An Open Letter To Black Grassroots DEI Professionals

Hello,

I’m glad you’re here even if much of America isn’t. I’ve had you on my mind and it’s finally time that I check in with you. I wonder how you’re doing. As you know the last year or so has been challenging to say the least. It has become even more complex as we’ve watched our industry (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) take center stage while being hijacked by the very oppressors that we spend our days, weeks, months, and years attempting to reform.

Who would have ever thought that companies would be dedicating billions of dollars to become better when it comes to being more inclusive? I remember seeing all of the headlines and beaming inside thinking to myself — Finally, finally, we will be heard. Finally so many will realize the errors of their ways. I also vividly remember a white man becoming angry with me, telling me that I was gullible if I truly believed that this meant change. I debated with him saying, “Surely if they are spending money on this they are devoted to change.” He laughed in my face and I chuckled as I assumed that he was attempting to demonstrate some performative concern at the wrong time. Once I’m done penning this letter I will be going to him and offering an apology. Sadly, he was right. That white man knows the nature of his white family and friends. He knew exactly what they were doing and he tried to warn me so that I wouldn’t find myself here today weeping about the grim reality that we have all found ourselves in.

From Joe and Kamala’s false promises to privileged white women suddenly and conveniently becoming DEI experts–many of us feel played. I’m writing this letter specifically for those that are “Grassroots”, meaning that some or perhaps most of your education is from experience. You may not be decorated with business degrees and high-level DEI certifications, but you’ve suffered physically, financially, mentally and more as a result of bias, microaggression, white fragility, white solidarity, and ….you get my drift. If you are anything like me there is a huge chance that you feel slighted and debilitated.

Professional Accolades Are Not A Sure Sign That They Are The Best Choice

I’ve been approached time and time again by organizations asking me to partner with them while offering their content. They praise me for my book and my initiatives and claim to love my message. They send over some sort of non-disclosure agreement followed by the materials that they want me to present. Some offering me scraps, others offering me an amount that could change my life. No matter the size of the offering they have ALL demonstrated that their understanding of the plight that their BIPOC employees face is completely skewed, tone-deaf, and problematic to say the least. They have also ALL been disappointed when I’ve provided my honest feedback. Eventually, I started to just make the changes and demonstrate the correct way to teach. Sadly, neither approach has been successful. They argue that their teachings are based on research and findings of those that have professional accolades and respectable training. My argument has been that this is what they have always leaned on, yet here we are. It should probably go without saying that I’ve either been rejected, ghosted or I’ve respectfully opted out of opportunities to perpetuate the rhetoric that they insist on investing in.

What About The Tokens That Pride Themselves In Playing The Game?

It would be nice to believe that when someone such as myself refuses to go along to get along these organizations would be scrambling to find options. I’m sure many of you, like myself, have come to the harsh conclusion that there are countless BIPOC individuals that WILL take their curriculum, digest it, repost it and regurgitate in a higher-pitched voice while smiling from ear to ear. Then they have the nerve to go home, rest well, wake up in the morning and look in the mirror without so much as a flinch. Some will take a step further and criticize you for not being able to “play the game”. My message to you is to hold on and continue to be vigilant. Our mission will not be in vain. I’m not sure what gives me confidence in this, but I know that if you are anything like me the only way to teach and share this particular work is with honesty, heart, and grit.

America Can’t Make Real Change While Depending On The Typical American Expert

We are asking those that have the power to do so to pay attention to those that they have positioned and essentially branded as the underdogs. If anyone truly believes that Harvard Professors, Polished Politicians, Celebrities & white women who deem themselves “Woo Woo” are the only way to truly create change — they are choosing to continue to refuse to look at the reality of America and the harm that it does to people like you and I. Imagine seeing someone like George Floyd being murdered in broad daylight. Perplexed bystanders stood by and despite his education, economic status, poise, or position almost everyone far and wide agreed that he is human. There is a wide consensus that this man while crying out and begging for relief did not deserve the modern-day lynching that ended his life. After said conclusion, a collective agreement is made that it shouldn’t have happened and white people in a position of authority must be held accountable. Another decision is made that there will be changes and initiatives put in place to increase diversity and make the nation more equitable and inclusive. Sounds good right? Pretty sure many of you took a sigh of relief as you stepped up to offer your experiences as a case study along with your opinion, availability, and rates. Also pretty sure that many of you watched these decision-makers look over you while continuing to seek guidance from those that they have always perceived as smart, capable, endearing, and worthy. Just imagine George Floyd giving up his very life to open doors that would create change only to have the door shut in the faces of the very ones that could sincerely speak on his behalf.

