Dear SGO community,
Almost a year ago, we wrote a letter to all of you sharing our thoughts on what was at that point in time a swell of protest against social injustices, sparked by the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent support around the Black Lives Matter movement. We wanted to take a moment to reflect on what’s happened since then, and share some further thoughts on where we go from here. While those of you who know us can attest that we typically tend to ‘share a brain’, as we like to say, we decided to intentionally share some separate reflections.
Friends, I’ve really been struggling with how to show up, be present, and keep this work going. In my position with SGO, I oversee our DEI programming and also facilitate. I bring my own identities to this work every day, showing up not just as a boss or a facilitator, but as a biracial, disabled woman. The age old dilemma for DEI practitioners, especially those with marginalized identities, is this: How can we process, understand, and compartmentalize our own emotions and feelings when trauma occurs, in the quickest way possible? We must almost instantaneously be prepared to not only hold space for others, but in many instances also share our personal thoughts and experiences as they relate to whatever trauma we’re collectively working through. To be clear, even as a DEI practitioner, this is work that goes above and beyond and is not something that I can park at the door until I’m done with my 9-5.
In just the past eleven days alone, we have witnessed not only the Chauvin trial, but also the murders of Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, 8 FedEx employees (including 4 individuals of Sikh descent), and Ma’Kiah Bryant. That’s just death, I’m not even including the continued impact of the pandemic, sustained and pervasive Asian hate, daily acts of violence and discrimination, or news like what we’re just starting to hear around what happened to the remains of children killed in the Philadelphia MOVE bombing. I don’t have the luxury of time to sit and dwell and grieve, because a fresh new trauma seems to emerge on a daily basis. It feels, and is, utterly exhausting.
In the wake of Tuesday’s stunning guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, my immediate reaction upon learning the news was shock, followed by relief. Then, all of a sudden a myriad of emotions swept over me. At first I wanted to shout to the world: this was justice for George Floyd! However, I had to take a step back from this position– justice would mean that George Floyd would still be alive, and this would never have happened in the first place. Justice would mean that we wouldn’t have had this verdict followed almost immediately by the news of Ma’Kiah Bryant, a child, shot dead by the same police she had called to help defend her. True justice will never be attainable until we address the systemic and pervasive failures around policing, policies, and so much more that is broken within our society.
I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on what would or could justice look like in our world? How do we get there? How can we address the injustices while supporting ourselves, our friends, our colleagues, and our organizations? I’m more and more convinced that all of us must be involved in this fight. My social media feeds and my personal conversations are filled with people with marginalized identities who have been doing the work, and who will continue to do the work. But I really need those of you with privilege to step up at this point and not just be sympathetic, or bystanders, or allies. I need full on advocates. We have to stop relying on oppressed people to fix these problems.
Whatever you are dealing with or feeling right now, I encourage you to take the time and space you need. If you don’t feel personally connected to any of these recent events, you might consider what it would look like to learn more about racism, systemic oppression, and white supremacy. If you have privilege, examine and leverage it. If you have power, use it. Those of us who are in leadership positions need to be checking in, having conversations, and showing support even if it feels discomforting. And for those of you who have been and are still in the work, I see you and I appreciate you, deeply.
For those of you who know me, I’m rarely at a loss for words. This year I’ve been relatively quiet on the socials and Felicia has done much of the writing on behalf of the company, though, as she says, we do typically share a brain, so I wholeheartedly echo everything she’s written.
I am very aware of the whiteness I bring to this space and it’s something I think about every day. I’ve approached this year doing my best to support my colleagues (I rarely refer to our employees as such, as far as I’m concerned, we’re all colleagues), our training clients, and our community. Admittedly, I could be doing a better job, particularly on that last front. More will be said in future, but for now I’ll leave it at that, as I’d like to address the emotional weight many of us are carrying at the moment.
We humans are pretty messy and over the course of the past few days, we’re only seeing more complexity. Like many, I was both relieved and surprised by the verdict in the Chauvin case, but the victory feels almost hollow given the constant tragedy we’re witnessing on a daily basis. The surge in mass shootings on top of the continued murders by police of people of color is enough to make anyone want to throw their hands up in the air and give up. To be honest, once no action was taken after Newtown, I’d become numb to other mass shootings. If we can’t rally around reasonable gun regulation after a mass shooting at a school, how can we fix anything? The same feeling of numbness occurred for me after the Rodney King trial (also caught on camera almost 20 years ago). During the Chauvin case I was convinced he would walk free (and I’m a pretty optimistic person). The systems have been set in place so that we as a society have given up any sense of reasonable accountability. So, now my brain hurts, because he was found guilty and yet we are still witnessing increased violence because one guilty verdict doesn’t take away the fact that the systems of oppression are still very much in place.
So now what? It seems quite clear the “now what” is that we continue to fight systemic oppression. This is no time for complacency, even though I know we are all so tired. We’ve been given a glimmer of what accountability looks like for those in power and that’s powerful. It’s reassuring. And it means that change can happen because ultimately we messy humans can sometimes do right, even when we have enormous amounts of power that could corrupt us or make us take the easier (but more harmful) path.
Systemic oppression is far and wide and can be overwhelming when thinking about how we can help to create a more just world. We talk a lot about Spheres of Influence at SGO, and I think it can be really helpful to frame it in that way. What are ways that we, in our own sphere, can make a difference? For me, it’s continuing to support my colleagues, clients, and the SGO community. It means showing up when I’m needed (and shutting up when I’m not). It means continuous and intentional self-education. It means speaking with people in my personal life about these issues. It means holding politicians accountable and voting with my dollars. It also means giving myself a little bit of grace when I mess up, learn from it and move on, because that absolutely does and will happen.
What will it mean for you?