I’ve not written much on the Black Lives Matter (#BLM) movement. Not because it isn’t important to me. I just knew there were people saying whate needed to be said so much more eloquently than me. I wanted to wait until I had something specific to discuss rather than add to the noise and take away from the amazing work so many Black Lives Matter and Black activists have been generating to bring forward change and greater understanding. That being said, I want to discuss the concept of getting comfortable with discomfort. It’s something I, as a Black woman has had to do and that you, regardless of your race will probably have to do on many occasions during your lifetime too.

I remember working for a really ‘faddy’ company once. They did many things wrong. They also were ahead of the curve in other areas. One thing they taught their employees was to get very comfortable with feeling uncomforable. That we would grow only when we feel discomfort. Now, I’m not talking about working out and the ‘no pain no gain’ mentality, well, not completely anyway. What I mean is embracing the feeling of uncertainty, fear or discomfort that inevitably comes from finding yourself in uncharted territory, whether that is being faced with negative feedback from a client or being placed in a position of responsibility you’re not accustomed to.

My personal story of discomfort

I spent some time in my career working as an in house recruiter. For a time, my team was made up of myself and two other Black females. We spent time looking at our recruitment policies and practices, stress testing them for racial and gender bias. As Black women, we understood first hand and through research, how recruiters and hiring managers could subconsciously descriminate against applicants based on ‘foreign’ sounding names, gender and other factors. I think we felt we deserved a pat on the back for creating a process which seemed to remove barriers. Also, as the gate keepers of the process, we instinctively made sure to give everyone an equal chance.

But I, we, missed something. Our process was seriously unkind to those on the Autism spectrum and it didn’t come to light until an applicant went through our interview process and found it triggering. Triggering enough to report back to their agency. I would never have thought I would descriminate, yet here I was.

I’d had a blind spot. I had thought I was a good ally in all areas. It was uncomfortable, more than anything, I was annoyed at myself for having missed it. As were some of my colleagues, though other members of the company chose to bury their heads in the sand and deny any such problem. Even though we as the recruiters were putting our hands up to say we needed to revise our practices and were working hard to do the research and learn from the experience.

Why am I telling you this?

I’m telling you all of this for a reason. Because the same thing is happening with individuals and companies on issues such as racism, sexism and ableism.

Rather than accepting that that their actions have inadvertently been racist, sexist or ableist, some people bury their heads in the sand. They deny the very possibility that their actions or lack of action could be portrayed as offensive. They are uncomfortable and unable to entertain where they may be at fault or in need of education. But this is dangerous.

I’m telling you this because I need you to understand that even when we try to do right and be good people, we can still miss the mark. I missed the mark and inadvertantly created a system that put those on the Autism spectrum at harm or in the very least, meant they could find themselves unjustly effected by our processes. I was woke enough to look out for gender biases, discuss blind submissions (no names or addresses on applications) and having pronoun options on forms, but I’d missed a whole lot of disabilities. I had to sit in that discomfort and use it as a springboard to learn and to change.

BLM and being comfortable in your discomfort

If you’re reading this as an ally, firstly hey, thank you for dropping in. Your presence is welcome and appreciated. I’ve been on many a BLM call these past few months and it’s always been awesome to see the amount of allies joining them grow. If I’ve learned one thing from what they’ve shared it’s that they’ve had to have many an uncomfortable conversation. Sometimes with family and friends, and other times with themselves.

Many of my friends and colleagues would have considered themselves to not be racists. To be good people. But this situation since March 2020 taught them that they weren’t as ‘good’ as they’d first thought. And that was a tough pill to swallow. Whether it be the realisation that they weren’t actively anti-racist, or that they didn’t call out their racist aunt at the dinner table for using derogatory terms about their black neighbour, there was discomfort.

My advise? Sit in that discomfort. Use that energy to grow. Choose to be better and do better. You can rewrite your story with each new day. You may regret not calling out certain behaviours in the past but that’s not to say you can’t start doing it from today. Try to become a better version of yourself and don’t feel attacked, nobody is saying yesterday’s version of yourself was shit. Just that we can always be and do better.

As a Black person, the BLM movement didn’t start in June 2020. It’s been around all of our lives in some shape or form. Yet, now the spotlight has been thrown on Us. Colleagues are asking Us to speak up in meetings on racism. Non-Black friends are asking us to share and re-live traumas on Zoom calls and face to face. It can be both liberating and darn right uncomfortable. Who wants to retell each micro-agression? Each clutched handbag or surprised expression when we’ve ‘spoken well’ or explained our educational achievements?

Decide on how much you are willing to share and don’t be afraid to point out that you don’t speak for every Black person. As an act of self-care, feel free to decline those conversations. Google can help those who want to learn more, for free without taxing you.

We are in new territory. Black Lives Matter isn’t a trend or a black square to be shared and simply forgotten. It’s reached peak velocity, there is no going back. We need to be the generation that breaks this cycle and makes life long changes. So let’s learn, talk, and grow together.

Want to share your thoughts? Do feel free to ping a comment below. Have your own story to tell and want a safe place to share it? Feel free to drop an email to Talk(@)tinukebernard.com

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