A few days ago I discovered an anonymous social media post calling me out for somethings I said at a public event. At the event I shared personal views about race and a hot button topic, the post was related to my statements at the event. What I say in public is open to interpretation and fair game for criticism. I hope people feel comfortable approaching me and they know I am open to conversation. I need to be held accountable for my views, especially when race and racial equity are involved. Discovering the anonymous posting sucked like the pungent bitter salty crack seed candy from my little kid days.
After the event no one reached out to say “Hey I heard you say this, can we talk?” or “I don’t agree with what you said, I’d like to share my perspective.” The event was attended by people of color and allies, which made the posting sting even more. I believed the meeting was a ‘safe’ or ‘brave’ space to share ideas and build trust, and I still believe the overall event accomplished what it was meant to do — open a dialogue about race. This one isolated incident doesn’t overshadow the good it accomplished.
While my comment was made in a professional context, it felt personal and when I saw the post I took it personally. I can’t separate my leadership from being a person of color or other parts of my life. My history and views are informed by my experiences as a person of color, and I am seen as a person of color. In order for me to be effective I have to bring my whole self, including my identity to the work.
The Three Levels of Action – Head, Heart, and Hands
A few months ago Heidi and I led a conversation around education, race, and history. To frame the conversation Heidi talked about how we must work with our head, heart, and hands. In other words, we have to be able to intellectualize and look at data, but also connect it to our hearts and begin to empathize and understand what the data means for a person living the experience behind the data. Moving through our head and heart allows us to move to action, hands, and use what we learn to create change.
Being called out anonymously on social media may have been an intellectual exercise for the person writing the post, but it struck at the heart and gut level for me. When I spoke up I knew I was taking a risk and I didn’t expect others to agree, but I expected my comments would be respected as one of many viewpoints.
A friend who is in elected office told me he thought by now he would make him more immune to criticism and to let things go, but even today criticism still stings like lemon juice in the eye. Leadership, especially as it relates to race and politics around race, is personal.
I’ve Got Your Back, Do you Have Mine?
When we share our views on race, we are stepping forward and taking a risk. We don’t have to agree with each other, in fact I sometimes get uncomfortable being in the majority. Being in the majority means I’m not hearing from a wide diversity of people. We need to show respect and be willing to have conversations that are different and challenge us. When it comes to talking about race we must have each other’s back by being honest, open, conversing, and committed to moving forward together.
In having each other’s back, we also need to have conversations where communities of color and allies can build relationships and work through differences. Communities of color are not homogeneous. As a community we benefit when we share our thoughts, relate, empathize, and look for learning. We don’t have to agree with each other, but we do need to see value in the differences. When we don’t spend time working together, divide and conquer strategies emerge which hurts all of us. We also have to commit to building relationships, not gossip or its social media equivalents, and commit to working towards the common good of equity not fakequity.
This coming Monday is Martin Luther King Day, a day to reflect on the civil rights movement and Dr. King’s leadership. In his speech “I Have a Dream” he wrote “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” In today’s world of faster and anonymous communication we still need to practice dignity and discipline, nothing will replace the getting to know each other part of our work. Racial equity work, has been and will continue to be, built upon understanding each other and working together. Let’s move forward on making his dream our reality.
Posted by Erin