I have been thinking about an article published last month by Greater Good Magazine, entitled “Can Self-Compassion Increase Resilience in the Face of Discrimination?”. In research conducted by Veronica Womack and Natalie Watson-Singleton, Black students at Spelman College were asked about their experiences of racism and how stressful those experiences were. These questions were then followed by statements indicating self-compassion or self-coldness, which were analyzed based on self-reported feelings of distress.
Guess what they found?
Not surprisingly, “when students were more self-judging, they suffered greater detrimental psychological effects from racist encounters. However, levels of self-compassion and the other factors related to self-coldness (isolation and self-identification with criticism) did not seem to be relevant to students’ psychological health.”
So why am I so interested in the article? It is this comment that hit me hard,
“If Black people think racism is somehow under their personal control—that, if only they changed, they wouldn’t experience discrimination—it’s likely to harm them,” says Womack.
What this says to me is that
If you think that you had power and agency over being Black, and were able to change that aspect of yourself, you wouldn’t experience discrimination (or directed anger, hatred, or violence).
By thinking that “if only you could change being Black” you are causing yourself emotional and psychological damage.
As a white female consultant and Founder of Socius Strategies, research like this pushes me to do the work I do. By helping companies and organizations create cultures of inclusivity and belonging, colleagues can bring all parts of their identities to their roles. With the right leadership, this diversity of thought can enrich the individual and the organization. By positively challenging our ways of thinking, leaders can help their colleagues be more innovative and collaborative and imagine how that could affect engagement and belonging.
So now think about this.
What if you are Black and you...
are valued, treated with kindness, and encouraged to be authentically who you are?
have a manager who supported your thoughts, ideas, and voice? Who looked for ways to help you in your development and career ambitions?
work in an organization where the culture encourages diverse thoughts, experiences, and ideas while creating a sense of belonging and connection?
...how might you feel about yourself?
I am confident I don’t know, but I am willing to bet that it wouldn’t be damaging.