You believe in the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion. (I assume so, since you’re reading this blog.) Maybe you describe yourself as a DEI champion, or even an ally. You interrupt bias in the moment; you say something when you see something insensitive or unjust.
My question is: have you ever faced a situation in which you feared you would face a cost for your actions? That it would be risky for you to speak up? Did you speak up anyway or hold back?
It is easier to interrupt bias when we are not worried about personal repercussions. I think it is worth asking ourselves, how much are we willing to put on the line to stop an inequity? What would we be willing to give up?
My aunt recently told me a story about my grandfather that brought this to mind. It was the early ‘70’s, in Jamaica, and my grandfather was a member of an exclusive lunch club for businessmen. One day, he submitted his younger friend’s name for membership. The admission committee responded swiftly: no. The man was Chinese. In post-colonial Jamaica of the early ‘70’s, light-skinned professional Jamaicans were being granted more privilege, but Chinese Jamaicans, it seemed, were a step too far.
According to my aunt, my grandfather said, “Okay, no problem, I understand.” And after a short pause, he added, “By the way, I am resigning my membership.”
My grandfather was a respected attorney, well liked in the community. Leaving the club could have resulted in sacrificing countless professional and social opportunities with potential clients, and damaging his reputation.
But his principles outweighed those benefits. He couldn’t let discrimination stand unchallenged. I never heard him raise his voice, so I picture him calmly turning in his card and walking away without offering an ultimatum.
In this case, the club saw my grandfather’s sacrifice as a risk to their reputation. After some backroom conversations with management came a flurry of backpedaling and apologizing. And they admitted my grandfather’s friend. That young man ended up running a large organization and becoming a well-known power broker in Jamaica. They remained life-long friends. In fact, it was his daughter who shared the story with my aunt.
I’m proud to be his granddaughter. This story inspires me and reminds me that standing up for inclusion can be risky. Many of us aren’t willing to stand up in those moments for fear of losing some of our privilege. But that bravery is exactly what true allyship calls for.
So look around at the injustices, large and small. Ask yourself, as I ask myself: “What are you willing to give up for DEI?”