A Juneteenth Post: How DEI Initiatives Are Stripping Black People of Dignity and Safety

It was Juneteenth on Monday and as far as I'm concerned, we are celebrating all week long. As I said in a previous post on this blog, these past couple of  years, more than ever, I have learned more and had more conversations about emotional safety, belonging, and vulnerability in the workplace. More importantly, I started to better understand that vulnerability needs to be earned; that you deserve a right to protect yourself if you don’t feel “safe”: and that—this is the biggest—vulnerability without boundaries is NOT vulnerability.

Through these conversations, I found that there are places that just expect Black people to remove our armor without sufficient assurance or commitment to our safety. Let me give an example: person X is the “only Black person” in a room and then all of a sudden, they are deemed the race expert. They expect X to open up at every meeting or during every “tough conversation” about the Black experience or about racism. They want X to share their experience of microaggressions, and prejudice, and racism. But what about if X doesn’t want to be vulnerable? Especially if there is no guarantee of protection when X does share something they don’t want to hear. Forget the fear of reprisal; sometimes, people haven’t earned the right to our mind, thoughts, and opinions. So, to not guarantee any safety, yet expect a Black people to speak for all Black people is just wrong.

For us Black people, how do we navigate these paths? How do we for instance, reserve our right to speak up with assertion while also having patience. How can we be emboldened to find our own path to asserting our dignity no matter what form we present in this world? The answers are difficult and complicated, but the only wrong answer is not doing anything at all.

Another Juneteenth celebration has arrived. Beyond the federal holiday and hackneyed messages from the ivory tower of corporate America, an underlying fact rings true. It wasn’t until over TWO years after Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation that the last of enslaved people in Texas knew they were free. There are so many metaphors for this, such as the idea that freedom can be so within reach yet remain elusive. Because even with an emancipation proclamation, how can you just tell people that you’ve enslaved for so long that they are free and expect them to just be…free. Free to do what? All they have known is slavery; they have no capital, no wealth, no possessions, they are owned. And then you say, you go be free. It should be no surprise then that centuries and generations after those free people left Texas, systems have worked hard to enslave an entirely different generation. 

“We want freedom like white men. Not freedom to oppress but freedom of options.” – Amanda Seales

The last paragraph can trigger people. They may say, what else do you want: look at us, we are hiring black people. We have a black CEO. But numbers are only the beginning. It is not just about the number of black bodies in a room or on a website page. It goes beyond that. In your organization, how do you resolve microaggressions and prejudices? You know, the ones that don’t necessarily come with ill intent, but tucked comfortably in nice, gentle, and unassuming words. The ones that are so subtle, it takes you a minute to process. It is these same types that have caused me to sometimes prefer the blatant racist to the cloaked one, because at least with the former you know exactly what you’re dealing with. The ones I fear are a unique bunch. The one who may even call himself an “ally”. The one who considers himself so evolved he can’t possibly abhor any negativity towards Black people. The one that thinks real, true bigotry is very rare. The one that refuses the reality that more than personal niceties and personal ill-intent, there are systems and structures in place designed to perpetuate racism. That one, I am terrified of.

You know, the one that wants “peace and love”. The one that wants kumbaya and squashes even the possibility of any opposing thoughts. The one that always wants to be neutral under the guise of reconciliation and love, forgetting that love that isn’t angry at injustice and racism towards Black people is just masquerading as love, and is anything but. The one that wants us to just all turn to and focus on God and nothing more; except the God I know is a God of justice. The one that wants congratulatory affirmations for being an ally but runs away from the truths and realities of Black people in America in their workplaces, with their healthcare providers, and heck, even in their places of worship. The one that breaks down into tears when you bring up your misgivings about their prejudice or when there are racial tensions and racist incidents. Yes, that one.

“Love without action is anemic.” 

