A couple of weeks ago, if you asked me how I was, I would have told you, joyfully, that I am in the middle of a transformation – into what, I wasn’t sure. But in the end, I knew I would be altogether different, a truly new thing.
Around the same time, I told my new supervisor, who is sharp, thoughtful, and fairly self-aware, in a carefully worded email, that, in fact, I would not be attending a webinar as I had previously agreed. This webinar featured a panel of professionals in an adjacent field who would be discussing how they – as white people – can advance racial justice and “disrupt” white held spaces and power in the industry. Specifically, I was asked to attend and report back any key takeaways for the rest of our – all white (except for me) – team.
Why? I have no idea, except that I am one of very few employees that can be tasked with anything, since consultants make up nearly half of our very small staff.
What’s the problem? It’s not an issue of pay grade, title, or status. It’s not pride. In my retraction, I said that I wasn’t comfortable following through. But it’s not really even about comfort, not entirely. It’s more than that.
In a society built to serve whiteness in every way possible, it feels … wrong to also expect marginalized people to educate or spoon-feed anything related to their experience, even steps others are taking to dismantle an oppressive system, to those who still dominate that society. It reeks of subservience and plain laziness.
To those that expect this, I offer: Why not educate yourself for yourself? Do the work of investigating, exposure, and immersion that everyone else has to do in-order to navigate this society. Share the burden. Shoot, consider it a hobby (🙄).
That subtle sense of entitlement can show up in so many different ways. But I bristle against it in all of them because, to me, it feels wrong… And by wrong, I mean, unfair and insulting.
So why did I say yes in the first place?
And this is what I haven’t told you…
I’ve had my integrity, character, professionalism, and expertise attacked in the workplace. I’m not talking about dealing with ugly rumors, office politics or the juvenile antics of middle-aged mean girls, although that’s part of the package too.
I mean the kind of attack where someone tells a lie about you to the police that, if proven to be true, could land you in jail, not just ruining your career, but revoking your freedom. And while that’s bad enough, it isn’t even the worst part. The worst part is that those who were in a position to tell the truth and defend me publicly stood by and did nothing.
I could list a million reasons why the person lied about me and tried to ruin my life – bitterness, fear, jealousy, racist hatred. At least, that’s what I have been told. As for the abandonment of my supervisors, my only guess is that they feared being attacked themselves.
But in all honesty, I don’t know why anyone did what they did. I never asked. I was too busy trying not to commit murder (or assault). I was too busy trying not to be a walking stereotype. I was too busy trying not to make Jesus look bad because of his association with me. Because, while I don’t get preachy at work, I don’t hide that I rep’ Jesus either.
It took ALL of my energy to seek Jesus and do what I believe I was supposed to do in that moment, which was let him handle it. Ultimately, my name was cleared. But the whole thing was extremely hard and hurt like hell.
When I look back, I see the ease that I moved in, but didn’t feel in the moment. I see the instances where I could have easily made a different choice in one of a thousand critical moments and made things so much worse. I am sure that Jesus kept me, shielded me, even when it felt like I was taking all the blows. But years later, the pain of that experience still haunts me.
So when I am in a situation where I have to navigate white fragility, I find myself struggling to discern whether the fear, uneasiness and sometimes anger I’m feeling is a trauma response stirred up by my memories or because of a real and present danger.
So, I said yes because I was afraid to trust myself. I said yes because I hoped the pain of compliance would be easier to endure than the pain of rejection, abandonment, or being hated. I said yes because, after all I’ve seen Jesus do for me, I was still afraid to trust him to take care of me regardless of whatever happened next. But my body wouldn’t let me rest.
I couldn’t shake the sense that I had betrayed myself. So, I revoked my yes.
Via email, I said that I had changed my mind and pointed to the fact that the webinar would be recorded for anyone who was interested to review at their convenience. Period. End of sentence. No question mark. No smiley face pleading for understanding. No invitation to discuss (and possibly debate) it further.
I didn’t get a response, despite receiving a flurry of responses to other unrelated emails from the same person.
The next day, realizing that it may not have been clear why I wasn’t comfortable, I sent another email, clarifying that my retraction was due to the webinar’s subject matter. This time, I offered to discuss it.
Still, it’s been crickets over the roughly two weeks since. And I’m not sure what that means, aside from the realization that my supervisor is conflict avoidant.
Have I been ignored or accepted, if only grudgingly? I don’t know. I don’t have a lot of experience with this. Setting boundaries is new territory.