Performative Checkboxes: The D&I Committee
Updated: Oct 20, 2021
"We need a committee focused on diversity and inclusion." This statement has unsurprisingly left the mouths of many employers this past year. The creation of such a committee establishes a starting point for change, which is often, if not always, a knee jerk reaction for organizations attempting to save face during racially charged times.
As a Black woman and employee, why should I applaud or acknowledge this performative act? History has taught me that Americans cannot handle drastic change and often revert back to ignorance when problems aren't plastered plainly in front of them. We over study until the sense of urgency softens. We prolong change until the impacted employees and/or communities lose hope.
When working with organizations, I've observed a strong trend of White participants wanting to rush in and find solutions (i.e. creating a committee). Unfortunately, such participants struggle to reckon with their inner self to understand the context in which racism thrives. If we do not understand the mechanism in play, how can we effectively alter it? I do not wish to check a box on an organization's "we are not racist" check list. Having a single training and creating a committee is not enough! There must be frequent by in at all levels to truly create and sustain cultural change.
Why is Black, Indigenous and other non-White American communal trauma required for White Americans to sustain in their antiracism work? White Americans exist in a real, separate reality that numbs them to the experiences of "the other". The mind shift required to co-create an inclusive culture is not yet evident enough in White America.
As children, we have all touched a burning stove and learned (sometimes after being burned repeatedly): The stove is hot, do not touch! The communal trauma of non-White American communities is the heated stove element. White America has felt the burn and created their committee to heal their wounds instead of turning off the element itself. When they grow comfortable (forget), they burn themselves again and provide the quick solution to absolve the weight of the injury. Some even go beyond that and avoid the kitchen altogether.
So to all employers, I say: Committees are not the answer! Employees/communities impacted by structural and institutional racism have already shared what needs to be done. No need to study the racism issue further. You have the receipts (ie. HR complaints, budget priorities). And do not voluntell your BIPOC employees into your knee jerk committees. Hire external BIPOC expert consultants to help your organization move forward.