Ibram Kendi really shook things up for me. How To Be An Antiracist was a radical take on antiracist work. At first my feathers were ruffled and then his words came for my life and affected me deep inside. Being Anti-racist is a journey and not a destination. Plus, I this word a lot better than “woke” but I’m still on a search for a word that can adequately replace it in my daily vocabulary.
I know there are things in my life I need to work on, I’m definitely not perfect. I’m humble enough to admit that and commit to learning more about different people’s experiences.
Not to bring in more about white fragility again, but I had an instance at work that I need to process and get off my chest:
In my office the other week, my director and my direct supervisor were in my office discussing an outreach project I wanted to do with the local bars in the area. One bar on my list is notoriously known for being racist (because, duh, the South, but covert racist bars exists everywhere) and I was told to be extra careful approaching that one. I’d already heard about the giant confederate flag in the establishment, so I was going to keep my guard up with that one.
Apparently, my white supervisor who grew up in a predominately white country that’s not the US thought it was ok to name one of the bar’s racist drinks, the Niggerita. Mind you, she said this to the only black person in the department.
I froze. Did she really just say that? At work? With her boss sitting right there???
It was business as usual as the director kept talking as if nothing was amiss. I continued on as well, feeling powerless to say anything. I mean, how could I when it was the two people who make 95% of the decisions for the department (despite a whole leadership team of other assistant directors, but that’s another issue) against one, and apparently the one with the most power didn’t think it was a big deal to address it In the moment.
And I get it. She was quoting it and it wasn’t like the word was directed at me. She’s not from the States and may not get racism (which is a stretch because she’s been here for the past 8 years).
That didn’t stop me from feeling like crap. I went back and forth in my head, chastising myself for feeling this way. But I did feel this way. It wasn’t ok for her to say it, using a quote or not. We are supposed to be an antiracist organization, the LEAST you could have worried about is me reporting you…
Which is what I did. And the [black] woman director of that office who took on the case made me feel as if I was overreacting by reporting. I understood that they may not be found responsible for violating the anti-discrimination policy, but I wanted something to happen. She said she would counsel the director.
All the director just said that she hopes I know I work in a liberal office and wanted to get the point across about that one bar. What a crappy apology, and I didn’t even get one from my supervisor who said it. Just because you went to the black staff luncheon, doesn’t mean you’re antiracist. If anything, your proverbial invite to “the cookout” should be revoked. Don’t give me that BS when you can’t even tell your staff not to use racist language in the office. I give zeros F’s about your intentions.
And it goes back to Ibram’s different definitions, there are individuals and there are policies and this example showcases both. I was invalidated by a person and a policy.
Where are you on your antiracist journey? Let me know in the comments!