As a queer Black woman, DEI educator, strategist and practitioner, I have always been compelled by social justice imperatives, and I have come to accept the fact that this makes some people fearful of me. Some see me as the literal embodiment of things unknown; someone representing ideas, thoughts and an agenda perceived to be threatening; someone representing change. I feel the fear and sense the defensiveness within those resistant to processes leading to increasingly equitable and socially just cultures, practices and processes at every turn, their doubt and anxiety about the idea of change translating into their demeanors and behaviors and even the very way they see me.
Try as I might, it is difficult not to absorb their anxieties and trepidation. For Whites, fear around change in the interest of racial and social justice can oftentimes arise out of the fragility that comes with being provoked to confront the realities of structural, systemic and institutional racism in our society, which means challenging and dismantling norms of White power and privilege. For people of color, the fear of being asked to shoulder the burden of leading transformational change within predominantly white spaces or being subjected to processes wherein they are ultimately objectified and re/exploited as currency in the interest of realizing so-called social justice is just as real. In my work as a diversity, equity and inclusion practitioner I am always working to do what feels like the impossible : inspire engagement among diverse stakeholders in the interest of progress and in order to encourage awareness and understanding across and while celebrating racial and cultural difference. When I think about it, so much of my work involves validating such fears. After all, we live in a world where we have been conditioned to fear one another. This is a consequence of white dominant culture and systems that are meant to operate in favor of the privileged to the detriment of the oppressed.
Right now, in this moment of COVID-19, I fear the word “normal.” I fear the very idea of normalcy given that what is normalized in our lives – systemic and institutional injustice; oppression; white power and dominance and the exclusion and invalidation of the experiences of historically marginalized groups – continues to translate into the realities of those of us whom are disproportionately impacted by the perpetuation of normalcy at the cost of our humanity. I fear that this pandemic is compelling many of us toward a “return to normalcy” because confronting and addressing the reality of inequity and injustice has always been and continues to be difficult because so many of us fear change, particularly if it means our own sense of comfort and security is at stake, and even at a time when the data emerging out of this moment of COVID-19 forces us to reckon with the truth of racial disparities in life outcomes in our society.
Most of all, I fear not doing enough to challenge inequity and injustice. I fear the consequences of not working harder to influence in favor of equity and justice in whatever way that I can. I fear what happens to my sense of self and purpose should I not answer the call to action to protect, support or call attention to suffering brought on by unfair and dehumanizing structures, systems and practices. I fear the normalcy that has for so many years and generations ensured that people of color continue to experience inequities in life outcomes, access, economic mobility and health. It is that fear that drives me to find new ways to be effective in my work as a diversity, equity and inclusion practitioner.
To all my fellow equity and social justice advocates who are fearless in this work everyday, moving forward despite what oftentimes feels like insurmountable resistance – sometimes because of who you are and what you stand for – thank you for being a community of inspiration.