Stop Calling Me Diverse


My latest peeve is reading and hearing people refer to individuals as “diverse.” When I typically refer to something as diverse or having diversity, I’m talking about a mix of things; I’m talking about the collective. To me, a group of individuals can be referred to as diverse. An individual person- through the lens of a specific characteristic, i.e. race, sex- cannot be diverse. Even the Merriam-Webster uses definition examples that describe groups, not individuals, defining “diverse” as follows:

  1. differing from one another; unlike; people with diverse interests
  2. composed of distinct or unlike elements or qualities; a diverse population

One could argue that my interpretation wrong, that you could totally say that an individual is diverse because the primary characteristic of interest is different than your own. Fine. For arguments sake, let’s say so. That interpretation of “diverse” still requires some reference characteristic for comparison. Meaning that ultimately, you’re still characterizing the group, not an individual. What makes this worse is the weak attempt to define this other person by something they are not. How insulting and dismissive to identify something by what it is not! People of color should not be called “non-white” just as women are not called “non-men.”

Stop calling me diverse.


Companies looking to attract and hire more “diverse” applicants should spend some time to characterize what this means. Being precise in stating your goals actually will help you attain that goal. As a former personal trainer, my program for someone who wants to “be healthy” is going to look very different than someone who wants to lose weight or build muscle.

Companies serious about valuing and improving the diversity are actually looking to shift the dominant culture among their staff. This likely means hiring people whose identities have been marginalized and underrepresented within the company. Specifically, this could look like setting a goal to hire more people of color, women (especially in leadership positions), LGBTQIA folks, folks with disabilities, older adults, etc. Can we name that? Is that something that we could see in job posts and company websites? Is that something we can even talk about openly in our internal meetings on staffing?

Maybe so.

But what that would require to is have a real look at the demographic data at your company and ask real questions behind how that came to be. What that requires is a real acknowledgement of and interrogation into power. That’s the thing that’s hard. And that’s the thing that allows companies to more easily embrace “diversity and inclusion” but not equity as a value, goal and call to action. Why is having a conversation about power so challenging for folks? We can talk about diversity and inclusion, we can call it representation and belonging instead, all that is fine, but none of that means anything substantive or transformative if we’re not talking about power. And once you start talking about power, then we can start assessing and addressing the barriers within our companies to attain and sustain true diversity, inclusion and equity.

This is just a chups, so I’ll just end with this:

  1. Stop calling individuals diverse. Diverse describes the collective, not the singular.
  2. Name the marginalized/underrepresented groups you’re looking to pool from in order to change the dominant culture at your company. If you need more people of color, name that and plan your actions accordingly.
  3. Assess your current company demographics and set goals for the why and how that should change.
  4. Have shared language in your company about power and equity, which can be foundational to meaningful improvements in diversity and inclusion goals and culture.
  5. Assess and address barriers for attracting, hiring and retaining employees who are underrepresented and/or marginalized in society.

This is part of the “Just a Chups” series, a collection of short-form thoughts on a variety of important topics. “Chups” is Jamaican patois for a “kiss on the cheek”. And because I strongly believe that feedback is love, these short pieces aim to not only think and learn publicly, but just give a little love out there for areas where we may struggle. Enjoy and engage!

Appreciating Diversity is Not Enough


I’ve heard it before and I’m sure you’ve heard it too. Whether in a panel discussion, a job interview or just everyday conversations at work, we’ve all heard someone say some version of the following statement: “I really appreciate diversity.” 

Now, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a million times more– I really appreciate the ballet, but I an NOT a dancer! How do I operationalize my appreciation for the ballet?

Actually, it’s pretty easy. Those who may “appreciate” the ballet can attend performances, maybe know a bit about the dancers, the choreographers, or the history behind some of the pieces. Perhaps they vote on or donate to initiatives that bring more equity into the arts by hosting workshops, classes or performances in communities that don’t have easy access to the ballet or provide sliding scale prices for performances. Without even needing to Google a thing, I just came up with a plethora of tangible actions that align with an “appreciation” for ballet that can take us beyond acknowledging that a thing called the ballet exists and that it’s cool, I guess. Likewise, there are a plethora of tangible actions that align with an “appreciation” for diversity that can take us beyond acknowledging that a thing called diversity exists and that it’s cool or legally compliant or has a strong business case or that’s the right thing to do, I guess.  

How does your company operationalize its appreciation for diversity and inclusion? What are you actually doing— the actual actions, policies and practices— that align with your stated value for diversity and inclusion? How do your hiring practices, benefit packages, internal communication mechanisms, external communication guidelines and professional development and staff support resources align with this appreciation for diversity and inclusion? If the actions are not visible or measurable, then you don’t really appreciate those things, do you? Either get your practices up to speed or remove this as one of your company values. No #alternativefacts here.

Let’s take it a step further. 

I attended a panel discussion recently where a speaker attempted to answer the question about the firm’s approach to diverse and inclusive hiring practices. The speaker started by saying something that we’ve again all heard some version of before: “This is really coming from the top. Our leaders truly understand that having diverse perspectives at the table make our work product better.” 

There’s a lot that’s great about this. Yes, we want leadership on diversity, inclusion and equity in the workplace practices to come from the top. But again, what ways do we demonstrate this understanding? What are the metrics? Actions? Outputs? Where it also falls flat for me is the lack of acknowledgement that power dynamics come into play here. To believe that more diversity is good for the company and can improve outputs is also admitting that what you are currently doing does not work as best it could. That’s a hard pill for many people to swallow, especially those in power (power given by the company and/or by societal systems of oppression). And to then say that that improvement will come from the contributions of historical marginalized groups can be an even bigger pill to swallow for some. Moreover, this table does not magically expand. A table provides finite space. To really bring more diverse perspectives to this table, to your company, may require some people to push back from the table to make room for others to sit. How do you get people to do that? The systems we have to “win” at our companies aren’t typically built to incentivize these types of behavior. Major organizational change may be needed.

In a nutshell, what I want to encourage us all to explore to moving beyond the typical declarations of what is important and what we value. It’s important to state these things, yes, but values, appreciate and acknowledgement must also be evident in your actions, not just on your websites. 

Just a chups!


This is part of the “Just a Chups” series, a collection of short-form thoughts on a variety of important topics. “Chups” is Jamaican patois for a “kiss on the cheek”. And because I strongly believe that feedback is love, these short pieces aim to not only think and learn publicly, but just give a little love out there for areas where we may struggle. Enjoy and engage!

