I was having a conversation recently. In said conversation the topic turned to equality and diversity (as is standard for so many of my convos). We were discussing workplaces and hiring people who are ‘different’ to us – whatever that difference is to you, your team, your work, your personalities, your culture, your norms.
A guy. A lovely guy. A lovely guy who’s open, and aware, and actively committed to diversity & equality. A lovely guy from whom I’ve learnt about how to practically make space for and include others in my daily life; a lovely guy I’ve worked with.
He said something. Something NOT even offensive. Something normal and understandable and relatable.
As he explained why, when hiring for a role, they’d chosen the candidate with more ‘experience’ (in the limited boxes listed on the JD); the candidate who was ready to hit the ground running. He explained why they hadn’t chosen the other candidate.
The one they wanted. Like really really wanted. The one who had rich and varied experience and character and who would had stretched and added to their team and work in different ways. The one who would have needed some mentoring. Some input. Maybe some training and definitely some time, to learn and adjust. And who would have, in turn, taught and grown them. He explained how, with capacity constraints and output demands they just weren’t ableto do that now.
I silently ask myself silently:
What is ‘ability’ but willingness met with effort?
I gave a talk recently about diversity, inclusion and, basically, the lack of both.
A little context before I rant: My sermon covered the importance of valuing diversity in all ways, including different races, genders, sexualities, ideologies, ages, marital statuses and abilities (etc!), but I mainly focussed on race; perhaps because it’s the easiest to spot and cos we live in Harrow which is one of the most ethnically diverse boroughs in all of Europe!
Now the Ranty section of this blog post:
I’m not gonna rehash my sermon but rather this is about the feedback. Well, one particular piece of feedback. Feedback which, when I heard it, resulted in me exclaiming aloud (to a Vicar, but he wasn’t wearing the dog-collar so doesn’t count obv!): “That’s f**king bollox!!”
Intrigued? Well, the comment was “We don’t need this sermon because I don’t see colour”. Seriously. Yep, seriously. I say it again. SERIOUSLY.
OK, I know the person meant well and it’s an admirable sentiment. But it is NOT true. And furthermore, it cannot be (unless they are actually blind in which case that’s a biological fact not a sociological truth!).
The truth is, we ALL see colour. And what scares me more than overt racism (which I can see and confront or avoid) is this notion that we are ‘post colour’ and thus should all shut up about it. And by ‘we’ I mean us Global Majority/Non-White/Ethic-Monitory/Brown/Yellow/Tanned people. Because, funnily enough, it seems to usually be White/Pink/Caucasian/Pale/Global Minority people who ‘don’t see colour’. What power, privilege and presumption this betrays.
People don’t see it because you don’t have to. When people of colour have to question if the shop assistant who was stroppy was perhaps being racist; when people of colour have to be extra polite to authority figures to ensure they don’t get called ‘aggressive’ (or in America, even murdered by the very police paid by their taxes to protect them); when people of colour have to speak better, work harder and dress more smartly for an interview lest our skin tone or even our name hinder us from the job, we HAVE to see colour. Ours. And negotiate our ways, words and manners around the rules of a world that does see colour and deems ours wrong.*
When people of colour walk into a church or shared community space and are welcomed to participate, but not welcomed into leading or influencing in that space, we are reminded that you DO see our colour. And maybe, unconsciously, you find us unworthy because you are socially conditioned and plagued by hundreds of unconscious biases you don’t admit to, even to yourself. And so am I. Or maybe – I hope- you don’t see us as unworthy, but rather you simply don’t notice that everyone who has been stamped with the seal of approval to influence & lead is white (and so often the 4 Ms: male, middle-classed, middle-aged & married). Because you are so busy not seeing colour, or difference, that you haven’t noticed the blatant lack of it. So until you actively open your eyes and LOOK for colour, how will you notice its absence? How will you notice ourabsence? And then how will you change anything?
So I’ll keep preaching (if I’m allowed to), and proclaiming uncomfortable truths in all my techni-colour passion til eyes are opened and self-lies corrected. And if you want some spectacles, don’t go to Specsavers, come to us, we have dozens.
*re my saying ‘around the rules of a world that does see colour’: I was going to say ‘Western’ world here but then I realised that’s too limiting and that because of Colonialism & Imperialism in all its guises even in Africa, Asia, South America the Middle East (i.e. and all the Global South) being light-skinned is almost always admired & thus privileged.