrorists, not a lot has changed.
We live in a country where what’s legal is not always ethical. The US stood by Jim Crow laws, refused to implement anti-lynching laws, was slow to get rid of anti-miscegenation, took decades to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. The only thing that is consistent is that change is painstakingly slow.
When Can We Move On?
I think the remarkable thing is that somehow white folks are under the impression that when they want change it’s meant to happen fast. I’ve been amazed at the number of BIPOC leaders who are coming to me asking how to handle conversations with their colleagues who are wondering when we’re going to be done talking about “the Black thing”. When can we stop talking about Equity and Inclusion? When will we be able to move on? And of course that’s the luxury of whiteness: being able to move on once a single verdict has been read, or a single headline fades into the background.
It’s easy to move on after you’ve hired the diversity consultant, shifted your recruitment goals. It’s easy to think your work is done because you’ve advocated for an ERG, maybe you and the team all read White Fragility together in solidarity. Surely that must solve 400 years of oppression of non-White people in America, right?
I know it’s tempting to want to check a box and move on. If you thought the fight was over I just want to remind you that it has barely begun.
Running A Sprint? Or A Marathon?
The work of an activist, of someone who is hoping to bring those who can push to the margins into the center of the page, the work of a true ally, that is work that is more akin to a marathon than a sprint. When you train for a marathon you train for endurance, not for speed. There’s an understanding that muscles have to be massaged, and stretched, and conditioned in order for this work to be done. It is not to your advantage to sprint in the first 20 minutes for you only to find yourself (like many of the white “allies”) extremely fatigued before the race is even fully underway. What good is a sprinter in a marathon? And if we want to truly extrapolate this analogy, what good is a sprinter in an ultramarathon that is somewhere near mile 10, when we have 90 more to go?
I’m glad that more white people have decided to join the racial awareness conversation. I am grateful that more people who have the power and authority to make change within corporations and organizations, municipalities have been made aware of a problem that many have been grappling with for generations, centuries in fact. This is a good thing. But please do not insult me with your fatigue. Do not insult those you claim to want to empower by asking your colleagues “are we there yet?” Because I assure you, the answer is a resounding “No”.
Questions To Consider
Allyship is not a fad. Racial awareness, seeking inclusion and belonging for everyone is not a trending HR topic. You’re talking about the very lives and existence of millions of people. Anything else reduces this struggle to a collection of aptly named themed months and some annual cultural programming that we just put on autopilot in an effort to say that we’ve done “it”, that we’ve participated, acknowledged that there are people who exist outside of the White patriarchy that sits atop the power hierarchy that is the United States of America. Does doing more than that require a lot of work? Yes. Are we done? No. Are you tired? I think that depends on who you are and how much conditioning you’ve done in this race.
Things to ponder in diverse groups when the fatigue of inclusion work sets in:
1. How am I allowing inclusion to be an integrated part of my life and work?
2. What other parts of my business do I stop setting goals once one milestone is reached?
3. What are signs that people do not have the endurance for this work? How is it showing up in our employee base?
4. How are the leaders I surround myself role modeling stamina for discomfort and change?
5. What type of conditioning, wellness care am I actively employing to equip myself for this work? What do those routines look like in practice?
6. How am I supporting BIPOC employees and other marginalized groups from disproportionate emotional labor in creating change?
And finally perhaps most importantly,
7. How will we measure that our racial awareness and goals around inclusion are met? What date am I willing to put on that target?
This Work Never Ends
Now some of these questions are a bit facetious. Because if you know like I know the work of having people feel that they belong, having people feel recognized, heard and seen . . . this work never ends.
People are so complex that everyday we evolve just a bit, and every day that then requires us to see each other in a brand new light. Every day is a new opportunity to promote racial awareness, to show up better as a community, as a citizen of the world, fully embracing the uniqueness and value that each of us brings to the planet. If you’re tired then I think that’s a great opportunity to explore the nature of your fatigue and what you are making Inclusion mean. Is it a task? A to-do item? One of your work deliverables? Is it a lifestyle? Is it part of your culture? A core value of how you live your life? How do you know? What does it look like?
If it’s a race it most surely is an ultra marathon and it’s the kind of marathon where the finish line will always keep moving.
Year one, done.
Don’t stop moving.
To those we’ve lost this year, to George Floyd and the 229 Black people killed by police in the US since his passing, it’s only just the beginning. We’re still fighting for justice. We’re just getting started. Rest in power.
(the US police kill on average three people a day)