Case in point #1 – letter from a struggling white woman
In the diversity discussion, there are voices that remain largely voiceless in the public domain, although unfiltered and free flowing in the safety of their “own kind”.
Now to make this personal, ask yourself, honestly, what are some of the typical things you talk about “among your own” but dare not say publicly? What were some of the descriptive words that flowed from your lips while watching this week’s State Of the Union address by President Obama, or the NFL playoffs?
So who are the voiceless? Why do they stay silent? And how do they – and we – lose in the final analysis when they aren’t given air time?
Well, the voiceless are typically the folks who harbor strong feelings or, genuine questions, about matters of diversity, social issues, but hunker down in fear of being tarred and feathered if they express those feelings, or ask those questions in the “wrong” – or awkwardly clumsy – way. Arguably the “hot button” topics that they tend to hold back on are race, religion, sexual orientation, politics, or a combination of any of the four.
Case in point #1 is a reaction to an article I shared with a select group recently, “Implications of the Cosby dilemma for Black women,” particularly the response I got back from “KayBee,” a talented and courageous white woman I met years ago.
You see, she opened up to me about her experience almost a decade ago and the article I shared seemed to reopen an old wound.
“As you know Terry, I am VERY curious and open to race and diversity issues. I WANT to talk about it, understand it, be sensitive to it and try to find ways to ask the questions without coming across as racist.
Sometimes I’m afraid to even open up a black/white topic (like the last few months) with my black friends for fear that they will think or say “What am I your only black friend? Is that why you are asking me this question?” Not that I hear those responses, but my history of accidentally offending someone by asking questions about sensitive topics makes me afraid to do so. In reality we NEED to talk about race. Not doing so doesn’t help us get to the bottom of the issues.
I grew up dirt poor. I’m not talking about middle class poor, but no food in the house, can’t make the monthly bills, can’t afford school supplies poor. Worked hard in school, got scholarships and loans, and busted my butt in college. Then a lucky break. I got hired by a large company and I continued to work darn hard to achieve what I have today.
Based on comments I have heard from some of the black women I work with, at first glance they assume I have no idea where they are coming from because I’m white and “rich.” Many assumed that my parents went to college (no) and obviously paid for my college (another no) and that is why I am successful today. I sometimes wonder if other races realize they have biases and some degree of prejudices against white woman.
In my 20’s I went to many parties and clubs where I ended up being one of the only white women in the place. What can I say? I prefer good dancing and music LOL. Part of the reason I avoided dating black men is because if I showed up, I’d get the hate stare from many black women, somewhat of a ” how dare you date one of our black men!”
I‘ve heard black women talk about the same issues in this (Cosby) article and how white women are “stealing all of our good men”. Fundamentally I get it, but what if I had fallen in love with a black man? Would the mere fact that he is black make me (a white woman) a bad person “stealing” the black women’s guy? Would love to hear your thoughts on any of this.”
To be clear, there’s 100% congruence between “KayBee’s” letter above and how she talks about thorny issues in groups or on a one-on-one basis. I’ve witnessed her “going there” on tough issues on many occasions.
So, how do we lose when the “KayBees” of the world either don’t have a voice or are too terrified to ask questions for fear of being slapped into silence with one of the many “insensitive” labels?
For starters, we risk losing out on perspectives – including those that may jar us a bit – that may force us to take a long hard look at the person in the mirror, to reexamine our stuff, the junk in our trunks in the form of biases, judgments and preconceived notions.
Second, we become better informed, better people and make better decisions when we allow ourselves to be open to “unpopular” perspectives.
Third, we miss out on the “Kay/bees” of this world who can enrich our personal lives and our workplaces, plus we miss out on opportunities to help them grow by filling in their knowledge gaps.
And on top of all that, the “KayBees” can finally free themselves from the stifling effects of holding back, scripting, editing or measuring their words.
Now stay tuned for case in point #2, a stew of silent voices from the many conversations I’ve had with those who have strong views – faith-based and otherwise – about matters of LGBT but are afraid to express them; folks I know from personal experience are not haters, gay bashers or homophobes, unfair conversation stopping labels that keep them, too, “hidden in the closet.”
And case in point #3? You’ll just have to wait and see!
©Terry Howard is an award-winning diversity guru, trainer, writer, corporate story teller and senior associate with Diversity Wealth based in Douglasville, GA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at (470) 558-7310