WRITING IN CAPS: What Issa Rae’s Insecure and Shankar Vedantam’s Hidden Brain Showed Me About My Communication Biases at Work

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Issa Rae’s HBO show, Insecure, brilliantly creates a broad platform that allows people of color, women of color and black women specifically to see ourselves in a real way- a glimpse in how we try to navigate our lives with ourselves, and not whiteness, at the center of our existence. Often times, the show bombastically extrapolates nuances of our experiences. I think to the lipstick/mirror scene. More times than I’d like to admit, I too have personified different outfits to find the right one for who I want to be on a night out. Other times- and these are my favorite times, there are moments in the show when these nuances are subtly interwoven into larger plot points, maybe perhaps missed by those who haven’t shared that experience. One scene in particular has continued to linger with me:

Remember Rasheeda? Here’s Angelica Jade Bastien’s recap of part of her story line:

“In Episode 3, Molly faces this dilemma when a new black intern joins her law firm. Rasheeda (Gail Bean) embodies the sort of sassy black girl archetype that may be O.K. around friends but reads as inappropriate anywhere else. You can see Molly wince when Rasheeda ends her sentences with “girl” or tells off-color jokes to white co-workers about finding a man so attractive she had to send herself to HR. When Molly takes her aside and suggest that she “switch it up a little bit” Rasheeda takes offense.”

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Regardless whether I’ve said something directly to the Rasheeda-type characters I’ve encountered in my own life, I have definitely been in Molly’s shoes before. Countless times. In my current work in international development, I collaborate with colleagues and partners hailing for different countries in sub-Saharan Africa where English may be their second, third, or maybe even 8th language that they know. As you would expect, there are often differences in communication styles, words and expressions. Over the past two years in this business, I’ve developed these pesky (read: petty) little peeves that drive me nuts: the spelling of the word hello as hallo, shortening hello as hie instead of hi and lastly, and most annoyingly, WRITING OR NAMING DOCUMENTS USING ALL CAPS.

Most of the time, I’d either roll my eyes and ignore it or reformat it before saving it and sending off again. Sometimes, especially if it’s someone I’m close to, I’d advise them to correct the error so they won’t repeat it in the future (not effective, by the way). There’s part of me, I think/hope most of me, that does this because I have experienced how it feels when difference marked by dark skin is valued negatively and read as incompetence. Perhaps in my own way, I try to help my colleagues “switch it up a little bit” in hopes that it would impact how they may be received by others. At the same time, perhaps my corrections aren’t completely altruistic and go far deeper than trying to help a sister out.

Bastien goes on to describe:

“Molly’s desire to get Rasheeda to act in a way that fits the aesthetics of a high-powered law firm isn’t a wholly selfless act — she also wants to protect herself. When you work in worlds where black faces are rare (especially in positions of power) a mistake your co-worker makes may reflect unfairly on you.”

In a recent post, I detailed my (ongoing) struggle to understand how I fit in my industry as an American from the African diaspora. I feel linked to both my African and Western colleagues. I don’t exactly know whether or how the perception and reality of black group identity translates across oceans and manifests in my day-to-day. Regardless, for better or worse, I do feel this pull to adjust these communication differences for both group and self-protection.

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At the same time, I also cannot ignore that it also drives me nuts! I feel like I actually get upset and emotionally involved! I thought that was one of those things that make me unreasonable at times- we all have our things- until I heard a recent episode of Hidden Brain. This part of Shankar Vedantam’s conversation with linguist John McWhorter  really resonated with me:

Vedantam: You make the case that concerns over the misuse of language might actually be one of the last places where people can publicly express prejudice and class differences. And as you point out, it’s not just that people feel that a word is being misused, they often feel angry about it and you think this anger is actually telling.

McWhorter: Yeah, I really do. I think that the tone that many people use when they’re complaining that somebody says “Billy and me went to the store,” it’s a little bit incommensurate with the significance of the issue. And I can’t help surmising that part of it is that the educated American has been taught- and often well- that you’re not supposed to look down of people because of gender, because of race, because of ability, but might we allow that there’s probably a part of all human beings that wants to look down on somebody else? What a cynical thing to say, but that doesn’t mean that it might not be true. And if that is true, then the educated person can look down on people who say “Billy and me went to the store” or who are using literally “wrong” and condemn them in the kinds of terms that once were ordinary for condemning black people, or women, or what have you. So I just think that it’s something we need to check ourselves for. It might irritate you slightly…but does a person who says that really deserve the kind of sneering condemnation that you often see. Something is off, and I think it’s because there’s a lowlier part of our nature that grammar allows us to vent in the absence of other ways to do it that haven’t been available for some decades, for a lot of us.

McWhorter’s response perfectly articulates why I cringe when I see others jeer at others’ misspellings. But before I got too high on my horse, I realized that this condescension may join self- and group-protection as an additional layer at the root of my pet peeve.

Well McWhorter, consider me checked. Will these things continue to drive me crazy? I’m sure it will. Change doesn’t happen overnight, especially when it comes to these types of biases. Certainly I will notices these communication differences, and when I do, I must practice vigilantly to observe and adjust my feelings and actions. There’s no need to get all emotionally involved and correct the “misspelling” of hi, especially when it doesn’t matter (and especially when the person speaks way more languages than me).

Sure, the Molly/Rasheeda scenario and the grammar bias issue have their differences. But for me, the ideas of these two issues together culminate into this interesting intersection between 1) understanding stereotypes and managing perceptions through code switching and other tactics and 2) avoiding the pitfalls of perpetuating harmful stereotypes about us or other marginalized groups, perhaps cloaked in acceptable avenues of marginalization such as communication, grammar, etc.

Don’t get it twisted. This is no “we have all biases” kumbaya circle. Biases held by people of color about themselves are developed, manifested and sustained in very different ways that are not equivalent when white people have these biases against us. I get that.

What this is, I guess, is another public monologue of me trying to fit myself in this world of international development and look honestly at my own thoughts and behaviors. And I hope that it could only encourage others to do the same.

Quick Thoughts: Hidden Figures Film

It’s 1am. It’s been 3 hours since I’ve come home from seeing Hidden Figures. I’ve watched Obama’s last farewell speech, Instagramed my 2008 Obama The New York Times election issue and baked and ate a vegetarian lasagna. But I can’t go to bed until I write something down about this movie. Forgive any typos.

