Dear white people, we need to talk about diversity and inclusion

A longread where you can read what some of the things white people should pay attention to when it comes to diversity according to a fellow white person.

Dear white people, we need to talk about diversity and inclusion

This is aimed at white people. I want to convey what I’ve learned in the past two years or so about D&I. I believe there’s a difference between hearing things over and over and over from marginalized folks, and hearing it from someone like y’all.

A draft of an earlier version has been sitting here for a few days. I decided to scrap that and start over. I suppose I’m less angry and more sad. Hopefully this will not take away from the impact of it all.

Need to preface this article with the following so I’m setting appropriate expectations. First off, I’m a white person myself (in case you’re new to me), and literally anything that I’m about to put down on here, minorities have been screaming for YEARS. Very few of us have been listening, and a majority of us are still NOT listening despite patting ourselves on the back for doing the listening bit. I’ll get to this later.

Secondly, if you’re from a marginalized group, and I’ve gotten something wrong, please please reach out, and let me know. I know that while I’ve hopefully come a long way from where I was, I still have all of my white upbringing as the base of my existence, and I’m working super hard to unlearn all the conditioning that harms others. White upbringing here means that we’ve been brought up surrounded by white people, and white people’s ideas, their views and values of the world. We are privileged. That does not mean that there aren’t white people who are struggling – of course there are. Let me leave Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand answer what I mean by this:

Thirdly, if reading this article makes you, as a white person, mad, GOOD! That was my intended outcome for you, and then I know this article hit home, and you have work to do.

Okay, so let’s start. Here are the things I’ve learned:

Understand that intention is meaningless. It’s impact where it’s at

It doesn’t matter whether you intended your words as a joke if their impact was hurtful towards someone. You telling them to “lighten up, take a joke” is actually abusive, because not only are you erasing the harm you’ve done, you’re also putting the responsibility on them. “It’s their fault for feeling hurt, I dun not’n wrong!”

No. You did.

If a child, who’s not old enough to know what the swastika is, decides it’s fun to draw it on city properties and does that, their graffiti isn’t going to be any less fascist because they had no idea about it.

This plays out in a number of different ways. Having a half-assed D&I policy is like that. Using sexist / racist imagery in your marketing materials is like that. Using pepe the frog in your internal slack, or worse, as your slack avatar, is like this.

You could instead not do any of that.

Understand that you reach for things that you think are funny at the expense of others and you should stop

“But all of this SJW thing makes interacting with others no longer fun :-(”

Yes, that’s an actual thing someone said to me.

If you find glee in things that hurt others, perhaps go and sit with it and try to figure out why.

Yes, I get that we white people have been brought up with a bunch of shorthands that our parents, teachers, colleagues, bosses, friends, TV, radio all kept throwing around as normal, but equating Nigerian people with spammers fucking hurts Nigerian people.

Joking about how women should go back to the kitchen fucking hurts women.

There’s a very good reason why a big chunk of people on Twitter are mad about pretty much most stand up comedians. This is an easy topic to google, so go and look into it.

Yes, it takes work to figure out what thoughts are problematic. It takes more work to shut that down. It gets better with practice.

An excellent way to get educated on issues like this is to read the words of people who whiteness hurts

Roughly three years ago I started deliberately seeking out and following women in tech as they were the very first group I had examined my views toward. I started following a lot of vocal women and just read their words.

That led me to follow people of colour in tech. Then I followed people who identified as other than male or female and people who weren’t heterosexual. Then people who aren’t even in the tech field.

Most of my followers who tweet actively aren’t in tech fields, aren’t white. It has helped me understand issues IMMENSELY, but only if paired with the next point.

As a white person, when you read the words of another person who belongs to a marginalised group, just shut up.

The urge to “well, actually” anyone is going to be HUGE. Resist it. The moment you start a response with “well, actually, not all white people”, you’ve lost and you’ve just very accurately depicted yourself as the exact kind of white person who is the main source of everyone’s problem.

“But...” I hear your objection. Shut up. Listen. Sit with it. Look into WHY this bothers you, but stay silent. You’re about to learn something about yourself.

Also resist the urge to do sealioning. To find out what it is, go to the source:

Accept that as a white person, we’re blind by upbringing. It’s an actual design feature in the history of humans. We have no idea what other non-white people go through at the hands of whites, unless we shut up and listen, and accept it.

