The older I get, in age and experience, the more I recognize how ubiquitous and embedded structural oppression (e.g., racism, bias, and discrimination) is within our society. As a Black woman researcher who does work about/with/for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), particularly Black women, I frequently observe tensions between how we talk about diversity and support diversity in academic spaces. I see that even among diversity-related efforts, such as earmarked funding, training, and research, racism is present.
I spoke to one of my mentors about the struggle of doing work with and about Black people and the dismissive commentary I received regarding the merits, authenticity, and value of only doing work about Black women. I also recognized the struggle within diversity initiatives where those identified as underrepresented aka “needy" in academic spaces are called upon to unveil personal wounds gained from engaging in racist structures like the “ivory tower.” Applications to these diversity programs ask “the needy” and historically disenfranchised people to divulge details of their trauma as evidence they are worthy of selection. These programs also often ask the needy people to laud the program organizers or funders for the multiple ways receipt of such an award or entrée into the program would transform their lives.
While I have participated in my fair share of “in-the-name-of-diversity” programs, training, and professional development throughout my educational pursuits, this trend continues in other professional spaces. I learned from a colleague that the requirements for gaining entrée into a leadership institute geared toward diversifying the workforce included BIPOC sharing the challenges they faced and had to overcome throughout their career, along with projections about how this one leadership program would solve those problems for them.
I find this problematic because as BIPOC people we know (and the research has shown) that we are underrepresented and un(under)supported in spaces, such as higher education and management and leadership roles across industries. So when we come across a “diversity” initiative, we may think, ‘Finally, an opportunity!’ without initially recognizing what it may cost.
Why is being a Black woman not enough? Why is it not enough to grant me access to opportunities that have historically been denied to people like me? Why does receipt of "diversity dollars" have to be coupled with me sharing my trauma?
As we know, or are beginning to learn for some, racism is pervasive. It functions in society to specifically disadvantage and harm select communities. So why is being BIPOC not enough? As a BIPOC woman, the likelihood that I have encountered structural oppression or injustice is plausible. Why then do I need to perform my trauma for others? Why do I have to fabricate the reaches of the support when, in and of itself, will not change structural oppression?
I am not sure what the answers are to move forward. However, I know that having BIPOC perform trauma to receive the support they have historically and perpetually been denied is wrong. I hope there is a way to (re)distribute resources and tools so BIPOC can progress without these systems inflicting and perpetuating harm.
To truly diversify the workforce, make spaces more inclusive, we have to start telling BIPOC they belong, they are deserving, and worthy of investment. Being BIPOC is enough.