Here are my quick thoughts:

It’s PG rated, so expect accordingly. Granted that and the fact that Kevin Costner is in it, I expected (and received) a more survey level overview of the impact made and barriers faced by Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan… and cheesy lines like when Kevin’s character  knocked down the Colored Ladies Room sign and said “At NASA, we all pee the same color”. REALLY? In any case, I hope this movie inspires everyone, young and old alike, to take to their computers (the machine ones, not the human ones) and get all their Googles done on these women.

Emotional ping pong. I felt the scenes alternated between happy and sad, funny and somber. It was annoying at first, but then I realized that life as a marginalized person can be this way: You’re living your life, having a good time, then you get slammed with some racist, microaggression BS and then you have to continue on.

Janelle Monae casting. Janelle did a good job as Mary Jackson and I liked her in the role. That said, although I cannot imagine a world where Will Smith’s public career is just music, I do not support the casting of singers as actors for people of color. With the myth that black leads can’t sell tickets, it seems that black talent have a better chance of landing roles if they come to the screen with an audience. There are very serious actors of color who’ve dedicated their academic and professional lives to drama and can’t land roles because there aren’t enough roles for us. You don’t see this trend as much with white actors. Hopefully, some of those women as extras in the Colored Computers room will use this as a launch into something greater.

Opening car trouble scene. This disturbed me a bit. When the women see a police car coming down the highway, they know it’s for them. As Dorothy and Mary exchangdd when they nervously put themselves at attention to receive the officer, “There’s no crime in having car trouble…. There’s no crime in being a Negro either”. Dorothy is right to tell Mary to “button up” her lip because “no body wants to go to jail because of her mouth,” there’s truth and fallacy wrapped up in one. Yes, being “disrespectful” can land you in jail as a person of color, but as we’ve seen with Sandra Bland and the innumerable people of color who have been brutalized or killed for less, it shows us otherwise.

John Glenn and the myth of colorblindness. There’s something about this actor’s smile that gave me the creeps. In the few lines he had while interacting with the black women in the story, he seemed joyfully ignorant of the challenges and racial realities of his time. He came off as this jolly go lucky white guy who wanted to travel around the space in bliss, with no consciousness of the privilege that enabled him to get there and the barriers still faced by those who helped him along. When shaking the hands of the NASA employees, he was rushed by his handlers to finish up and not greet the black women segregated on the line. He seems totally oblivious about why they were in such a rush and even communicates that to the women. Then towards the end, when wanting his launch/landing calculations confirmed by hand, he asked for “the girl” (who was recently reassigned back to the Colored Wing). When he needed to confirm which one, he said he wanted “the smart one.” Sure, we want people of color to be known by their capabilities and other characteristics besides the color of their skin, but this post-racial, colorblind society does not exist. In an attempt to signify progress, this portion of the film takes us back.

The three daughters. I don’t know if this part of Katherine’s story is true (I still need to do my Googles), but I LOVE the fact that she had three daughters (of varying shades). To me, it really reflected the three main women in the story and the impact they had on the possibilities for girls and women of color. When Katherine’s daughter gave her the drawing with her mother as an astronaut, to me it both 1) reflected the simplicity of how children see the world- I imagine that the girls don’t really understand what their mom does so the space stuff she does must mean that she’s an astronaut, and 2) reminded me of Mae Jemison, an engineer, a physician, astronaut, and first black woman in space who was just 5 years old somewhere at the time that this scene takes place. You also see this when Dorothy explains to her sons that “separate but equal” is not right. It’s critical to train children to imagine and reach beyond what they see in front of them- in a sense, as the movie tells us, to create the math that’s not there.

Mile long bathroom runs. With the upbeat music, it was definitely used as filler scenes and comic relief. There’s nothing funny about that.

White redemption handed out like Oprah’s cars. Every single major white character in the film gets an arch where they become redeemed through some stroke of altruistic benevolence or ignorance leading them to a change of heart:

  • Mary’s court judge. Judge is compelled by Mary’s moving speech to convince him to let her take night classes at the all white high school (even though Brown v. Board of Ed had made this type of segregation unconstitutional move than 5 years before this scene takes place). Yes, she got her degree inevitably, but there’s no conversation or hinting at whether the bar kept moving further and further out of her reach to qualify for the engineering program.
  • Police officer. He stopped these women, intimidated them about where they were and whether they were being respectful enough to him and then he just moved on to offer an escort to their job? The moment was treated as comic relief to have”three Negro women chasing a white police car down the highway” but it’s not.
  • Kevin Costner. Was his character impassioned by Katherine’s speech about her long trek to the bathroom and Colored Coffee? Unlikely. Did he want his best resource wasting time during the day going to the bathroom? No. His comment of peeing the same color is not as accurate as his comment about asking Katherine to use whatever bathroom she wanted, “preferably closer to her desk.” Also, he didn’t let her into the board room because he was nice. From a quick Google, he let her in because she asked whether it was the law to keep her out.
  • Dude from Big Bang Theory. Starting off making it hard for Katherine to do her work to then ultimately being the voice and taking credit for her work put him in line with a long, thriving tradition of women of color being unvalued and silenced from their contributions. During the ending scene, dude from Big Bang Theory brings Katherine her coffee in her brown mug and accepts the typed notes with both his and Katherine’s name on it, Katherine’s name second.
  • Chick from Bring it On. Time and time again, Dunst’s character blocks Dorothy from getting the title (and pay) that reflected the role she had been taking on: Supervisor. Don’t we all know that story. Only after Dorothy made herself and her team busted ass to become invaluable as programmers for the IBM and she called Dunst’s character out on her “but I’m a good person” speech in the bathroom, did Dunst’s character give her the role she had already earned.
  • Mary’s teacher just didn’t know anything and was clearly unprepared for her arrival, leaving Crazy Librarian lady as the only one who didn’t get to show how she changed. I can only assume she continued blocking people of color’s access to information. A long and thriving tradition as well.

It would have been so much better to see this film truly though the lens of Katherine, Mary and Dorothy (who had very little backstory). Not only would it be a better story, but would let me know that this movie was for me. As is, it’s not. Progress for people of color cannot and does  it depend on the niceness of those with power. Like that library book Dorothy took, you have to take what’s rightfully yours.

Kevin Costner’s character is a terrible boss. He clearly has no idea what happens to his team. Forget Katherine’s bathroom runs, he didn’t even know the coffee situation in his own office.

