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White people, stay in your own lane

People swimming in a pool, with caption: "White people, stay in your own lane."

Before I left my last company, I held a meeting to kick off a women's affinity group. A few of the women were seriously jaded.

Several years before, they had tried to start a women's group and had been shut down. People had expressed concern about a conference room full of women...wondering what they were up to. So the executive leadership team shut down the women's affinity group.


In a perfect example of patriarchy, one of the complainers was a senior woman who clearly didn't want to share her platform.

Does anyone ever wonder that when white men are up to when they meet in a conference room? Every single day!

Today marks the first day of Black History Month in the United States, and a LinkedIn contact shared this article: "Why People of Color Need Spaces Without White People."

Black people, and other people of color, need their own spaces even more than women.

Author Kelsey Blackwell shares:

"People of color need their own spaces. Black people need their own spaces. We need places in which we can gather and be free from the mainstream stereotypes and marginalization that permeate every other societal space we occupy. We need spaces where we can be our authentic selves without white people’s judgment and insecurity muzzling that expression. We need spaces where we can simply be—where we can get off the treadmill of making white people comfortable and finally realize just how tired we are."

In many of my Finding Fertile Ground podcast interviews with Black workers, they have shared how they have to code-switch at work and experience constant microaggressions and worse. No matter how much white people try, we cannot possibly understand what it is like to be a Black person in the workplace.

How can Black people thrive without safe spaces to share their everyday microaggressions and traumas? How can they strategize how to get by and advance in their positions and not let everyday racism destroy them?

They certainly can't do that with white people around...just as women and other genders cannot thrive and advance without safe spaces to survive and strategize.

Photo of Joy Fowler and a quote about how difficult it is to be a Black woman in the business world

Imagine what it must have felt like to be a Black person in a mostly white workplace the day after the George Floyd or Tyre Nichols videos were released. Wouldn't you want to process these feelings with others who could truly understand how it felt?

As white people, we can be allies, agitators, and collaborators. But we cannot ever truly understand what it feels like to walk around in a darker-colored skin. We benefit every single moment from our white privilege.

White people, stop feeling left out. We need to stay in our own lane and know when to be quiet.

I remember when we first started doing racial justice work at my church, Spirit of Grace. Some of the older members expressed disappointment that we didn't have more people of color (especially Black people) join our community. But why wouldn't Black churchgoers want to worship with other people who look like them and share similar experiences? Why expect them to come to us?

Any workplace that doesn't create a safe space for Black people is not engendering a feeling of belonging. Even if you don't know it, most of your Black employees do not feel truly engaged and loyal to your company.

And don't expect Black folks to plan your Black History Month activities while they're in these safe spaces, unless you're paying them for their time and they want to be involved.

Dana Brownlee has an excellent article in Forbes about what companies can do to celebrate Black History Month the wrong way: "The Seven Deadly Sins of Corporate Black History Programming."

Why Black people need safe spaces at work

Of course, it's important to have champions, sponsors, and allies of Black, Latino, Muslim, Indigenous, LBGTQIA+, disabled, and women's affinity groups. It's also important to have open conversations and educational opportunities for people who do not fit in those categories.

People who are not part of the white male dominant group need confidential spaces where they can meet together and support each other…so they can thrive.

If you don't have these safe spaces, create them. On this first day of Black History Month, this is an excellent place to start. Check out my article "Ten Ways White People Can Support Black Coworkers" and "How Not to Pander During Black History Month" for more ways to create safe places where everyone can thrive.

Let me know if you can use help with inclusive communications and leadership...or with internal or external communications, marketing, or leadership.

I help professional services firms avoid BORING and boost employee engagement, productivity, and readership. I translate technical, complex, and lackluster language into accessible, dynamic, story-driven text. Get known in your industry through outstanding thought leadership content. Walk your talk through outstanding, effective communications with your employees and clients.

Fertile Ground Communications LLC is a certified women-owned business enterprise, disadvantaged business enterprise, and emerging small business.

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