I ended my last post with what I thought was a fitting coda: “All I had to do was speak up.” I should have added an asterisk to the end of that statement. There’s an immense amount of privilege and access that lives within the simple act of speaking up. Here are an easy dozen:
- I’m a cis man
- I speak fluent English
- The decision-makers in the meeting spoke fluent English
- I hold a leadership position at my organization
- I knew my organization’s leadership would agree with my argument
- My organization holds a place of authority with this group
- The meeting I attended is part of my job
- I had the know-how to google a study before the conversation changed
- The study, which highlighted racial disparities in access to services, already existed
- I’ve spent large amounts of free time trying to understand structural racism
- Structural racism has been in the news lately. More White people than usual are feeling aware of their own privilege
- The issue mattered enough to me that I spoke up
What I did was not unique, or it should not be unique. But what if enough of the variables above weren’t true? Not everyone would have had the success that I did. The study was available to the public. Plenty of people on the call had the same or greater level of authority and respect that I have. And I’m sure that many of us would have said we support broad civil rights and oppose structural racism. But of all the people in the room, I had to speak up. I was the right combination of variables where I could do so with minimal risk. Those variables should not be a prerequisite for speaking up, but right now they may be.
There’s a reason why so many of us pay the emotional and mental taxes that come with teaching anti-racism. It’s why equity and inclusion efforts can’t be the responsibility of a single person at the office. It’s why change so often feels bound by inertia—until one day, it doesn’t seem so farfetched.
The reality here is that we powerholders made a decision that, win or lose, will likely never touch us. That is a system out of balance. We must, must change that. There’s no alternative, only temporary fixes. But. Until then. On the road to then. We need people in power to risk their stability and make change happen. We all have to learn these things because we have to be there.
I’m not in every room. I need you. But you’re not in every room. We need them. But they’re not in every room. They need us.
Change is coming, but it will take all of us.