Originally posted on jaradeancoffey.com on March 8, 2021
It is Christmas Eve morning.
I am trying to use up the last pages of a journal to close out my thoughts for 2020.
My writings are jumping from place to place, no doubt mirroring my mood and mind. I have spent the last half of 2020 trying not to be triggered. Needless to say, not easy given the state of things. My emotional well is deep but not wide and I learned in my 20s that if I go beyond my capacity it does not go well (for anyone).
I purposely keep my circle small, with very few new additions. I am limiting, with varying degrees of success, my social media intake. I am practicing being present — in all the ways I can.
When I look back, it was around midsummer that it became clear that this was going to take a while. At around this same time, folks started asking as part of check-ins, “How are you?" They, mostly white given the nature of my work, would share their thoughts and feelings. I opted not to — I didn’t share often. No one will ever accuse me of not being honest. It just never felt like it landed as it was intended. Because, we are not in this together — at least not in the same ways. And I could feel the deep need for some folks to hear that and I could not/would not say what I did not believe.
It's now mid-day.
I’m on the corner chair of the upstairs living room, looking East out the front bay window at our dormant garden. My mom bought me this chair. I had just moved into my first apartment, a studio on Jones St. in San Francisco with a view of the Bay and the Transamerica building. Over the past 18 months or so it has become the place I settle to write and work.
Where was I? Oh, triggered.
So last year my friend and colleague Dr. Chera Reid and I submitted a piece as part of this Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSRI) DEI online series. We purposely thought our positionality and acceptability would play well with the SSIR audience as well as those we seek to influence in our ecosystem respectively.
Opening up my computer, I see that SSIR is inviting abstracts for a second series, “This is what racism looks like.” Here is the thing though — the trigger. In the ask for submissions, this one sentence really stood out, ”These articles can be presented in a variety of forms: as an anonymous, personal account of how an individual experienced racism within their organization.”
This sentence took me back to earlier this year when I was a guest on the EvalCentral UnWebinar Series (May 13, 2020). A colleague asked me (at the 30:11 mark), “What was your most denigrating experience as a black woman doing evaluation?” Confession: I was in the flow and immediately went to my mental library to retrieve one of how many when my subconscious said, “Wait. That memory/experience is yours and not for the consumption of someone else, no matter how well-meaning the one asking is (that is a writing for another time - well-meaning has been covering a lot of trauma and violence lately).
I said something in response to the question about its inappropriateness and irrelevance and moved the conversation on. To be honest, I forgot about it until someone on the podcast reminded me of it later that day when we were talking as I was taking one of my many daily walks. For me, interactions (like the question in the podcast) like that do not serve me, so I usually let them go. Not minimizing them. Not excusing them. But I do not let them do lasting harm or hold space that could hold an infinity of other things. Then, the SSIR ask brought it all back up for me.
Why must the pain, suffering and trauma of those most impacted by racism be served on a platter for white consumption?
What would it be like if the narrative was switched and those who have perpetrated and perpetuated systemic racism lay bare their experiences and their choices. Imagine a panel where folks had to respond to the question, “ Can you tell us a time where your words, actions or requests harmed and traumatized the Black and marginalized folks in the room?” I would pay to see that — I really would.
I have no doubt the intention of the SSRI ask is well meaning . In full disclosure, we reached out to them and had an honest conversation about the language and they were open to immediately tackling and changing some of the more problematic language but also invited us into further discussion because they wanted to make sure that their ask was not harmful. And yet still, that original ask was made. Sure — hearts, minds and monies of some might be shifted by the series, but at whose expense?
My questions to folks with these types of asks are:
Who shaped the ask?
What do they hope to accomplish?
Whom did they hope to sway and how?
Who is carrying the burden of any trauma/violence that may be built into the ask?
How could this question/topic be framed and asked where the burden of the response falls on those perpetuating the harm, not those bearing it?
And really, how much “evidence” do you need — that is for another day.
*This blog was originally written on December 24th, 2020. It was updated on February 17, 2021.