Supportive husbands left and right. Well, that’s a welcomed change from what’s typically shown on film. All three women had (black) men in their lives who ultimately respected and supported the work they were doing.

Double, triple shifts. Not only did these women work long grueling hours being doubted and slighted at so many levels, they were shown to be active mothers, wives, and church women. As shown in Dorothy and Mary’s story, they went to extraordinary lengths for personal learning and academic achievement to get to the next level of their careers- with what time, I have no idea. Twice as hard to get half as far on a moving target.

Backdrop of Civil Rights. I thought it was important that they showed (though very briefly) the concurrent struggles with the fight for Civil Rights. I highly doubt these women had no opinion on what was going on, but instead they were shown to just rather cross the street and no be included in the trouble. If this movie was truly done from their perspectives, I think we would have seen some more nuance in this regard.

Favorite scene #1. When Katherine gave her bathroom and coffee speech, the way Taraji acted this scene was brilliant. There’s the back and forth of frustration and restraint that I understand and have felt. It’s the feeling when you’re unfolding while conscious of the risk in speaking out. It’s a delicate balance that doesn’t always reap rewards.

Favorite scene #2. When the reassigned Katherine is called upon at the last minute to double check the IBM’s calculations, she saves the day, but still gets the door shut in her face (eventually Costner reopens it) but there was such truth in that moment. There will always be doors in a country that was build by, but not for you.

I’m sure there are lots more to grab onto from this movie and I look forward to watching it again (in the privacy of airplane headphones and without the inappropriately timed laughter of some in the audience I was in).

Hope you also enjoyed it and happy Googling!

-JB

 

Nothing About Us Without Us: Navigating Identity Working in International Development

Let me be honest.

There’s something a bit righteous about being a person of color talking about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. It takes a lot of work and a lot of effort to do it, don’t get me wrong- to look in the face of your white colleagues advocating for your own humanity, advocating for your seat at the table and asking them to push back and to make room for more like you. It’s risky work that takes a personal, emotional and professional toll before, during and after those conversations are had. At the same time, there’s some righteousness there. Some nose and chin-upness to do that as a person of color- to walk and stand in the tradition of creating opportunity for those (including myself) who bear the residual historical inertia of being without.

Being a person of color working in international development, or shall I be more specific to say, to be a black person headquartered in the United States at an organization that can boast over 65% African national staff, talking about racial and cultural diversity and inclusion puts a different spin on it. To be someone who needs to both grab a seat AND push back from that mystic table of opportunity requires that double consciousness in a different sense. In this case, I need to acknowledge that within the United States, as a black person as a black woman as a black immigrant, there’s still so far to go to true equity- to truly be active and live my life free of the weight of marginalization. I also need to acknowledge that I sit closer to power than my African colleagues. That’s a bit harder to sit in. There’s no righteousness there.

The quotation, “Nihil de nobis sine nobis” or “Nothing about us without us” has recently entered my social sphere; I’ve adopted this mantra as the new paradigm organizing my relationship to my work. Nothing I do should be without real participation of those impacted by my projects. But when I sit with this, “Nothing about us without us,” I don’t know where to put myself anymore. In the context of international development, I’m not always in the us I’m talking about.

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Both in and out of the us.

This forces me into a situation where I am simultaneously a problem and a solution, both someone who has and lacks power. This localized and fluid nature of race and identity when working across borders, oceans and history splits me at opposing ends. On a good day, I’m conflicted. Most days, paralyzed.

If I want to ask my white colleagues, what does being a more diverse and inclusive organization change about their roles, their conversations, their day-to-day, I need to ask myself the same: What am I truly willing and able to give up for the cause of real diversity and real inclusion? Granted, whatever that is may be different than my white peers, but it will be something still. At what point will it and should it get uncomfortable for me? What will I and should I learn? What will I and should I truly understand and practice for diversity and inclusion to be fully realized? Most importantly, what will I and should I lose if I don’t?

Earlier this year, I had a meeting with a project manager from another organization in Malawi. When I walked into the room, what happened often happens when I have a meeting with someone I don’t know in Malawi, if they’re Malawian. There’s a rapid fire succession of microexpressions showing confusion, shock and comfort on their faces when they realize that the person from the United States who they instinctively imagined is white is not. One meeting began with this conversation:

Man: So tell me something, why are the police there in your country killing black people? 

Me: You know. 

Man: Yes, I know.

Besides the fact that my white colleagues don’t have to deal with the emotional toll of these conversations creeping into business meetings, what has lingered within me from this particular exchange was that across history, time, culture and oceans, there’s an acknowledgement of a linked fate between us- the historical and ever stubborn impact of racial oppression. A lifetime of shared experiences of having your competence read on your skin, doubted before you’ve opened your mouth, of working twice as hard for half as much. There’s a real and imagined community within the African diaspora that I continue to learn about and experience and ground myself in everyday as circumstances ebb and flow. But as much as we share, there’s as much we don’t.

Where’s the balance? Where do I put myself in the us? How do I open the door for myself and step aside to let someone else through first? How do I get a seat at the table only to let someone else sit?

If you’re reading this for answers, I don’t have any. Only questions pregnant with questions. Conflicts breeding more conflict. A road map marked with chaos that will eventually, hopefully, lead to clarity and action.

Diversity & Inclusion in International Development (Part 1)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, one of my favorite writers and thinkers, recently penned one the best post-presidential election essays I’ve read, Now Is the Time to Talk About What We Are Actually Talking About (The New Yorker, December 2, 2016). If you read it and it hits home for you the way it did for me, you’ll do what I did: print it out, highlight the title and post it to your cubicle wall.

In a recent conference discussion on diversity and inclusion in international development, this essay title continued to haunt me. When are we going to start talking about what we’re actually talking about? In other words, let’s get to the real meat of the conversations and actions around the challenges many international development organizations face with diversity and inclusion– both in addressing the gross lack of racial and cultural diversity in its headquarters and how it leads to the stratification of power across racial lines between field and head offices. Without talking directly about what we’re actually talking about, sure it feels good for some to pat themselves on the back for participating in a discussion without facing real truths about our personal and organizational complacency and willful ignorance. For others, it can be a frustrating let down- a forum to talk about race, race relations and challenges with inclusion that still dances on ice without breaking through.

