Hello friends, and welcome back to Productivity, Without Privilege! If you’re new here (and there are quite a few new faces, welcome, all of you!) my name is Alan Henry, your humble host and MC, and can you believe my book, Seen, Heard, and Paid: The New Work Rules for the Marginalized, comes out in TWENTY-TWO DAYS?
It’s the culmination of over a year’s work and energy and effort, but honestly, it’s only the beginning of something wonderful, I hope. But I am looking forward to having a little more free time, I’ll say that. Anyway, if you haven’t pre-ordered it yet, I’d be eternally grateful if you did! My personal goal is to outsell Megan McCain if at all possible, which I think is a pretty low bar, so let’s make that happen, shall we?
So I actually sat down yesterday to write this newsletter—yes, later than I intended, but anyway—and then a mass shooting in Buffalo set off all of my news alerts and lit up social media. Even right now, as I’m writing this, I’m struggling to find an appropriate source to link to it, because a: I don’t want to re-traumatize anyone, and b: because I can’t find a single major news organization covering the event that doesn’t resort to the usual milquetoast language like “racially motivated” and “allegedly,” (the former of which is irresponsible at this point, the latter of which I understand for legal reasons, but it’s not like the shooter didn’t livestream his massacre on Twitch—but then again he went on to be peacefully captured and body armored by police, then plead not guilty—which, after all, watch whiteness work—so I suppose they have to include that one.)
As much as I would love to make this week’s missive all about the missteps of media when they cover racist terrorism by white supremacists, none of this is new to most of you. We saw the same hemming and hawing in major outlets after the Atlanta shootings, and after the murder of George Floyd, (even now, there are vastly more search results for “George Floyd death” than “George Floyd murder”) and after the Christchurch shootings, and on and on, to the point where the AP changed their guidance on such phrases. Advice that, as we saw yesterday, many outlets conveniently forgot, including the AP.
So instead, let’s flip the script a little. During a recent panel discussion I was lucky enough to be a part of, an attendee asked a question about how industries tend to promote diversity at low levels by having diverse internship classes and fellowships and apprenticeship programs, but then drum those interns, fellows, and apprentices out after the program ends, with no hope for full-time employment or the possibility of starting a career at the same place that deigned to pay them a pittance for the same work that full-time employees would do. Usually this is done in the name of “improving diversity in the pipeline,” but when those same people apply for full-time roles, they’re usually told that they simply don’t have the experience necessary.
In short, it’s a way to stack diversity numbers to look better than they are, and to create a rotating group of engaged, passionate, young, and diverse people in your organization that you know you’ll dispose of as soon as the diversity survey is done, and do it on the cheap, with no real plan to hire, train, retain, or promote any of them. I’ve seen it happen in journalism, I’ve seen it happen in academia, and I’ve seen it in technology. So how do you deal with that?
Bear with me, because the answer to that question—and what we can do in the face of horrible framing and representation of hate crimes and racist terrorism—are the same: find community.
Let’s back up though to something that I think is very important for all of us to remember: It is not the responsibility of the marginalized to fix the systemic issues that led to them being marginalized.
So when you feel hopeless because you look at the news and all you see are privileged talking heads who are more interested in talking about the shooter’s body armor and behavior than mourning the victims and the real lives lost, who are poring over the shooter’s manifesto and asking questions we know the answers to, like “how was he radicalized?” and “is the internet the problem?” instead of demanding accountability from policymakers and media personalities that are responsible for mainstreaming this rhetoric, look to the people who can support you best because they understand what you’re feeling.
And yes, as angry and sad and frustrated as I am at Saturday’s events, I’m also angry and sad and frustrated when I see industries use marginalized workers—whatever marginalized identities those people may hold, whether they’re women in all-male workplaces, they’re disabled, they’re older in a traditionally young field, whatever—as props to make themselves seem socially conscious and presentable to the public without actually committing to those beliefs and stated principles behind the scenes. And sometimes the only way to push back on that behavior when you don’t have a seat at the table (and one that’s empowered to speak and take action,) is to commiserate among people who know what you’re going through because they’ve been there, are there, or know what it means to be there.
When it comes to mourning, it’s especially important, but when it comes to opportunities, goals, and dreams, it’s also important: sharing experiences with people who have been there means that those folks are (usually, anyway) more inclined to help you avoid those experiences in the future. They’ll tell you which places to work will actually respect your expertise and your experience versus the ones that will put you in a PowerPoint presentation about diversity and then cut you loose to survive on your own with no support (ask me about that one.) They’ll tell you which managers to avoid working for, which industry groups you should consider joining to meet more like-minded people, and offer an ear when you’re struggling and a shoulder to cry on when you inevitably have to put up with some bullshit.
