After all, what can a middle-aged white woman possibly offer as a perspective that will make any difference at all?

I love my job! It fills my cup and feeds my soul! As a facilitator I get to interact with different people and help them develop skills for being better individual contributors and leaders of people or processes.

As part of that development, many times we assess our participants around what drives and motivates them with instruments that map their behavioral traits. What is it they intrinsically value?

From my own assessments, I am an extreme altruist. That means I am driven to be helpful and assist others. My goal is to serve others (indiscriminately) and eliminate suffering. I get frustrated by harmful or inconsiderate actions toward others.

You can imagine how watching Officer Derek Chauvin hold a knee to George Floyd’s neck must have impacted me. Or watching a video of Ahmaud Arbery being shot in the middle of the street. Or hearing about Breonna Taylor being shot 8 times in the middle of the night by officers who were allowed to enter her home without warning. And on and on it goes….

I also facilitate Unconscious Bias training to organizations looking to engage their employees in difficult conversations that allow them to recognize their bias and understand how to “flip the script” in order to create awareness and new ways of working in order to promote inclusion.

Does it sound like I have all the answers when my friends, clients, colleagues ask me what can be done?

But here’s my dirty little secret: I don’t know what the answer is! If I am being brutally honest with myself, I would really rather the whole thing just went away. I want to sweep it under the rug, not confront it and just pretend these senseless acts and the thousands that have come before them never happened. I also feel ashamed of feeling that way.

I wanted to write about this two weeks ago when I, like the rest of the world, watched in shock and horror at seeing one human being treating another in such an inhumane way. I was angry, shocked, depressed and felt guilty for being white. I was also inspired by people flooding to social media to express their outrage and a call to action. And while I quickly sat down to write about #BlackLivesMatter and white privilege, I couldn’t find the words. After all, what can a middle-aged white woman possibly offer as a perspective that will make any difference at all? It certainly won’t bring back all those who have suffered the brutal impacts of racism.

And here’s another dirty little secret: I was worried that by writing publicly it might alienate some of my clients. Our business has been severely impacted by Covid-19 and my first thought was “I can’t risk losing a client right now!” That was my way of being okay with sitting this one out. My justification for hitting the easy button.

The problem was that in those quiet places of my mind. You know – when it’s first thing in the morning and you’ve awakened but not quite ready to get out of bed, so you just lie there and let your thoughts ramble. It was in those moments that I reflected on my professional and personal experiences. From a professional standpoint we teach that we all see the world through our own lens. That lens is a culmination of our experiences we have growing up, the people that surround us, as well as the external factors/experiences in the world. It’s our truth, if you will.

In that space of quiet, I knew I could not yet again just be a bystander. I couldn’t justify my silence with, “but I teach Unconscious Bias so I’m doing my part,” nor could I let the fear of alienation allow me to merely offer my hopes and prayers. I needed to confront my own truths, muster the courage to speak up and engage.

I will once again go back to “what can a middle-aged white woman possibly bring to this conversation?”
Here is what I’ve come up with:

1.) Continue to acknowledge and own the fact that I have biases and bias impacts behavior.
2.) Acknowledge white privilege is real and use it to listen without judgement, augment the voices of the oppressed and speak up when I see unjust treatment of others.
3.) Continue to educate myself. I highly recommend reading White Fragility by Robin DeAngelo and Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult.
4.) In my trainings, continue to push people out of their comfort zone in order to have those crucial conversations that will create change in their lives and in the workplace.
5.) Understand that I’m probably going to get it wrong more than I get it right. This is where my friends and colleagues will need to call me out, set me straight and continue to push me in ways that make me uncomfortable. I need to challenge my assumptions!
6.) Don’t let my fear or discomfort be an excuse for staying on the sidelines. See #2.

If some of these answers may seem a little vague, you’re right! That’s because I don’t have all the answers yet but I’m going to work to change that and add more clarity to what can often seem so ambiguous. This is where you come in: what advice, perspective, or criticism would you give me? Let’s get the conversation started.

– Donna

Photos courtesy Catherine Magid. Our home town Greensboro’s South Elm shop district got a positive art makeover on its temporarily boarded store fronts.