What I’d like to present here are a few of my thoughts in response to some points that were made during the discussion, with the hopes that it will not only help me advance in my thinking and presentation of these issues, but also stimulates deeper thought and action for those who read it:

  • Disrupt the paradigm of “hard” and “soft” skills
  • Push beyond diversity as good business sense for stakeholder relationships
  • Directly address the challenge of discussing social identities across countries and cultures
  • Resist the seduction of individual stories to address bias
  • Do not try to change hearts and minds
  • Make your definitions clear
  • Put your money where your mouth is
  • Challenge assumptions about talent acquisition
  • Create the expectation that it’s everyone role to uphold organizational goals, values and approaches to diversity and inclusion.
  • Understand your role.

Disrupt the paradigm of “hard” and “soft” skills. 

I heard a story on some podcast the other day, likely on NPR (like the proper pretentious liberal that I am). There was a woman recounting a conversation with a principal who was lamenting about how he knows for a fact that there are teachers who honestly believe that their black students aren’t able to learn like their white counterparts. “Isn’t that crazy?” he said to her. But what she heard was just confusion- “so what I’m hearing is that these teachers that you know don’t think their black students can’t learn still have their jobs?” If you’re a great teacher, but don’t think that your black students can learn… well then you’re not a great teacher, are you?

Same goes for our organizations. Whether you’re an expert software developer or project manager, you cannot be effective at your job if you lack cultural competency. Especially in working in international development, where we constantly champion how critical trust, rapport and relationships with stakeholders are key to our work, cultural competency rests at the very foundation of what we do and how we have impact. How can you be effective at your job without the skills of understanding and relating to differences (acutely aware of perceived and actual differences and the values we ascribe accordingly)? How can you be effective at your job without understanding the history and culture and sociopolitical dynamics that impact the communities where we work (and our own countries/cultures)? How can you be effective at your job without the core competency of bringing other people’s ideas, experiences and perspectives to the table with equal weight? Without cultural competency, you cannot be good at your job. Period.

We need to disrupt this paradigm of hard and soft skills. They work in tandem. Technical skills deserves the same weight as cultural competency. To be effective, one cannot exist without the other. Moreover, you can google HTML coding. You cannot google how to engage with colleagues and stakeholders equitably.

Push beyond diversity as good business sense for stakeholder relationships.

Where does the power exist in organizational decisionmaking and management? Hiring a local person as your Country Director to represent and influence the organization from a local perspective dangerously dips into tokenism, especially when the real power of decisionmaking, budget management and strategic leadership still rests behind the closed conference room doors of a Western head office.

Directly address the challenge of discussing social identities across countries and cultures.

Our understanding of race is incredibly local. Organizations must work in open, direct and equal partnerships across its offices (HQ and country offices) to create a shared understanding, goal and definitions of diversity & inclusion, social identities and how those influence both the process and outcomes of our work. Work must be put into identifying key terms and their meanings to empower staff within headquarters and across the organization with a shared language to talk these issues. Without shared language, conversations and actions around diversity and inclusion will remain at the surface, without teeth and without action.

Resist the seduction of individual stories to address bias. 

Initiatives and programming that attempt the nebulous task of “getting to the heart of the individual” are certainly seductive, easy and most critically, lack the potential for scale and sustainability. Let’s hold our organizational approach to diversity and inclusion to the same rigorous standards that we hold for our programs and interventions. What will we need to do to have reach and impact?

Do not try to change hearts and minds.

There are some people who are head of nutrition teams, who themselves practice poor nutrition. There are people who advocate for safe sex practices among youth, who themselves do not. We do not expect people’s personal behaviors to influence their work for these and other health practices, so why do we expect staff to personally adopt better behaviors and beliefs around diversity and inclusion? I have no interest in transforming someone’s personal feelings or individual approach to diversity and inclusion. This is not what I’m talking about. If someone wants to be racist, then let them be racist by themselves over in the corner of the room or behind a door (hopefully the front one).

It’s not about individual identity; it’s about the organizational identity. What I am focused on is establishing and clearly stating the organizational goals, values and approach to diversity and inclusion. Who you are or what you think individually must stay at the door when working within and representing the organization. It’s critical to develop clear and stated goals and values of diversity and inclusion that are integrated into the core values of the organization as well as operationalized in its approach. Everyone becomes responsible for sustaining that organizational culture. Most importantly, it helps reduce risk for those who speak out, who are also more likely to be people of color (perpetuating their marginalization). If I see my colleague engaging in a way outside of our stated goals, values and approach to diversity and inclusion, I have something that I can point to that has been institutionalized by the organization and does not rest with my personal (too often invalidated) feelings about the issue. Those who feel or operate otherwise can either stay in the corner or walk out the door.

Having a strong organizational culture, with stated, shared and operationalized values, goals and approaches to diversity and inclusion becomes integral to the too often coded qualification of “fit”- but now will help ensure that existing and future staff align in that regard.

Make your definitions clear.

When people promote this extremely problematic idea about colorblindness and post-racial identities, they usually use some form of: “I don’t care if you’re black, white, brown, purple, green or have polka dots and stripes”. It’s an insanely peculiar statement that puts people’s historical, racial identities on the same level as cartoon imaginings of aliens. Back to original statement of this piece: now is time to talk about what we’re actually talking about.

When we talk about diversity and inclusion, there is definitely a space to be broad, including diversity of race, gender, class, sex, thought, experience, etc. But here you can get into a slippery slope of talking about something real to talking about nothing at all. It’s also an excuse to hide the real issue and end up with a board of directors filled with middle-aged white men who come from different fields of study. There’s your diversity (of thought)!!

There’s a space to be broad AND ALSO a space to be specific and direct about needing to increase the racial and cultural diversity of our headquarters offices. There’s a space to be specific and direct of the history of colonialism, neocolonialism and international aid and development, so we can use that information to avoid perpetuating these dynamics both interpersonally and organizationally. If you want more talent of color, state that and plan for it. If you want more people who culturally represent the geographies where you work to occupy leadership positions throughout your organization and offices, state that and plan for it.

This, of course, requires time and resources to identify the framework of diversity and inclusion appropriate for your organizational needs and to develop shared definitions, goals, values and approaches, and operationalize them accordingly.

Put your money where your mouth is.

I always think about the backlash against teachers when they ask for more pay. Why do they deserve less than someone selling widgets around the world? Not to go down a rabbit hole of teacher pay and how we value education, but I raise this to say that mission-driven or mission-related work does absolve financial responsibility and compensation. Warm do-gooder feelings can’t pay my salary.

