Time to Face the Music

Updated: Jan 22

I spent most of my life not truly exposed to the literary giants of the African diaspora. I was very late to the game when I delved into the works of Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison and others. Surely, they were sprinkled throughout my educational buffet, but never the main course. Since that time, I've been playing catch up, in the most life-fulfilling, soul-replenishing way.



"Not everything that is faced can be changed.

But nothing can be changed until it is faced."



I read this quote by James Baldwin late last year and was struck by the simplicity of its truth. But isn't that always the case? The truth is simple. The lies are what confound and muddle - confuse and misrepresent. And given all that has been happening in America over the past 12 months, his words couldn't be any more prescient. Of all the quotables by James Baldwin - and there surely are many, equally appropriate in present day and doubly heart-wrenching that not much has changed - this one stuck out to me the most given the times we're living in.


Facing the music, living in your truth, being in integrity - they all reside at the heart of this statement. We cannot truly change anything in our lives unless we can face the truth. And acknowledging the truth is hard. The truth is painful. It isn't always easy to hear. It does not spare your feelings and it doesn't care if you've learned this lesson before. It can cast shadows on you and bring to light character flaws and issues that you have taken care to obscure and avoid. The truth rarely comes when we want it, but always when we need it. And in more ways than one, I wanted to discuss this message through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion.


LENS was created in direct response to abject turmoil. There was the global pandemic running concurrently with a racial pandemic. And when the dust settled by the end of 2020, there was another pandemic revealed - the exodus of women from the workplace, either by choice or by force. With everything going on, it was easy to feel dejected and overwhelmed. We asked ourselves, half joking and half serious, "How can we be better Black people, to our communities and to the world at large?" And we were brought back to this quote:


"Not everything that is faced can be changed.

But nothing can be changed until it is faced."


I need to repeat it to myself, if only to further internalize the gravity of it. We've borne witness to injustice and atrocity, ridicule and abuse for longer than just the year of 2020. All of the unspeakable cruelty and brutality that culminated in 2020, when we had nowhere to go and were forced to pay attention to what was going on in the world - it was all over the news and social media. And we couldn't look away.


Police brutality. Bias. White Privilege. Systemic racism. Violence. Government corruption.


In response, many public figures, influencers, politicians, and even whole companies publicly denounced racism, inequity and brutality in any form. It was time to make real, lasting change, and the change would start with us. Organizations pledged that they would work toward having more POC in the C-suite, or recruit a specific percentage of women by a specific year or have more POC/LGBTQ+/disabled people in their marketing campaigns. They donated money to organizations currently in the fight to create an anti-racist society. They created spaces for their employees of color to vent, express their frustrations. Again, we spoke of work-life balance, the importance of mental health and enforcing personal boundaries around triggering content or events.


But it still wasn't enough.


Why?


The hard truth is that America has never truly reckoned with its racist roots. And because it has ignored something that is so quintessential to its establishment makes way for the incredulous responses of, "Me? Racist? I can't be! I have Black/Asian/Hispanic friends!" We can't see the forest for the trees. We focus on the details, on our specific experience, not acknowledging that the system was set up this way. Set up to have inequality. Set up to have some think they are better than others, based on their ethnicity. No matter how hard we try to right the wrongs of our current society, we will always fall short because we have not yet faced the music.


Jane Elliot, a White woman who is also a teacher, lecturer, diversity trainer and creator of the Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes experiment in 1968, has famously said (and I am paraphrasing slightly) that if you grew up in this country, attended public school and ARE NOT racist, the educational system failed you.


Ijeoma Oluo, a Nigerian American writer who has written So You Want to Talk About Race? and Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America, said in her most recent and scathingly honest work, "[The system] works according to design...although the phrase may seem alarmingly coldhearted, it is our way of reminding ourselves that the greatest evil we face is not ignorant individuals but our oppressive systems."


So where do we go from here?


We change the systems.


And it's all hands on deck. The DEI space may seem like it's getting crowded. Anti-racism and white privilege are the topics du jour. But if we are to truly do the work of dismantling oppressive systems that have been allowed to take root for hundreds, if not thousands, of years - it's going to take quite a lot of us to do it.


This work is hard. This work is exhausting. DEI fatigue is real. But it can't be ignored or set down because it is challenging. That is exactly the reason why we have to continue the fight, to hold people accountable and also be willing to educate (when ability and patience permit). We must take care of ourselves and advocate for our personal wellbeing, while also bucking against a system that "works according to design." So let's keep pushing. Let's keep forcing others to face the music, to acknowledge the truth that can free us all and lead to a better tomorrow.


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