In journalism spaces, that means finding and connecting with other writers and editors who have similar experiences as you, and are willing to ask the hard questions of your outlet, your industry, and your audience, rather than pretend the way things have always been done is the way they have to be done. (Honestly, that last bit goes for any industry.) I know I’ve crowed about the importance of employee resource groups and professional societies in this newsletter before, but this is where those organizations come in.
They’re usually a starting point though, not a panacea. As an example, as much as I loved going to the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) conference a few years ago, and as much as I loved being the keynote speaker at the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) conference a few weeks ago, it was truly the people I met at those events that really stay with me, and the ideas I shared with those people that stand out in my mind. They’re the people I want to work with in the future, and the people who I want to work for someday. That’s the power of those groups: to introduce you to even more, sometimes smaller groups of people who resonate with you, will support you, will stand up for you, and will honor your work in a way that’s intentional and honest. And of course, you’ll want to do the same, and you will. That’s what I mean when I say you need to find community, and that’s why it’s so powerful and important.
Why the pandemic has made it so hard and exhausting to make decisions, by Elizabeth Tricomi and Wesley Ameden: So I’ll share a little secret with all of you: as far as I can tell, I haven’t had Covid. When the pandemic ramped up, I started working from home full time, canceled all of my travel plans, listened to my immunocompromised friends and loved ones and masked up whenever I had to leave the house, stayed indoors, washed my hands a lot, and made sure to do my best to stay safe and healthy. So while I’ve most certainly been exposed, and I’m triple vaxxed, if I have come down with it, it’s been so mild as to not register for me, which I’m extremely grateful for. But being that person, who still wears masks, who still agonizes over whether to take the train to see my father who lives alone three hours away, is exhausting. And releasing a book in a time when I’d love to do a physical book tour, even on my own dime, but I’m terrified of doing so because I don’t want to get sick or make anyone else sick on my behalf, or even to celebrate my own achievement.
That’s a lot, but this piece really hits home with me, precisely because of all of that. And I’m sure many of you can resonate with this too: especially at this stage of the pandemic, where it’s clearly not over and people are still dying—but so many other elements of society want to behave like it’s behind us. It’s tiring to decide between what we’d like to do, what we have to do, what’s safe and healthy to do, and what’s worth the risk. And those decisions, in the absence of guidance from policymakers and authorities (both out of apathy and a desire to “get back to normal” as well as actual malice and misinformation,) those choices fall to us. They shouldn’t. And we’re seeing the impact that’s having on us in real-time. (h/t to Karen Ho for the link!)
Sincerely, Leaders of Color: Smart leaders put empathy and equity at the forefront of work, by Irving Washington: This piece does an excellent job of outlining my personal approach to management: empathetic and goal-driven whenever possible, and those two things can align easily. Maybe it’s because my background is in getting results from people who don’t report to me (eg, a project manager,) but to me, it’s just as important how you’re doing at work as what you’re doing. And in a way, this piece lays out a new way, in this hybrid, partially remote, everyone’s exhausted new world we live in, to manage and be managed, and I love that.
Subtle racial slights at work cause job dissatisfaction, burnout for Black employees, by Dr. Danielle King: This is a short (two minutes) YouTube video featuring Dr. King discussing her research, which you can read more about in this Twitter thread. But the bottom line is that in her recently published work, she quantifies and examines cases of microaggressions against specifically Black employees in majority-white spaces, and quite honestly I’ve never heard a more accurate description of things that have happened to me personally in three minutes ever. In short, she outlines three major types of microaggressions her analysis highlighted, including anti-Black stereotypes (like assumptions about intelligence or criminal behavior,) racialized role assignment (assuming someone is in a service role because of their race, for example,) and finally interactional injustice (pretending you don’t exist, pretending you don’t have the right to the role you’re in, or you’re not qualified to be someone’s peer, etc.) I can’t wait to read the whole study, and, just maybe, talk to Dr. King for a future project… (h/t to Lydia Kan for the link!)
Ruchika Tulshyan was one of the primary sources for The New York Times article that started this journey for me, and also one of the primary sources for my book, so you can imagine how grateful I am to her for her research, expertise, and her willingness to share her experiences with me. Which is why you should absolutely buy her book, Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work, which came out at the beginning of March from the MIT Press.
Her book is full of practical advice for building inclusive organizations and making sure that inclusivity and diversity are embedded values that you and your team or company speak and practice. Plus, her work has earned praise from activists, executives, and other business and community leaders. That is, if you don’t want to just take my word for it.
Pick it up, if you please. And I’ll see you right back here in two.