Diversity and inclusion initiatives and programming requires money and people should not be expected to put in hours outside of their jobs to go to talks and planning meetings. Diversity and inclusion, as core elements of the organizational values and culture, need to be formally integrated into organizational budgets. For organizations that use timesheets and direct program billing, funding must be allocated to support staff time and activities for the work of diversity and inclusion. If not, when new grants come in and work ramps up, of course diversity and inclusion work will mirror its position in budgets and planning. If it’s unallocated time, time will not be dedicated to this work. If it’s marginal to your operational plans, it will be the first thing dropped (and unfortunately not picked up again).

In my early days, I used to oppose positions like “diversity officer” within an organization for a number of reasons. However, if that person (even better if it was a team) had a budget and the primary responsibility for integrating diversity and inclusion practices within the leadership and operations of an organization, I think that’s a great idea and can prove effective in making real gains.

The donor/grant structure for non-profits must also be assessed. If you agree that diversity, inclusion and cultural competency has a direct impact on the effectiveness and impact of our work, dedicated funding for diversity and inclusion work, or at least more unrestricted funding, is critical for engaging with and sustaining this work.

Challenge assumptions about talent acquisition.

When it comes to talent acquisition and recruitment of more people of color, the conversation is usually followed by: 1) excuses about lack of diversity in the applicant pool and 2) adjusting qualification standards. There are a few issues here. First, there’s an assumption that your organization as-is is attractive to talent of color, regardless of their qualifications. When an organization already lacks racial and cultural diversity (apparent from staff photos online) and how they visually represent the work with problematic images of people of color in the project areas and savior-complex-like tone in the external collateral (website, blog, images, papers, etc.), what message does that send to potential applicants of color? What motivation would they have to apply? Do you think they would think that your organizational culture would allow them to grow and develop professionally, helping to bring out their best work? No.

Assess your organization to determine what can you do to attract, hire and retain talent of color. Where do you currently fall short? What can you do to improve?

Actions to improve the diversity in the applicant pool extend beyond adjusting (read: lowering) qualification standards. Can assessing whether certain positions require advanced degrees or international travel help the applicant diversity? Maybe. But why do we go there first? There are so many highly qualified, if not overly qualified, people of color who excel in their fields AND can provide a high degree of racial and cultural competency who do not want to work for you or do not even know you have a position open (read: nepotism, good old boy groups, old-fashioned job posting strategies). What are you doing to attract, hire and retain these people?

Create the expectation that it’s everyone role to uphold organizational goals, values and approaches to diversity and inclusion.

People tend to get excited in a discussion around race, diversity and inclusion, but less so when it’s specific to our organizations and personal role and stake in these issues. Yes, white people don’t like to be called racist. Men don’t like to be called sexist. But guess what? People of color, women and other marginalized groups don’t like to have to say it, experience it, or try to convince you of their shared humanity while taking reputational and professional risks in trying to create environments that help them do their best work. As another one of my favorite writers and thinkers, Claudia Rankine, once wrote (The New York Times, August 25, 2015, “The Meaning of Serena Williams“), that “the notable difference between black excellence and white excellence is that white excellence is achieved without having to battle racism”. How can we structure our organizations in a way that are truly diverse and inclusive, creating opportunities for historically (and organizationally) marginalized groups to flourish, thrive and contribute their best work?

Understand your role.

Too often when we talk about race, it’s the people of color who need to bleed for others to understand. I totally reject the notion that awareness, dedication and true insight into diversity and inclusion work has to come from trauma. White people often remark that “they don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color”. Why would they? Likewise, people of color do not have the experience of engaging in the world with white skin privilege. However, you would be more likely to find a person of color who understands the realities of racial privilege than a white person who understands the realities of racial marginalization. This is not okay.

The answer to diversity and inclusion includes and must go BEYOND increasing racial representation. The answer to diversity and inclusion includes and must go BEYOND shifting balances of power with these historically (and organizationally) marginalized groups. Everyone has a role to play. That requires that we unite under one organizational identity. One organizational goal, value and approach to diversity and inclusion. Only then will it be easier and a lot less self-sacrificing to, in a sense push your seat back from the table instead of assuming that the table will magically enlarge.

How do you operationalize that? And the answer rests in how you define your organizational identity, goal, value and approach to diversity and inclusion. Staff at all levels have a role in developing and creating the culture. At the same time, enforcement is needed. We do not have honor systems against for sexual harassment and financial embezzlement. Similarly, there’s needs to be a space and process for managing behaviors and practices that do not align with the organizational policies and standards of diversity and inclusion.

Final thoughts… for now.

By continuing to shirk the real work of diversity and inclusion, we do ourselves and our organizations and ultimately, the impact we seek with our work, a grave disservice. We perpetuate the cycle of ignorance, microaggressions and other issues that further isolates opportunities for people of color to contribute. This is not okay. And if you agree that it’s not okay, you need to risk feeling not okay during the hard discussions and work to make our organizations truly diverse and inclusive. When you’re uncomfortable, you learn. And when you learn, you act.

 

We Cannot Supervise and Train Our Way Towards Better Health Systems

At a global health conference recently, the session facilitator asked the question, “What does a [insert individual, job title or Ministry department here] need to be successful at their job?” In forums like these, it’s a question everyone working international development typically asks at one point or another.

What I’ve also found is that when the conference ballroom doors close and development folk gather over 3-course meals within the privacy of gated and guarded lodges- what the question really looks like is, “Why can’t [insert individual, job title, Ministry department or country name here] just do their job?”

What follows always follows: a problematic, condescending, paternalistic, and often borderline (if not all the way) racist and classist tirade berating country nationals’ skills, capacity, personal motivation, and government corruption. When asked about health workers specifically, the go-to are: supervision and training. Supervision, training and the allowances that go with them have dominated the greater majority of conversations I’ve observed with local and international stakeholders working to improve healthcare, especially in last mile under resourced communities in the Global South. I’ve also wondered though, why do we think we can supervise and train our way towards better health systems?


Why do we think we can “Mommy” countries out of poverty- as if we could just stand by the door and watch populations and governments clean their rooms until it gets done when and how we say it should?

At a human centered design session, we were asked to think about what a community health worker needs to be successful, putting the community health worker at the center of our thinking, before even approaching the design of an intervention (tool, policy, etc.). We were then asked to draw links these resources may have to each other, outside of how they are linked to the community health worker. My partner immediately defaulted to supervision for accountability. I pushed her, as well as others at my table, to put themselves at the center of our perceptions of the community health worker. What do I, Jodi-Ann Burey, need to be successful at my job? That goes beyond my boss, my computer and my paycheck- though all, especially the latter, are critical. My supervisor doesn’t track my time and micromanagement certainly won’t keep me accountable to high job performance. There are so many other elements that motivates my work. Likewise, we need to think beyond supervision and training for what community health workers need– much deeper and wider than what I had time to illustrate during the group activity.

