Weeks ago we put out an official statement declaring our stance on Black Lives Matter. I’d like to share with you the experience behind our Black Lives Matter statement. My hope is that by breaking down the process that led to a situation in which we excluded Brandon - our only Black Director - on our Black Lives Matter statement, and how we managed that moment, ourselves and what we learned, we can help others understand the ways we unknowingly perpetuate racism. This article with our insights is one of the many ways in which we can learn and teach each other how to dismantle racism, through sharing. As a learning organization, we strive to be transparent about our lessons and what comes out of them. We hope this helps illuminate parts of your work in breaking down your biases.
Here is a quick timeline of the events:
- Several IFVP members reached out to ask if IFVP was planning to release a statement in support of #BlackLivesMatter
- We discussed the idea on Basecamp, our digital working space. Many opinions were thrown around, lots of ideas, and tons of comments were generated around this thread.
- We collectively decided that Brandon shouldn’t “have to do the work for us, we should do the work.” Truth be told, I, Sunny, decided that.
- We (Jessamy, Leah, and myself) wrote the statement and shared it on basecamp for feedback.
- “Everyone” weighed in. Except Brandon.
- We published the statement, without Brandon seeing it or weighing in.
- The next day, Brandon posted in the Basecamp thread that he had just seen the statement in an email from Launa and was disappointed we did not give him the chance to weigh in with feedback. Afterall, he is our EDITOR.
- Brandon’s feedback: MLK quote is off topic and frankly, cliched. No opportunity to review the statement and provide feedback. No input in the process of how to announce it. Where are the receipts backing up these claims of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) anyway? How does IFVP demonstrate we support Black Lives Matter other than publishing a statement?
We were all besides ourselves with sorrow and disappointment. The entire board of Directors considers themselves champions of anti-racism. Despite our best efforts and intentions, we unknowingly hurt our friend and colleague (noooo!!!!). Below is what we learned from this particular situation:
Look to Black Leadership: Let your Black colleague provide counsel and guidance on how to address the issue. Don’t protect or shield your black colleague(s), or infantilize them (“I just don’t want them to have to deal with this.”). Have the discussion of “emotional labor” and how much or how little they want to be involved. Let them lead the process and ask for YOUR input. Shut up and listen to understand. Let them share their truths. Let their hand point you to the signs you cannot see.
Move with patience, grasshopper: First, slow down. Don’t rush to respond. Sleep on it. Give everyone a moment to sit with it and digest. Most importantly, let your Black colleague have the time to think on it too.
Have open conversations: Don’t shy away from acknowledging what happened. If anything, acknowledge everyone’s feelings while not allowing the assigning or claiming of blame. Again, shut up and listen to understand. Let the team work together to create the solution.
Create a safe space for mistakes, coz you’re gonna make more mistakes: It is imperative the whole team knows that mistakes will be made and all accept that. The team should also know no blame will be assigned or allowed - regardless of who made the mistake, we all own the mistake. Any problems are brought up with authenticity and kindness (Brandon wrote simply “I love you guys but I am disappointed.”). Feedback must be constructive, collaborative, and certainly includes acknowledgement of the disappointment.
Commit to DOING and BEING better: Collectively commit to making the individual, one another, and the team better. Self-development, constructive feedback loops and coaching are predicated on being able to accept feedback and integrate it. Life is a continual work in progress. Keep striving to be better and do better. Or as the saying goes, "Be the person your dog thinks you are." Or better yet, "Be the change you want to see in the world."