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A Lighter Burden


I watched the racism, the sexism, and the hypocrisy around Nikole Hannah-Jones and her tenure battle at UNC. The halls of power have a long history of privilege and exclusion.


I was not surprised. Academia is predicated on an archaic, sexist, and racist system.


I watched the tenacity, the bravery, and the will with which Hannah-Jones’s supporters fought.


I was not surprised. Academia is also populated with brilliant resisters and tenaciously hopeful students. Many driven to speak truth.


I watched as Hannah-Jones chose a different path.


I was not surprised. I was, however, overjoyed. For as she said in her public statement:


“For too long, powerful people have expected the people they have mistreated and marginalized to sacrifice themselves to make things whole. The burden of working for racial justice is laid on the very people bearing the brunt of the injustice, and not the powerful people who maintain it.”


This is also what I see in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work I do in the advertising industry. An industry where the few BIPOC that are hired are expected to be the face of the agency’s diversity. While DEI professionals are used to check two boxes – a diverse hire and DEI. Worse, those working in DEI are expected “to sacrifice themselves to make things whole.”


Do we see BIPOC in upper management? Rarely. Do we see BIPOC in the executive suite? I can’t say never, but it’s pretty damn close. And a Black woman executive? Even closer to never.


In the end, in all too many universities and advertising agencies, “The burden of working for racial justice is laid on the very people bearing the brunt of the injustice, and not the powerful people who maintain it” (Hannah-Jones).


It makes my blood boil. Go Nikole Hannah-Jones go. I hope your burden will be lighter at Howard University.


Jean

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