First published on LinkedIn.
After watching the now infamous Oprah Winfrey interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle this week, I found myself waking up twice in the middle of the night from vivid nightmares. In each of the nightmares, I was trying my best to implement training on Unconscious Bias & Microaggressions for the staff of Buckingham Palace, but I kept experiencing overwhelming resistance from the group. The staff assured me that there were no bad intentions, and that everything they experienced was just a misunderstanding and blown out of proportion. I asked them to raise their hand if any of them have Black or Brown people in their network who they spend quality time with, and no one raised their hand. I then emphasized that we ALL have unconscious bias and tried to explain how our bias impacts our decisions about people, places and situations that we are not familiar with. During my training, staff started leaving the room one by one until no one was left. I looked at Meghan, who was quietly observing and sitting in the corner of the room, and shook my head and started crying.
Prince Harry's transparent admission to not realizing his OWN unconscious bias until after dating and marrying a woman of color, and ultimately starting a family with her, resonated with me on so many levels.
Several key components of this interview triggered me, disturbed me and pierced my subconscious, which is probably what resulted in my nightmares! I was deeply affected by this riveting interview on multiple levels: as a Black woman, as a mother, as a JDEIB practitioner and purely as a HUMAN BEING. Ultimately, I think I related to a lot of Meghan's negative experiences on a very personal level, especially as I reflect on my own experiences in company cultures not designed for my own success.
Below are the top issues I took away from this interview that I can't stop thinking about:
Telling a woman/woman of color to tone down and show up as 50% of who she authentically is to help make others feel comfortable. Being told we are "too loud," "too aggressive," "too bossy," "too much to handle," "too passionate," "too bold," "too emotional" or "too ghetto" is truly the cancel culture.
Black women feel embarrassed when experiencing a mental health crisis. Because Black women feel the pressure to be "strong," when they have moments of weakness, they are minimized and not taken seriously. Black women have to advocate for their own mental, emotional and physical well-being more than any other community. Black women don't have the luxury of being fragile.
Black women's voices are historically silenced. The concerns and opinions of Black women are dismissed, and rarely addressed or part of the discussion about change, equality or inclusion. This is one of the main cautionary aspects behind the theory of Intersectionality by Kimberle Crenshaw.
Black women are not supported in the workplace and are oftentimes set up for failure. Toxic work environments wrought with microaggressions, corporate sabotage, lack of exposure to leaders and guidance & support from potential sponsors/mentors rarely results in a successful career trajectory.
Black women's authority, knowledge, opinions and abilities are questioned more often than any other group in the workplace. They are oftentimes criticized at a higher rate than their peers.
Highly successful, qualified, capable and independent Black women will experience self-doubt and imposter syndrome at a rapid pace within cultures not demonstrative of what true equity, inclusion & belonging looks and feels like.
Racism and colorism can be overt and covert. Black people come in many shades. When there is a preference for lighter-skinned versus darker-skinned Black people, it cuts deep and goes back generations to the days of slavery. Lighter-skinned, biracial enslaved people with fine hair and fine features were treated better, and received privileges that the darker-skinned enslaved people did not, including food, clothing, shelter, education, access and better overall treatment.
Black women, their bodies and their children are not valued and don’t deserve protection. (Of course, Black men have the same experiences, but were not a focus of this particular interview.) This was explicitly told to Meghan while she was pregnant, the family's royal security was removed and she was told that Archie's title would be eliminated, in spite of multiple threats to their safety.
Underrepresented groups do their best to fit into cultures not built for their success and are still never really accepted. This lack of acceptance can be based solely on the color of their skin, and does not take into account their socio-economic background, wealth, privilege, education or celebrity status.
Being the "Only One" creates a feeling of "Otherism" and isolation. Representation matters. And being the "First" comes with a heavy burden, with unspoken but perceived pressure not to "mess it up" for the next marginalized person's opportunity.
Black women are often mistreated and marginalized. The unspoken rules to the invitation of entry are often: don’t complain (you’re lucky to be here, so be grateful); you can come into the room, but know your place (have a seat and be quiet); or be loyal to an institution/company that isn't loyal to you.
Human Resources professionals have a fiduciary responsibility to speak truth to power and hold leadership accountable to the core values and policies of the organization. Managing the balance between supporting employees' well-being and the organization or institution can be challenging, but comes with the responsibilities of the position. Psychological safety is the second level of Maslow's Hierarchy, and is the primary place where HR can make a positive difference.
Microaggressions are REAL & VALID and result in REAL TRAUMA. If you aren't familiar with a marginalized person's experience, you will lack empathy and compassion, making it easier to make excuses and invalidate the impact of microaggressions.
Systemic & Institutional racism - and other "isms" - are REAL...and they are GLOBAL!
Over the summer, I wrote an article entitled We Shouldn't Have to "Live It & Defend It" Alone! where I share various resources for organizations, managers and individuals to advance their understanding about racism; justice, diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging (JDEIB) and how to support marginalized communities in the workplace and society at large. I provide a curated listing of articles, books, movies, documentaries, videos and other resources which will help shed light on recommended strategies to help address the issues I noted above from this historic interview.
I'm convinced I will have a restful sleep now that I've openly and candidly shared how this interview impacted me.