I was talking to a lady the other day about our current climate relating to racial tensions in the United States. She was angry. It really bothered her that many people were saying things like “I didn’t know it was that bad” or “This is the first time I realized what you all were going through.” She even noted how she’d been tapped as the “black friend” to help her non-black friends understand things so they could feel better about what was going on. This lady, like many others, indicated it wasn’t her job to help these folks figure out THEIR problem. I asked her, whose job it was and how she thought they should go about it? At that very moment she broke down and it was clear that she had reached her breaking point filled with frustration, exasperation, fear, and hurt. She was stuck! She wanted people with a biased mindset and racist behaviors to change but didn’t have the capacity, tools, or desire to help them change because she didn't’ make them that way in the first place.
Once she gathered herself, I interjected. I asked her if it was a fair comparison to think biased and racist behaviors are metaphorically like a disease that has a cure but since people can deal with the symptoms they choose not to seek it? She pondered the question with curiosity in her eyes. Before she answered I then said, “do you think part of the role of diversity/equity/inclusion professionals is to help people who have suddenly had an awakening deal with the symptoms of the racial and cultural divide?” She said yes. I then said, when was the last time you referred these people who are draining your racial empathy to a diversity professional to help them? She hesitated.
We know physical health issues are dealt with by a physician and mental health issues are dealt with by a behavioral health provider. There is a need to understand the issues of racism, bias, bigotry are in most cases best dealt with by professionals in the field who have comprehensive knowledge of the research as well as possess the ability to coach, influence, and help those who are the offending persons identify and unlearn biased thinking patterns, learn more on the DEI spectrum and improve the culture in organizations which in turn could improve society. This is a real-world problem and it is well past time to take the issues of racial fatigue seriously.
If you want to see change, real change you must understand the way to obtain that change. Human patterns of behavior can add to the frustration, angst, and overwhelm we feel when dealing with emotionally taxing situations. Race relations can be one of those situations. If your pattern is to allow people to pour all of the baggage that goes with it into you and you don’t have the tools to manage it, it can be too much. Even when you do possess those tools, it is still key to practice your own self-care as to not succumb to the fatigue that is indicative of giving so much of yourself in roles that serve others.
Here are some tips:
- Know what you know and get info on what you don’t — If you aren’t a professional in this area, it is easy to get overwhelmed trying to practice diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies with those who either don’t get it or in some cases don't want to get it. Find healthy ways to educate yourself and don’t bite off more than you can chew. Find resources to help you. Asking questions and finding help in this space is not a weakness nor a cause for shame regardless of what side of the racial dilemma side you sit on. Asking the right person; however, is a key to helping you get through.
- Professionals get tired too — Who is in your support network? If you are a DEI professional, a coach, responsible for human resources, or a leader championing diversity, don’t forget to find a support network asap if you don’t have one. This work can be a lot for anyone and professionals take in so much of other people’s emotional energy. If the world was meant to be carried on the shoulders of one person, we’d only have one person in the world. Since we have billions of people occupying this living space with us, it is important to remember there are those who want to be there for us too. Ask for help!
- It’s not a solo act — There seems to be millions of problems to fix in this journey we call life. I don’t know that anyone has actually counted specifically the number of unique problems humanity has with accuracy. In a world where people compete for dollars and clients associated with those dollars, we can get caught up in wanting to be the ONLY answer to everyone's problems. That solo act mindset is a recipe for self-care disaster if we aren’t careful. There are plenty of problems and there are plenty of professionals to help solve them. A competing mind can yield better results if change it to a meeting mind. Let’s meet at the table, share resources and we can collectively work on these issues. There are enough clients for all of us. There are also enough problems and if not careful enough burnout.
- There are many roads — Highways/roads around the world seem to be endless in number as people build more and more. There plenty of ways to get to our desired destinations. In the lifetime of people like my parents, they remember there not being many of the highways that exist today. It was a problem. The solution became to create more roads to get to the places people were going to. As you travel this road to improving diversity, equity and inclusion remember there are many roads. I may not work with my clients as you do and vice versa. As a non-professional in this space, you may not find your journey the same as others. The ticket is to know that you are on the road and you are going in the right direction. Respect the way others work so we can all get to the same place…a world full of better collaboration across race, gender, orientation, religion, economic class, and culture.
- Think smarter not harder — This is tough work. People have a host of broad span beliefs and limiting beliefs. They are tied to ego identity and not everyone has the same skills or capacity when dealing with change or growth. Know your boundaries. Know your skills. Know when to refer in or out. Know when to ask for help. Know when to educate yourself more. Know when to take a break. Lean in to your own emotions because they have a message for you. They are telling you something about what is happening with you just as they are telling your clients the same. The key is to listen and direct yourself accordingly.
I have been fortunate to have a great tribe of DEI professionals around me. They are collaborative. They believe the meeting is necessary and competing can be best when seen through the right lens. If nothing else, 2020 has shown us there is more work than there are people to do it. We can however get this done, respect where others are on the journey, and make changes to help all of humanity.