Aaram: “You should volunteer for the Diversity and Inclusion Committee!”
Mixed Media (magazine print, gold leaf, acrylic on canvas)
“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. I say to you: I refuse.” – Nikole Hannah-Jones
Aaram is ease, rest, comfort.
As we get closer to the ‘new normal’, our work lives after the pandemic are nebulous. There are articles like these, from heads of organizations exhorting us to return to work as we knew it. Commutes and cubicles, lunches on the run, meetings which could have been emails, office gossip masquerading as networking. The argument is that much of work happens outside work, the connections formed around office farewells and happy hours are just as important as those formed in formal work teams.
I find it interesting that so much of this ‘team building’ is unpaid, predominantly done by BIPOC and women. Think about the last time a retirement card was circulated at your office, the last time an office party was planned. Who did the actual work?
What about diversity and inclusion committees? For many of my colleagues the proliferation of these committees is exciting. But for some who have been parts of countless committees, this unpaid volunteer labor is not career advancing. It comes without staff, without budgets. Worst of all, it is responsibility without power and compensation.
When told to ‘strongly consider volunteering’, we are taught to see this as a compliment -after all, one is asked because one is trusted by senior leadership to take on intractable problems, one is viewed as a problem solver. But to quote Nikole Hannah-Jones, “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. I say to you: I refuse.
Is volunteering at work “tap dancing for pennies”? Does setting up these initiatives give the powers that be rest, absolving them of responsibility?
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