The sort of writing and logic I lay in words above may provoke even more questions and confusion: how can I be an ally? How can I abstain from stripping dignity from Black people? What can I do to even fix this?  Of course, no one is asking white people—or anyone for that matter—to take away the pain from systemic racism and the vestiges of slavery, but every single person on God’s green earth can make sure the next generation doesn’t ever have to experience racism ever again. At the very least, please do not make excuses for racism. Don’t be the devil’s advocate because let me tell you the devil does fine himself; he doesn’t need an advocate. 

Most importantly, refrain from centering yourself in this struggle. For too long, as Austin Channing Brown posits in her book, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, whiteness has wanted us to be empty and malleable so that it can shape us into whatever they want or what they deem necessary. It relishes in our brokenness, our despondency, and our despair. It wants us to cower and to walk on eggshells and to digest every form of destruction with our hands firmly locked behind our backs and our heads bowed in submission. 

“White fragility ignores the personhood of the person on the receiving end and centers itself.” – Austin Channing Brown

Even when a black boy is killed unjustly, we are required to first hesitate before we can express outrage. We are required to first check the feelings of white people because hey who knows maybe someone’s grandpa is a veteran and we don’t want to offend his sensibilities. As if ancestors of Black people didn’t also fight for this country’s freedom even when their own freedom wasn’t guaranteed. They want us to hold off on our anger because what if, just what if the Black boy deserved to be killed like a dog on the streets. They want us to hold off even when that anger is all we have.

Yet, sometimes, to be black in this world is to be perpetually angry, is to be paranoid, and to have on a guard to protect yourself. This guard manifests in different ways, of course. Sometimes it means you are sullen, other times just quiet, and other times, bottom line unfriendly. Even as our guard manifests differently, so too does our humanity. Despite what you may have learned, no one Black body can speak for all Black bodies. One Black person’s experience differs from another. One Black person’s mistakes differ from another. Perhaps then, people can refrain from generalizing one person’s mistake towards all Black people. Maybe this gives us freedom too. Freedom and luxury. Freedom from triple-checking emails and written documents because if others spell wrongly, it’s a mistake, but if I do then cue the “aww shucks English is not her first language”. Despite knowing English doesn’t have any superiority over other languages, I still feel the need to let people know that it was my first language, nonetheless. Freedom from all that pressure on one individual. Freedom to experiment. Freedom to be exceptional. Freedom to be selfish so I don’t have to constantly worry how my actions affect their perception of the next sole Black person they hire. 

“Just because we are magic doesn’t mean we are not real.” Jesse Williams

A white person can shoot up schools, can be a serial killer, can be a corrupt politician and no one thinks all white persons do that. But when one Black person makes a mistake, then yes, Black people are thugs, or deadbeat dads, or don’t get an education and so on. Yet, we are not a monolith. Don’t get me wrong, just as there are good and bad white people, there are good and bad Black people too. There are black murderers, black rapists, and yes indeed, Black inept people too. Most importantly, no matter what, they are human beings too. If you can see the humanity in a person who massacred little children, then you can see the humanity in the so-called thug too.  Some of us are sassy. Some are demure. Some are loud. Some are quiet. Some have PhDs. Some have GEDs. Whatever form or shape, we deserve dignity. 




  1. I came back to leave a comment on this because..I have so many thoughts and in all honesty I think America is regressing as a nation. I spoke to a middle school teacher who thinks the same. But that’s by the way. I just read about a shooting that happened in Chicago - a man Goodman who shot an 8yr old kid who was his neighbors child because the kids have been noisy in the neighborhood. It’s summer for crying out loud and kids are always noisy. Obviously he’s not black so the news hasn’t/didn’t get traction but I’m hoping it does in the coming days because I only saw it in relation to the Tory Lanez/ Meg the Stallion case (😂😂 I know you might not be familiar with that but look it up). I dunno how it even ties into this topic but it’s just upsetting.

    1. I know the Tory Lanez/Meg thee Stallion situation! And happy justice prevailed. But you're right in that there is way too much injustice and it's just disheartening all around. I especially get frustrated because these are people who claim to be religious too, so like where does it all end? The senselessness is way too much.