Offensive Networking: The Common Oppression Introduction
Have you ever met two people who have the same identity/ies in common and face similar oppressions and think… I should introduce the two of you, you have a lot in common? STOP doing this to your colleagues of historically stigmatized identities, especially racially stigmatized identities (RSI) AKA Person of Color (POC).
Sidenote: I prefer RSI because it calls out historical racism.
Let me state the obvious, this does not just include your connections who are of RSI’s or POCs. More lessons are to come about introducing your one gay friend to every gay person you meet, or your single friends to your one singIe friend without their permission. Use the lesson below regarding racial identities as an introduction to the Non-offensive Introduction Process when connecting human beings to one another.
Becoming connected to a network has its perks: You start meeting influential people, obtain access to better job opportunities, you learn, you grow, you get promoted etc. This is usually why we connect one another, for the purpose of providing opportunity.
There are some definite downsides when attempting to connect people. Especially if you are a person who comes from a racially stigmatized identity (RSI), aka Person of Color (POC). This short article will give introspection and solutions, especially to my White colleagues in the professional world. Specifically, regarding how to show up and support your colleagues of RSI’s. Here we go, read intently and process wholeheartedly.
It has come into my frequent observation and experience as a Black woman entrepreneur that many of my White colleagues are attempting to show up and be support systems for me. I appreciate you, I really do, but in your effort to support me you have made some offensive mistakes. Which is why I decided to write this article. It is in your intent to make introductions to help me grow my network. Some of you need a lesson in how not to make your introductions to me offensive. This is the first step in the The Non-Offensive Introduction Process:
1. Stop introducing me to every professional RSI/POC you meet. Being a connector here is not the issue, nor is your intent to build support systems, the outcome and messaging is the problem. This introduction always sounds something like “I just thought two amazing women should connect” when it really translates into… “Let me connect all of my colleagues/connections of Color, especially the ones who I think look alike, I am assuming that you have so much in common.” First, don’t use my racial identity to build your credibility. Now hear me out, many of us are fighting in the same systems, especially our workplaces. We are fighting racial bias, gender bias, sexual discrimination, sizeism etc! While we need support from one another, we also need allies with influence who can support us. If you introduce 10 Black people to that one successful Black friend you have, you are creating additional involuntary responsibility that this person may or may not be able to handle and without asking their permission, be considerate. Odds are, this person has and is continually facing racial discrimination in their field. Just because they have earned a certain amount of success, does not mean they have the process figured out. You could unintentionally be perpetuating the myth of meritocracy through your introduction. Do not make any assumptions, instead seek permission.
Remember, permission is empowerment, and respectful. Also, this person may also be struggling and not have the capacity to reach down at the time and pull other people up. You have just put them in a position to turn away someone who may or may not need their help. Reputation as well as future collaboration has just been put in jeopardy because of your intentions! Be clear that people who are really struggling and even facing traumatic experiences, may not have the capacity to reach out and help others. Here are some helpful tips:
a. Non Offensive Alternative: 1) Be intentional about asking the person you are making the introduction for, what they need support in at the time. 2) Reframe your way of thinking to scroll through your rolodex of all of the support systems you know that can help and who you can introduce them to, and not just the people who have commonality in their oppressions. 3) Do a pre introduction with your colleague. In this pre-intro, be considerate enough to provide all the information you received from that person to your colleague before you make the introduction. In other words, ask permission and provide some insight. DO NOT just send a two sentenced email stating how you thought they should meet. We usually know what you are thinking and how present your bias is in the email! You walk away thinking you have done your part like you are the greatest Color connector of all time. Offensive! It is not our responsibility to educate and support you or anybody else, it our choice to use our voice. You do not have the right to make that decision for us!
I could write a whole damn book on how this happens, as a matter of fact I think I might!