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How DEI shifted my relationship to social justice

How the DEI Industry Shifted My Relationship to Social Justice | Construct the Present

by | May 11, 2022 | Blog | 0 comments

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El Grito Sparks the Cleanse

Being Mexican, cranking up some music and cleaning on a Saturday morning is a ritual and part of the culture. As a child waking up on a Saturday morning, if I heard “el grito,” I knew it was time to clean. “El grito” was once a battle cry for Mexican independence, and now a loud and emotional cry Mexicans make to signify pain, joy, and freedom. To my family, cleaning is joy and Saturday mornings are for cleaning, music, and el grito.

I’ve taken this ritual of resetting into adulthood, cleaning to cleanse my space, and starting again. Singing new songs that sound different but represent that same freedom that comes from “el grito.” I sit in my space, limpiada, cleansed. I take a similar approach to other parts of my life including my mental health, my personal growth, and the liberation work I do in my role as a project manager and facilitator for Construct the Present.

When Anger No Longer Moves the Needle

In 2020, the murder of George Floyd sparked a “Great Awakening” for many people who had become complacent regarding anti Black violence in the US. Understandably so, when you are not being forced to confront something, it is easy to ignore. For many, it was more of a begrudging “It’s about time,” or a “It took you long enough,” moment. It was about time people felt the opposite of complacency for the anti Black violence that exists day in and day out in this country.

It was hard for me to not become more angry. It felt hopeless that the only way to move the needle for social change was when unspeakable but very common violence was televised. I often saw injustice through only the lens of anger. While I appreciate the emotion of anger, I felt like I needed to expand the emotions that guided my social justice work if I wanted to sustain my mission and make an impact. It was time for me to cleanse myself and leave behind what no longer was moving the needle for my own growth.

During this time, I was transitioning out of the service industry because of the pandemic. What was once a job option for a more than comfortable life was totally gone. I had to shift and start looking for something different. It was during that time that I found my job with CTP as an executive assistant. Starting in this role changed my relationship to my vision of change. I saw potential for me to unlock other ways to move the needle. It has been almost two years since I started my career in the diversity, equity, and inclusion industry. I was given an opportunity to move into joy and connection. Now I do work that moves me towards my mission, instead of keeping me stuck in anger.

The Great Awakening But Make it Capitalism

The industry has changed tremendously since I started just a few years ago. Two years ago, an industry that was niche and dismissed, was suddenly booming. Initiatives that wouldn’t get funded were now top priority. Naturally, the industry was flooded by people who saw an opportunity for profit. During the “Great Awakening” many companies realized they would have to address anti Blackness if they wanted to stay relevant. Suddenly, white facilitators who were once respectfully teaching about their own lived experiences were experts on anti Black racism? The audacity and confidence that whiteness inspires is disappointing but never surprising. There is a certain cognitive dissonance a white person must have to position themselves as an expert on anti Black racism in an industry sustained by the oppression of Black people and people of color. Yet again, a US model of profit built off Black violence.

It has been two years since the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. The urgency for dismantling white supremacy has slowed, and the leads are not flooding in like they were. There are still plenty of companies seeking our DEI services, but it feels slightly more intentional now. If someone was capitalizing on the moment, the moment is certainly gone. What is left is the real work of sustaining an industry that aims to disrupt the fabric of the United States. Being lost in the day to day makes me forget that this work does take patience and grit.The change is slow and not always obvious. The oppression is always obvious. My boss has been in this industry longer than when the “Great Awakening” happened. If it wasn’t for her experience and guidance I may not have the perspective I do now. Over the last two years, I learned a lot. I saw what works, what needs some work, and what absolutely does not work. The industry needs a limpia, a cleanse, a clean up. So what is in and what is out?

I’ve been really observing for the last few years and I made a list of things I think the industry could do without in order to actively combat oppression in the workplace:

Out: Being reactive in moments of a crisis.

In: Being proactive and investing in long term, sustainable equity work that will create long term impact.

Out: Diversity hires for the sake of diversity.

In: Hiring the most qualified people and being intentional about creating a diverse network BEFORE you need it

Out: Throwing money at diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts without doing research and collecting data on the company or organization.

In: Investing in an equity audit to determine the most effective and sustainable plan for long term impact.

Out: Using the business case to sell DEI consulting services.

In: Working with values driven organizations who value human life and do this work because it is the right thing to do.

Out: Dumping resources into external marketing to appear diverse and inclusive.

In: Using the resources you have to ensure your company is an inclusive and safe place to work for your current and future staff who experience oppression.

Out: White facilitators profiting from anti racism training.

In: Making space for BIPOC facilitators to earn a living speaking on their lived experiences.

Out: White people using the excuse of “not taking up space” to avoid doing the work.

In: White people stepping in to do the hard labor that is required to make change. Increase the capacity of people of color for rest and to continue the work they have already been doing.

If the goal of anti oppression work is to truly dismantle the systems that create barriers for under appreciated, under valued, and underpaid people, then confronting ways the industry is replicating those systems must be urgent. There are still far too many people that have to experience anti Black violence for this industry to thrive. In the same way el grito, a cry for independence has changed to embody freedom, the industry has to eventually represent something different. The goal has to be that this industry does not last forever, that diversity, equity, and inclusion is inherently a part of workplace culture and we don’t have to strategize ways to make it happen. So as I take inventory of what works and what doesn’t, I am responsible for cleaning up my own space, cleansing myself from bitterness, and continuing my learning so that my work causes little harm and makes a big impact. So, if you hear el grito, you know it’s time to get to cleaning.

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