“Yes, but really not all men / white people.”

Look at you being smart and shit, have a cookie. OF COURSE not all men / white people. Go and read this piece: “Men are trash”: the surprisingly philosophical story behind an internet punchline.

Here’s the important bit from it:

But surely not all men are trash? This objection is as illuminating as it is common. First, note that people rarely object by saying “men aren’t trash.” Instead, they say “not all men are trash.” The implication is that it is widely accepted that many men are trash.

Regardless, it’s troubling to have to tackle the “not all men” objection every time we try to critique masculinity. It puts the spotlight on men who aren’t a problem, rather than men who are, and serves as a distraction tactic which derails and trivialises the original grievance. Imagine we are talking about a spate of road traffic accidents, and it is noted that “people are driving too fast.” It would be strange and unhelpful to respond with “not all people are driving too fast!” It misses the point.

But I’m one of the good ones!!!

No. You’re not. I’m not. I can go out of my way to make sure people of all races / genders / sexualities feel safe and comfortable around me, but I have ZERO right to expect anyone to not be afraid of me.

Yes, it sucks. It’s something we have to deal with, and I wish it wasn’t like this, but this is what we have to work with.

I need to be conscious of the fact that maybe I’m non-threatening, non-abusive, maybe even nice, I may even catch the myriad microagressions, but I KNOW that other people who look just like me have given cause for them to be afraid of people like me. I am people like me.

There are a number of ways we need to accommodate this.

If you, as a white guy, find yourself walking behind a woman late at night, and you think they haven’t noticed you, make yourself known. Cough, make some noise, let them know you’re not stalking / following them. Or perhaps cross the road and walk on the other side.

Actually, read these tweets:

An image for a twitter thread talking about making people feel safer in public. Link to the thread follows the image.

Here’s a link to the tweets:

Understand that people have developed entire coping mechanisms when encountering whiteness that most folks aren’t aware of

These include secret hand gestures, DMs, code words, canaries, having their friends hover and keep an eye on them. Marginalised people’s opsec is far far far more advanced than most white people can imagine.

The reason? Because they need it, because it saves their life. Because we’re (white people) aren’t doing enough, or, most of the time, anything at all.

See this, and this other thread for just two examples.

And this article, which I come across this morning while still editing this article:

Tweet reads: Lol at dude who wrote a 24 point post to my website on how my survival tips for women in tech offends his sensibilities. Feel free to get equally offended. Here they are! Link to tweet and article follows.

Link to tweet about the survival tips:

Link to the article about the survival tips:

It’s a really eye opening reading. Please go and read this one too!

Understand that all of this is systemic and internalised

When I talk about systemic, it means that the entire society is set up to favour one group of people over literally everyone else. It’s the way government is set up, it’s the way law enforcement is set up, and it’s the way most white CEOs and hiring managers are set up.

I say internalised, because for the most part we don’t even know it. It forms part of our identity.

Screenshot of a quote tweet. Original tweet has a news story about a California company specializing in producing packs of pre-rolled joints. Quote tweet reads: "My uncle went to jail for 17 years on a three strikes marijuana charge, and once the state got 17 years of free labor, they deported him. Link to tweet follows.

Link to tweet:

Screenshot of a quote tweet. Original tweet has a video of a naked white man being chased by police. Text says: "This White man killed 2 women and a child! Not complying & resisting arrest. ARRESTED ALIVE AND UNHARMED. There is a list of innocent, unarmed black men and BLACK CHILDREN (Tamir Rice) (broken heart emoji) that didn't kill anyone executed by the police. THIS IS WHY WE KNEEL. Quote tweet reads: Holy hell. If he's black, he's got 30 bullets in him in the first five seconds. Link to the tweet follows.

Link to tweet above:

Understand that your responses to all of these are all predictable, and all have been handled

No, I’m not going to handle every single “but...” you’re throwing at me, and no, it doesn’t mean that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Nice try though.

The mind has this incredibly strong urge to want to protect itself from feeling unpleasant. Being wrong is unpleasant, realising that you’ve caused harm is even more unpleasant, so you’ll go and reach for an incredibly wide assortment of possible responses to make sure you’re not actually the bad person in all of this. Among them the notion that “with all of this, there’s a crusade against white men!!! See this very blog post!!”

