Ordinarily I’d have plucked something from the news – like the horrible but not unexpected exoneration of the police officer who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice – to write about this week. But like many of you, as the New Year approaches I’m contemplating life and work in 2016.
Of course, one cannot do this effectively without considering what transpired this year, and I’ve gone even farther back than that. I’ve gone all the way back to 2008 when we launched Diversity Executive magazine.
It was an exciting time for me career-wise. I’d never been boots on the ground with a magazine launch before. There was a lot to be done, research, design considerations, an audience to learn in and out. But we must have done something right. The response from the community was immediately supportive and overwhelmingly positive, and I learned so much; I’m still learning.
Before, there were moments when I’d just feel off. I’d wonder what was wrong with something that happened to me at work or during an interaction on the street or in a store as I went about my business. But it was only when I began to immerse myself in the whys and whats of diversity and inclusion, when I learned about microaggressions and the psychological and systemic roots of discrimination and bias that I was able to adequately explain those nebulous feelings.
It was at once comforting and unsettling to be able to identify action and motivations in this context. I’ve always been the “smart girl.” The analytical one who picked things apart and examined the pieces until I could put them back together to my satisfaction. But that’s the thing. Satisfaction is hard to come by on this particular beat. While there are certainly wins to celebrate in diversity and inclusion, they are often small, sporadic and not always sufficient to offset the bone deep, soul soreness that is the minority experience in the world today.
So, as Carrie Bradshaw always said, I can’t help but wonder; am I better or worse off now that I have all of this very specialized knowledge?
As a black woman, what they call a double minority, I’ve always had to look between the lines for hidden meanings. Sometimes it was a matter of physical safety.
Other times it was more of an internal knowledge gathering exercise, more subjective, less concrete, but always personal. Now I see everything. I may even see things that aren’t always there.
But that’s the thing about knowledge. Once you learn something, you can’t unlearn it. I can’t unlearn just how widespread and endemic racism and gender bias are in this country, in the world. I can’t unlearn the fact that the color of my skin and the fact that I have breasts likely will always supercede me personally.
I will always be a black woman before I am Kellye Whitney. And that black woman will always have to prove herself, to do more than is perhaps necessary to be accepted or treated decently, to ease herself into situations others step forward and join without thought or consideration for another’s comfort before their own. But I have also learned that while I am forced very much against my will to deal with the repercussions of this systemic negativity, how I do so is up to me. My reactions I can control. Not always easily, this is after all very personal stuff. But my reactions are still utterly my own, and so they will remain.
As I move into the New Year I’m committed to meeting each challenge with an open heart and an open mind. I will embrace change, and I will do my part to promote it for myself and for those who come behind me. When I’m tired, I will rest. And when my soul is particularly weary I will cultivate joy and beauty in other areas of life until my spirit has been replenished enough to rejoin the fight.
In short, I will expand my blog coverage area beyond diversity and inclusion, but I will not – as I had considered – abandon it completely. I can’t. At the end of the day, I’m still a woman, and I’m still black. That is my reality. To deny it, despite the personal cost of continually facing the truth of that exceedingly tough situation is not possible for me. Turning a blind eye or a straight back would do as much damage to my spirit as facing these often unpalatable facts and figures.
As we welcome 2016, I hope you will join me in meeting the challenges of the workplace and of modern life with an equally open heart and mind. And I hope that all of our spirits remain strong and whole enough to effect the change we know should exist in a diverse and equitable world.