HCD CHW

Drawing connections on what a community health worker needs to be successful

There is most certainly a space for supervision and training to promote consistently high quality healthcare services and measured impact on that being so. However, wrapped around a community health worker- like their clients- exists a whole system wide, cross-cutting diversity of interlocking resources supporting their work. The mostly highly trained health worker can’t do much without reliable supply chain of health commodities; the most robustly supervised community health worker may still be subjected to isolation without support from peer-leveled colleagues.

There are a gazillion factors linked to employee performance, motivation, satisfaction and success. I’ve counted. Why do we not afford the fullness of this research that so much guide how we work in headquarters to our in-country colleagues?

Unfortunately, some people I’ve encountered in the international development industry are so blinded by these biases they neglect to recognized rational behavioral responses: I read a proposal recently that went on about how health workers were not motivated, needing better- you guessed it- supervision and training to do their jobs. A few paragraphs down, the writers go on to describe the logistical gaps that prevented health workers from receiving payment for several months at a time. I assure you, if I wasn’t paid for several months, I wouldn’t be very motivated either.

A few years ago, I visited a rural health center only to find that the only nurse was home sick. My colleagues and I visited her home to see how she was feeling, and found her sitting on the floor in her yard stripping beans. I flushed with frustration. How could the one nurse in this community (seemingly) play hooky? Then I paused. She is the ONLY nurse in the community. If I had that burden, I’d take a day off for myself too.

There exists an historical power held by Westerners- both toxic and intoxicating- that too often disallows many from regarding in-country partners with mutual respect, humanity and understanding. I often find myself wondering how this thinking flows with the inertia of elitism and condescension associated with the (neo)colonial dynamic of international development. I ponder whether that’s why some of my in-country colleagues pronounce USAID as “U-SAID” whereas Westerns typically pronounced it as “U-S-A-I-D” or “US-AID.”

What is supervision and training besides evidence of an underlying belief that people need to be told what to do and monitored to ensure they do it.  Why do we think we can “Mommy” countries out of poverty- as if we could just stand by the door and watch populations and governments clean their rooms until it gets done when and how we say it should? We supervise people we don’t trust and train people who we think lack skills. If this is our approach, we will continue to lose opportunities to build real equitable partnerships built on mutual respect and reciprocation that can achieve one of the most foundational goals connecting our work: to support healthy sustainable communities and save lives.

Moving forward, I urge my colleagues to put supervision and training on the side- not discarded, but not aggrandized either. Push beyond the things we think we can control. Release the guise of capacity building. Support our in-country colleagues with a same dynamic and holistic approach we use on ourselves.

 

Never Stop Learning

It’s been 8 months since I “graduated” from my MPH program. (Yes, I received a degree and completed by requirements, but it’s difficult to feel like you’ve actually graduated when you forfeited the ceremony to pack and ship a storage unit off to Seattle and take a quick and well-deserved Christmas holiday on the Canary Islands– but I digress). I’m in a new city that I really like and have been having fun exploring, meeting truly solid people I now feel that I can call friends, and am in a new job in a new career taking advantage of every opportunity I can for professional development.

Real world experience is irreplaceable, but does not need to stand alone.

Being a “Program Associate” is pretty much a catch-all title and provides very little insight into the true nature of my job. If I were to title myself, I’m actually more of a Project Manager who is accountable for the implementation and guidance of a project within the overall program strategy set by the organizational leadership.

Knowing about structural determinants to health truly is an asset in working in global health. However, content expertise and project management are different set of skills. Honing in both is critical to “real world” success– not just in one’s own professional development, but in ensuring that the social impact I’m trying to have isn’t mucked up by shortfalls in my ability to carry that impact through.

Sadly, the skill and art of project management is not part of MPH curricula. Even with a semesters worth of courses at the business school under my belt, there is still so much to learn about how to strategically and methodically manage a project.

Never stop learning.

I’ve always been a book nerd. I recently picked up the book, MBA Fundamentals: Project Management at my local library. I just 67 pages in and already I am able to enact better management skills both on the job and with my personal passion projects: For Colored Girls Who Travel and Jay Bee Photography.

My aim is to complete the book and practice its principles in my real life everyday. In a few years, I’ll most likely go for my Project Management Professional Certification and who knows, maybe commit to a full-blown MBA.

I received advice from a trusted mentor before I left school: “Always remember that you have the ability to learn. Whatever you want to know, you can know”. That has never left me and I’m actualizing those principles right now.

Woman. Black. Strong. Sick.

Barely an hour into the hike, each step up the steep incline on Mount Mulanje in Malawi reminded me of the weight of my backpack. Midway up the rocks, the guide, my friend and the porter who carried her pack and I all rested. On this small landing sat three small girls who waited and played with each other’s hair as the woman accompanying them spread out torn cloth to gather the firewood she collected. She climbs up here every week. Not long after we arrived, three young women fiercely and confidently stomped down that same steep incline barefooted. They were carrying large piles of firewood on their heads. Their bodies dripped with sweat and their faces were not pleased. They looked hot, pissed and ready to be done.

I turned to the guide and asked why these women collected the firewood given that the terrain was so severe.

“Collecting firewood is seen as a woman’s job. It doesn’t matter if they have to climb the mountain. In fact, sometimes they have to go even further up than this to find dry enough wood.”

Something doesn’t seem right about this picture. The hike I did last weekend for fun is what these women have to do every week, sometimes more, just to support their families. Here I am, with my backpack, sunscreen and bottles of water lamenting about the steepness of a hike I made the choice to do. I couldn’t help but wonder whether those pissed off looking women were pissed off looking at me.

firewood

“People don’t understand that women have rights,” commented my workmate who invited me over for supper at her home one week later. I asked her what the jobs were assigned to men; she informed me that their only task was to construct the house.

“That’s usually a one time thing, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Yes. One time. And when the man and woman leave the field, the man walks free while the woman carries the wood on her head, the tools in her hands and a baby on her back. When she comes home, she must start preparing the food and the man just sits.”