My dude, if this blog post is the most unpleasant thing to happen to you all day, you are one of the luckiest people ever! Also see this and the article linked from it:

Tweet linking to an article. Tweet reads: Fellow men: 1. Grab a pen and paper and write: "I promise not to talk/post/argue about this for at least 72 hours." 2. Read this piece top to bottom. 3. Again. 4. Keep your promise while letting sink in the fact it's the tip of the monumental iceberg. Article's title is: "Are Men Abused Online More Than Women?" Link to tweet and article follows.

Link to tweet:

Link to article: Are Men Abused Online More Than Women?

Also, because I find this tweet important, and it fits here best, and it ties in with the notion that people are going to do everything to keep themselves from feeling unpleasant:

Tweet reads: Reminder abuse isn’t just physical, it’s: gaslighting, emotional manipulation, moodiness / anger when not receiving own way, silent treatment, using interpersonal problems as an excuse to be an ass, expecting special favors / unquestioning compliance due to status / ego. Link to tweet follows

Link to tweet above:

People of colour are not there to hand you information. They owe you literally nothing

I see this a lot too. It’s mostly white people trying to argue with very valid criticism a black person said, and it’s usually along the lines of “oh but where’s the proof?! Where can I find more about it?”, to which they get told to search for those things on the internet, white people usually make the, again very predictable, response that obviously they don’t have the info to back it up, and therefore the original claim is invalid, and therefore whiteness wins again! So very smart.

Also see “Mister Gotcha” by Matt Bors on The Nib.

Ah, I already hear your rising rage in which you’re going to tell me that the onus to prove something is on the person claiming that something. Very smart, not at all predictable.

First, they don’t have time to hold the hands of every white person and gently guide them. Second, there’s an immense history of hurt caused by white people, the rage and impatience is absolutely and totally warranted. Third, all the relevant information is readily available. Demanding to be spoon-fed info is yet another way of pushing responsibility off of oneself (also see gaslighting). Fourth, assume that in the beginning they did give the info only to be sealioned to oblivion.

Understand that minorities of ALL kinds use the block / mute functionality very judiciously, again very much warranted, because why on earth would you want someone around who’s of no use, but at least super annoying at best, and threatening at worst?

Understand that what you might think is being super-fair is actually trivialising

I see conversations over and over again where a white person claims that they don’t care what the colour of someone’s skin is, be it black, white, blue.

Wait, blue?

I suppose it comes from a misconceived notion that if you’re okay with a nonsensical colour, like blue for humans, you REALLY don’t care about colour. What it actually means is that you’re not taking this issue seriously, because to you it is a game, because you can afford to talk about blue skinned people who are a figment of your imagination.

Tweet with image. Text reads: trying to enjoy my life as a black dude but I always have to be careful not to get transformed into a marketable toon creature for the international market. Image has three pairs of cartoon humans who got turned into cartoon creatures: Lance Sterling from Spies in Disguise as a black guy in a suit on top left, a pigeon on its right. Tiana from The Princess and the Frog mid left, with her as a frog next to it, and Joe Gardener from Disney's upcoming movie Soul bottom left, and him as a green translucent ghost next to it. Link to tweet follows.

Link to tweet above:

Yes, I can hear you saying that’s not what you wanted to say AT ALL, that’s not what you meant. Again, predictable. Go and read the bit about intent vs impact again.

Okay, okay, but what does ALL of this have to do with Diversity and Inclusion? You’ve not said a word about either of those things!

I haven’t yet. Also earlier I mentioned I’d write more about something later:

Very few of us have been listening, and a majority of us are still NOT listening despite patting themselves on the back for doing the listening bit. I’ll get to this later.

When a company is focused on hiring more diverse people, that’s commendable. When they’re making sure that their outside communication is using diverse language, and their hiring practices adhere to the applicable laws, and that job adverts are posted on all the right places, that’s nice, but ultimately doesn’t mean much if the company culture doesn’t look all of the above in the eyes, and deals with it one way or another. If there’s an emphasis on outside communication, can I assume that outside communication and inside communication actually differ? If the job posting adheres to applicable laws, and that’s the important bit about it, then I know the job advert merely checks the boxes to limit legal exposure to the company. Any true D&I initiative would not have a difference between outside and inside communication, so it wouldn't even be emphasised, and of course it would tick all the boxes of the law, because that’s a nice side effect of being inclusive.

