Dear White Workplace…

The conversation about diversity is one that seeks to make me, my race, my sexuality, my Otherness a problem. How to “tolerate” difference and make people in dominant positions feel comfortable. When, in fact, racism, discrimination and assertions of power based on race, class, gender, physical ability and sexuality are the problem.

One solution at work in more progressive spaces is to actively seek inclusion of as many types and kinds of people as possible. The diversity approach to this imagines a quota — a glass menagerie of sorts — of different people. This is, in fact, tokenism.

“What? But we’ve just started dealing with this! We even know what ‘white privilege’ is!”


But I, personally, have been talking about diversity since being a Diversity Facilitator in undergrad at the University of Michigan in 1989.

I will not be participating in your diversity training. Here are the reasons why:

I owe you nothing; you have contracted for my physical and mental labor but extract emotional and psychic labor.

I am not here to teach you what it’s like to be me, a black woman who is middle-class with straight-but-queerly-aligned sexual proclivities, non-diety-believing and cisgendered.*

I am not here to learn about your predominantly white, straight, middle class, cisgendered, god-bothering existence. I’ve been doing that every single day for 46 years.

I do not believe in the fallacy of diversity. Diversity is a concept whose time has passed.

Lemme make sure you understand me: I’ve been listening to white-controlled institutions says, “We should do better for more than 20 years.”

I’ve done the trust falls. I’ve “taken a stand” on social issues in a room full of hostiles and deplorables. I’ve shared the first time I “realized” I was black — a neighborhood dad called me a “nigger.” My dad’s 6'4". It did not end well for him . I’ve heard about the first time a lot of white people got called a racist when they did something that was, yes, racist.

I do not, by any means, have all my shit together when it comes to power and my own privilege. But your Diversity Training 2016 is not offering to teach me, challenge me, help me to push my evolution as a human being in this particular workplace.

Your Diversity Training 2016 wants me to share The Pain, Trials and Tribulations of Being Black in America with a few bars of a nice black hymn and a couple of soul food recipes for the workplace cookbook. Hard pass.

“But how do you know? You haven’t even been to the training?” Oh, trust, boo. I know because I have been to your diversity training. Every time I’ve:

had nigger yelled at me from a passing car and kept on steppin’ because that’s just how y’all do and that’s what I do — keep it movin’;
been mistaken at work for the other beautiful, Black sister who doesn’t wear glasses. I was asked about a task by a white woman in the same department as my other Black colleague. Is it because we started working at this place on the same day? Three months earlier? Three months isn’t enough time to see that we’re completely different people?;
listened to white coworkers make excuses and try to question away the racism of the “mistaken identity” incident;
seen your surprised look when I, a black woman, with a PhD uses a big word or talks about living or traveling abroad;
been assaulted at a stoplight by a white female medical resident who hissed into my car window, “I’ve just spent 36 hours helping niggers like you…”

…you get the picture. I’ve been to your diversity training in these very streets, schools, workplaces and even on the desktop computers of America.

Reassuringly official, no? No. Assuring to some legal department person, but actually doing anything about discrimination and equity? Nah.

Hell, I’ve led your diversity trainings in predominantly-white university dorms and classrooms and classes of mostly black students in majority white universities.

I have taught, read, written, argued, keynoted, debated, podcasted, and marched about power and privilege long enough to know that diversity as a concept is outdated, commodified, and even on the receiving end of skepticism from the leading thinkers in the field.

What do they advocate for instead of diversity? Inclusion, for a start.

I am not here to teach you.

I know you don’t know what you don’t know but that’s why you get paid the big bucks: to invest in real change.

I’m about revolution, transformation and liberation.

But everyone’s gotta start somewhere, I guess, so bon chance, good luck, and here’s some dap, White Workplace.

I am, sincerely yours, the Uppitiest Negro.

* I threw in “cisgendered” and “non-diety-believing” to challenge you. You’re asking what those terms mean, aren’t you? See? Even when I’m messing with you, I’m providing you with a teachable moment. I can’t help myself. You’re welcome.

Disclaimers are hard because they smack of excuse-making and not owning one’s views. #NotAllWYTPIPO? #NotAllWorkplaces? However, this White Workplace is a composite of several. The wealth of racist incidents and assumptions can be shared widely. Yay.

Update: In a two-part series for The Activist History Review, I define and elaborate on the idea of a Diversity Industrial Complex.

Update 2019: Here are the readings you won’t likely have assigned.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race

Being Black — but Not Too Black — in the Workplace, The Atlantic

Why Diversity Programs Fail, Harvard Business Review