“Forget intention, are you having an impact?”
Last week I walked deep in the waters of privilege and power. A colleague told me they recommended me for a opportunity because I am ‘a person of color.’ Their words. To my face. I totally did not know what to do. And they totally did not know what to say next. After a few awkward stutters from my colleague I tried to move the conversation forward.
Then I went home to process.
I was taken back by the statement. Offended even. How could one of my liberal colleagues feel it appropriate to say that they recommended me for an opportunity because of my race? More importantly, what was I going to do about it?
After a day of thinking, I decided to respond via email. I did not want my thoughts to be lost in a flurry of emotions and frustration. I took my time and crafted an email that listed why I felt uncomfortable and how the conversation made me feel. Then we talked face to face.
The points I want(ed) to be clear are that:
- It is not the responsibility of people of color to diversify organizations and institutions.
- It is not the responsibility of people of color to make white folks/folks in power to feel comfortable with diversity.
- Diversity that is not impactful if it is not intentional.
Privilege and power come with responsibility. What you say and how you respond to things said to you are based on the privilege and power you hold.
There are more than enough people of color to fill executive leadership and board of director positions. The fact that more of these positions are not filled by people of color is not acciential. We can no longer say ‘there are not enough’ or expect people of color to continue to fight to kick down barriers. It is time for folks of privilege to use their powers for good.
If you think the world should be more diverse, make it happen.
This is my edited response. What I said to the person in question is private. The themes and why I responded are universal.
The important fact is that I spoke up. I did not let this blip on the radar pass. I did not hide my concerns. I did not let someone else’s power trump my feelings. I did not let my feelings be invalidated by someone else’s intentions.
Impact trumps intention every time.
Have you been in a similar position? If so, how did you respond? Which was more important – intention or impact?