The Weaponization of DEI Training In The Workplace

I honestly can’t even believe I’m writing this. It reminds of the white man that tried to warn me. The Power brokers of America have truly shown their colors haven’t they? To be so bold. I’m not sure why I’m so shocked, but as the days pass the audacity grows. We’ve watched it. In pain and frustration, we’ve sat on the sidelines with our limited resources and minimal reach — watching organizations make this important issue a part of their HR dept.

We’ve seen them issue out million-dollar contracts to white-led companies while “trusting” them to do research and create relevant content or go out and hire others that can.

They’ve created all-white male DEI platforms for other white males to listen to. They’ve put a few Black “puppets” in life-changing positions while pointing eyes and budgets toward them.

They’ve created “safe spaces” for those that are triggered by anti-racism training. They have placed a focus on ableism, ageism, sexism, and Asian hate. The Biden administration even went so far as to sign an Asian hate crime bill right in our faces.

The companies that are truly cutting edge have tolerated discussions about the LGBTQ community. The term anti-racism alone rubs them the wrong way. Critical race theory in schools has been banned, covid mutual aid efforts have been stifled, voting rights are being crippled and reparation legislation is being mocked, but Dr. Robin DiAngelo continues to be booked and busy as the interwebs continue to hide her net worthwhile saying, “It’s under review.”

Food For Thought

In the interest of making a way out of no way, I’ve been pondering on how we can do the work and create the change that we’ve been called to do. How can we shift the focus to what DEI should truly be? In my book Confessions From Your Token Black Colleague, I put out a call to action. My goal has always been to get the attention of white men in power in America. My humble plea has been that they listen to and consider the experiences of people like you and me. Standing at the top of the ladder they are the ones that truly have the power to make real change. I’m also sure you know that no matter how many times I make the call to action, it will hold no weight if they refuse to turn their ear to hear.

As I stated in my book, so many of them trust white women in managerial positions to handle what they might call matters of the heart. While white women have applauded me in privacy, they have yet to carry my message to the one that they know it needs to reach. In fact, many have selfishly decided to take our stories, dilute them in their whiteness and capitalize on our industry which has sadly become a money-grabbing trend. Like clockwork, the white man trusts her judgment and we end up silenced, overlooked, and left behind.

One thing 2020 taught us is that many of these leaders only begin to listen when their bottom line is affected. Some would say that this makes no sense as they have voluntarily given up portions of their budgets to focus on DEI. I would beg to differ. A planned line item might create some stress, but unplanned line items–those that they have no control of, this seems to be the only thing that causes many to shift their focus. Remember Colin Kaepernick and his attempts to peacefully protest? Not only was he dismissed, but he also suffered a great deal for attempting to offer up solutions. Many only began to care when buildings began tumbling down. Others only began to pretend to care when they realized that it was a good financial decision. Companies with bold campaigns were benefiting from the buzz….then and only then did many of them move toward what is now clearly performative change.

What If?

With that said, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we all stepped off the ladder that we have found ourselves stuck on to go back to the bottom and place our attention there? Hear me out. According to HR Dive employers paid $439 Million to resolve EEOC claims in 2020. Can you imagine how much they would pay if every Black person that faced discrimination and or retaliation knew their rights and understood how to properly present their case while executing a sustainable strategy? As the scripture says, “My people perish for lack of knowledge.” What if we were to ban together to focus our energies, marketing dollars, and calls to action on reaching and supporting the underdogs of the country? What if we collectively came together with legal professionals, counselors, and others that could provide the necessary education, insight, and resources to stand up to these seemingly deafened and desensitized Giants? What if the result of such was the quoted $439 Million quickly turning into $439 Billion? I can imagine that then and only then there would be a massive wave of those in power looking toward us to gain an understanding of how they might play a part in creating real change. What if?
If you feel as though this letter was written just for you I would love to hear from you. May our imaginations continue to run wild with scenarios that would offer us a breath of fresh air. Keep dreaming, keep pushing, keep doing. Perhaps we are on the verge of truly overcoming.
Sincerely,
Tali

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Practitioner & Author of Confessions From Your Token Black Colleague, Keynote Speaker & Anti-Racism Coach