Saturday, February 22, 2020


I came across a Black History Month post on LinkedIn. The focus was the topic of exhaustion. Here is a snippet of it:
What I hear is this:
- I’m tired of having to educate others in why their statement/actions are racist;
- I’m tired of having to fight so hard to prove my value;
- I’m tired of constantly being on the defensive;
- I’m tired of having to defend my actions;
- I’m tired of others assuming things about my intent;
- I’m tired of my impact being minimized.
And, the list goes on.
What this translates as to me is: "I'm tired of people making choices that have negative impacts for me."

Which is understandable. One of the side effects of being outside of social norms, whether the norm is about race, sex or anything else, is that people are going to be more likely to respond to, and treat one, differently. And this is often a disadvantage. (One can make the case that for people with "model minority" status, that the different treatment they receive is an advantage, bit they tend to be the exception that proves the rule.

But the fact of the matter is, we don't have control over the choices that other people make. And "white leaders" don't, either.
We need black women and men to contribute positively to our business and bring their best selves.
I would counter this with the observation that if this were that much of a business need, one would see money and effort spent on initiatives to bring it about. The fact of the matter is that for many businesses, this falls somewhere between a "nice to have" and a worthwhile luxury. But American society has long been content to waste vast amounts of human capital, largely because there isn't an observed need to be more efficient with it. There's always another person looking for a career, whose "hunger" means that they're willing to work harder, sacrifice more or sabotage others for the reward of being employed. If there were a distinct need for everyone to bring their best selves, those expressions of hunger would, for the most part, be unnecessary effort.
How can they do that when we make them so tired all the time?
I have had a problem with the idea that we make one another feel or do things for some time. Mainly because it absolves the individual for any responsibility for their part of the interaction. Someone making a racist statement or assuming things about my intent doesn't somehow reach into my being and extract energy. When someone doesn't value me to the same degree that I value me or prefers to see themselves as having had an impact that a more objective observer would have attributed to me, that becomes a tiring infraction when I expend energy on it. This isn't to say that there aren't good reasons to expend that energy. After all, the people who taught me that I should expend it were intelligent, wise and thoughtful individuals. But if all it does is move me closer to a point of exhaustion, is it really energy well-spent? Does it really help me contribute positively to the business that I work for and/or bring "my best self" to what I do? If not, does it really make sense for me to persist in doing it? Was I taught to respond to perceived slights against me by others with no other intent than to feel drained?

Investing in circumstances where one has no control over the outcome is a risky endeavor. Note that this is not to say that it is a worthless one; a lot of people have made themselves very wealthy by putting money into other people's businesses and then sitting back and raking in the returns on that investment when the businesses turned out to be wildly successful. But that element of risk is always there. For every success story, there are some number of failures, where people's investments have simply evaporated; or been appropriate by people who knew how to better work the odds (or the rules). And so the question becomes: Is an investment in other people's treatment of me likely to pay off?

Personally, I'm of the impression that it isn't. Investing energy in defending myself against the statements and actions of someone who sees me as a threat to their status and position will have no worthwhile returns. And that's energy that I can put into better things. If my employer doesn't need it, so be it, let me spend it on myself, then. If some "leader" is going to step in, and create a focus on giving me energy to be used to advance their cause(s), great. But if not, I have to be the manager of my energy. I'm the one who needs to value it. If I don't view it as too precious to waste on things that I can't directly control and are unlikely to have a payoff, I'm not sure that it's worthwhile to wager any on the idea that others will. But if I am carefully and thoughtfully investing my energy where it will do the most good, have the best return on that investment, then I suspect that I will find that the people around me who want to share in that return will also be willing to invest.

Because in reality, it's not like White people don't experience negative statements and actions tied to their skin color (or lack thereof). They may have to fight harder than they feel is warranted to prove their value to others. And people assuming things about their intent? I'm sure that they could tell you some stories. But I believe they don't suffer the same level of exhaustion with this that many Black people report for the simple reason that they're not taught in invest energy into it without a concrete understanding of what they will receive in return for that. Yes, their circumstances are different, that's part of the reason why they have been assigned the label "privileged." But there's no reason why we should cede those circumstances to them, now that there is much less willingness to hold on to them by force.

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