This has been the lived experience of many many many marginalised people who told their stories on Twitter about how D&I extended only until they got hired. Once they were in, the usual hurtful practices took over their lives again.

D&I as a PR only activity fucking sucks, and we should do better.

I’ve recently had a conversation with a friend who works at a ginormous company you’ve most definitely heard of, and they had D&I training. She told me their entire initiative focused on gay people, and literally ignored any other marginalised groups.

There’s an entire string of memes on the internet about how companies absolutely drop Pride from their brands the moment Pride month stops. Here, have a selection:

Tweet with a picture of what companies do on July 1st (first day after Pride Month): An illustration by Joan Cornellà depicting a woman throwing a baby like a basketball. The baby's head is a pride flag. Link to tweet follows.

Link to tweet with baby basketball:

Tweet with image from The Hangover. Text reads: Pride month ends. Companies: "So long, gay boy!" Image is the scene from The Hangover where Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) walks away from the car. Link to tweet follows.

Link to The Hangover tweet:

Tweet. Text reads: Brands now after pride month has ended. Image is presumable from a school textbook showing the evolution of humans. Picture is of a stylised modern human, text around it says "LATER HOMO" H.sapiens (modern human). Link to tweet follows.

Link to school textbook tweet:

Understand that you will have enormous resistance to learning about D&I

The same friend who told me they ignored all other marginalised groups besides gay people said the whole D&I training was also a waste of time, because instead of useful knowledge, they were taught to use inclusive language, for example if you have a female colleague, and you invite her to a party, don’t use the word “boyfriend” if you don’t know who her partner is because she might be gay. Ugh, it’s such a chore to use “partner” instead.

She didn’t understand why this was an issue AT ALL.

So yeah, expect there to be challenges.

Why did you just write all of it?

Aside from privacy, this is the other topic I’m very passionate about, and I will fight you on it. I will also learn, and will consider everything that is said to me, but do understand that I might have encountered those ideas.

I want us white people to generally do better. D&I as PR is not enough, because the very people we want to hire will see that it’s merely PR from a hundred miles and they won’t even apply.

Tweet reads: Furthermore, understand that the feedback you have received is feedback. If your true motive is to help, you examine this feedback and change your approach. Don't tone police the feedback, it hurts more than your original action. Link to tweet follows.

Link to tweet:

This is but a tiny fraction of the issues

There are topics I haven’t even touched on, for example if you don’t have enough diverse applicants, you’re not looking hard enough, see this medium article titled “Can’t find women to speak at your conference? You’re not looking for them.” in response to phpCE cancelling because people called them out on their all-male speaker lineup. The same can be said about companies, though see D&I as PR again.

I haven’t touched on the issue of intersectionality. It’s a huge topic in and of itself.

I haven’t touched on the fact that bumping into all of these issues in any 24 hour period has a very high probability. Examples for all of these keep repeating themselves over and over again.

Where to go from here?

I would suggest broadening the people you follow on Twitter. Look at mine, feel free to follow them as a first pass.

Then go and buy the book “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo and read it to do a bit of ground work (Amazon UK link, Amazon US link, links are non-affiliate).

And if you’re a podcast person, give this EXCELLENT 75 minute podcast episode with Kim Crayton and C J Silverio a listen, and generally follow Kim’s podcast and Twitter. She talks about pretty much all of this.

If you’re a large-ish corp, consider hiring someone who works with companies to help them transform their culture, and as a consequence, their D&I initiatives. Kim Crayton is one such person, and I highly highly recommend her.

If you’ve made it this far and you’d like to learn more, or the discussed issues resonate with you, get in touch with me, and I’ll do my best to direct you where to learn more, where to go next. If you’re coming to argue, I’ll block you.

But most of all, thank you for reading all of the ~4,000 words I’ve put down on the screen.

post scriptum

You may have noticed I did not embed the tweets. While they look imposing, they also immediately track you. Now that they’re images, you only talk to the server this blog sits on, and because I have no tracking installed, I get none of your data. If you want to go to twitter, you always have the option.

Photo by Alex Holyoake on Unsplash