Our conversation continued on about gender roles in the villages and the challenges in changing cultural mindsets. We discussed the state of women’s rights in Malawi, the level of resistance to change and the impact that Joyce Banda, the recently unseated first female president had on it all. Because of President Banda’s involvement with the political corruption scandal, Cashgate, my workmate stated firmly that women’s issues have been set back, not forward. If the number of women in government provides any allusion to the advancement of women’s status, my workmate was right. The percentage of women in Parliament after President Banda’s term had decreased from 22 to 16, falling further below the 50% gender parity benchmark set by the Southern African Development Committee Gender Protocol in 2008.

———-

My new surrogate aunts, Mercy, Esnath and Ms. Anakoma, are the three women who run the guesthouse where I lived in the rural district of Balaka, Malawi. They criticized my hair, provided unsolicited marriage advice and teased my cooking. You know, what aunts are supposed to do. They also always made sure I ate enough (which according to them I never did), had a warm bucket of water for bathing and advised me to stay away from Malawian men. They looked after me. Because of them, Balaka became a second home.

group

Esnath and Ms. Anakoma found me under the tree last Sunday morning and joined me on the ground. They opened up about their health issues. Recently, Ms. Anakoma has been in the hospital. First, she contracted malaria and then suffered from a respiratory illness and flared arthritis in her back. Esnath also recently returned from the hospital. She had an unknown pain in both of her sides for two weeks. The prescription she showed me was just a generic painkiller. When I asked her what they said was wrong with her, she said they didn’t know.

big mamaI told them about my upcoming trip to Zambia. “I need a holiday,” I exclaimed. They laughed and asked me a very poignant question—what about us? Neither of them had taken a holiday for well over five years. They work at the lodge seven days a week from 5am-7pm. Ms. Anakoma is always on call as she also lives on the property. She takes care of her granddaughters, two bright-eyed three-year old twin girls, by herself. When she’s not doing work at her house, she’s across the property managing the lodge.

Esnath

Esnath doesn’t live on the property, but she’s also always on call. She manages the money, books the reservations, helps distribute meals, and checks in all the guests. She has two sons, ages 11 and 14. She leaves them in the morning sleeping and comes home at night to them sleeping. She never sees them. I told her that made me sad for her, particularly since she’s been spending so much time with me. She said that her kids are used to not seeing their mom, but the look on her face let me know that she too felt great sadness about the situation. She was recently advised at the hospital to drink 4 liters of water per day. When I asked her how much water she drank, she said barely 1 liter. I pointed at the kitchen sink, gave Esnath my stern aunty look and she immediately ran a cup under the faucet and began to drink. “Jude,” she endearing called me, “I am failing to drink enough water.”

mercy

Mercy, the cook, is about my age. She single-handedly cooks for every guest at the lodge for every single meal with the dullest knives in history. Right after she prepares breakfast, she begins cooking lunch; right after lunch she prepares dinner. Everything is deliciously and laboriously made from scratch so cooking takes ALL DAY. Sometimes she cooks on the stove in the kitchen at the same time she’s cooking on firewood outside. She does this all herself.

It’s no wonder the health of these women keeps failing.

During one night cooking together in the kitchen, they were all having a go at me about not being married and whether I would be able to take care of their sons (which they’ve volunteered “to give me”). When I told them that I wouldn’t cook for their sons every day, bowing before I serve them food and allowing them to eat first, they joked on about how American women are lazy and can’t work when they’re pregnant. I laughed with them even though clouding the joke was starkly high maternal mortality rates that plague Malawian women— 510 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2013. In contrast, the maternal mortality rate in the United States is 28. This number, however, has more than doubled since 2000, making my home country the only developed nation where the number of women dying due to childbearing increases each year. Women’s roles put them at disproportionate risk for disease—since the most recent Ebola epidemic began, 55-60% of the victims worldwide are women, as high as 75% in Liberia specifically. Whether in a lodge or in the village, woman unjustly carry an unbalanced load. There’s nothing funny about that.

———-

 This is goes beyond the African continent. Black women in the United States carry a special burden deeply engrained into the fabric of American culture. There’s an assumption that we’re strong, impenetrable, and resilient. Not only can we handle the burden, we welcome it. Herein lies the danger of the “strong black woman” trope.

Undoubtedly, embodying the strong black woman can be protective— empowering black women to be tenacious in prioritizing goals, leveraging social capital, exercising grit and managing confrontation. At the same time, it is a weapon of illness disguised in positivity. “Strong” is not a compliment. It’s a stereotype that allows others to assign black women an unfair load. It justifies the abuse and neglect of black women and creates little room for them to be vulnerable and need help. It’s a stereotype that can protect and also destroys. The myth of the “strong black woman” is killing us, and at the same time it’s precisely what we cling to for survival.

So what next? Well, that’s the part they don’t teach us in school. Health issues for women of color still remain on the margins. But what they do teach us in school is to look for these strong black women (you’ll find this directive coded as “soliciting community champions”). They tell us to find the person in the community who is already overinvolved, overworked and overburdened and ask them to support our own projects and research agendas. But what they don’t teach us is to dig deep into the complexity of marginalized groups. Complexity cannot fit on a PowerPoint slide. Nuance cannot be graded on a rubric.

Did you know that a black woman in the United States is four times more likely to die from childbearing than a white woman? Maybe. This is what we call “health disparities,” a survey of statistical facts comparing one group to another, telling information we already know. This alone is insufficient for contextualizing the structural determinants that compromise racial health equity, barriers that have remained unchanged for decades. But do you know why a black woman continues to die more frequently from childbearing— the deep rooted historical structural factors, cultural articulations, political propagandizing and economic reinforcements that lead to this burden of disease? I’m not talking about the Social Ecological Model, the oversimplified theory that posits that behavior influences and is influenced by interrelated factors, from intrapersonal characteristics to public policy. Though the framework has potential to unleash real change into the ever evolving structural mechanisms that create the disproportionate disease burden put on marginalized people, I’ve only witnessed it fool people into believing they understand something that they don’t. Knowledge is power. The appearance of knowledge is dangerous.

What I am talking about is the intersections of sexism, racism, and classism, which the model implies but in cowardice does not name. Only by naming the historical inertia of privilege and discrimination can truly public health understand and act on the disparate health outcomes, like how the construction of a hegemonic black femininity and the “strong black woman ” trope impacts the help-seeking behaviors of black women and our health outcomes overall.

 

Understand Health Equality v. Health Equity in Just 5 Seconds!

 

Health equity
Original picture taken from indianfunnypicture.com

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