Volume 2, Issue 20: On Comfort in DEI Work

Hi friends! I had so many ideas of what to write about this week. So much has happened personally since my last newsletter. I attended FIYAHCON, which filled my cup to the brim and all my spell slots had been restored. I finally finished building myself an author website and within a few days, someone used it to find me and email me a sweet message about something I had written that he read. I signed a writer’s agreement to write a thing and get paid real writer’s money for it (more on that another time).

Alas, I’m not going to write about fun things.

This week there has been a conversation I have had with at least five separate people (as well as its prominence in the book I’m reading) and it’s still at the forefront of my mind so that’s what I’m going to write about today. That thing I’ve been talking about is this idea of comfort, specifically around DEI (Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion) work. There is a phenomenon of certain people (white, cisgender, heterosexual, non-disabled, etc.) acting like being uncomfortable is the worst thing that has ever happened to them. So much so, that sometimes, they conflate “being uncomfortable” with “being unsafe.” Michelle Mijung Kim talks about this in The Wake Up: Closing the Gap Between Good Intentions and Real Change.

The thing is, no one has died of being uncomfortable. No one ever says, “Poor Uncle Jeff, he was never the same after he lost his comfort.” That’s not actually a thing. DEI work necessitates that people with privilege sacrifice their comfort in order for marginalized folks to have safety. My safety is more important than your comfort. In fact, you know what’s uncomfortable? White supremacy! It’s really fucking uncomfortable! And awful and horrifying and depraved and scary and deadly and a million other things.

I’m doing some DEI work at my day job. I can tell, there are some white people in the Zoom who are really uncomfortable. Good. Sit in it. Learn from it. Reflect on your discomfort because I promise, if you are uncomfortable in that room, I am also really fucking uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable for BIPOCs to even be there at all and it should be. This is not a damned ice cream social, folks.

This desperate need for comfort ends up being a common roadblock to making any real progress in DEI work. For every uncomfortable person with privilege, there is a marginalized person doing triple-time trying to not “seem like the bad guy for making Karen uncomfortable.” Because a white person’s discomfort can cost a BIPOC a promotion (ask me how I know!) in the workplace.

Or a white woman might be uncomfortable because a Black man is birdwatching in the park.

Or because Black people are having a cookout by the lake.

Or for no reason at all, in the brutal murder of Emmett Till.

If you have privilege and you want to engage in DEI work, commit yourself to being uncomfortable. It is the bare minimum you need to begin with.

That’s it for this week! You can shop any books I’ve mentioned in this newsletter at my affiliate shop, The Infophile’s Bookshop, and support independent bookstores. If you want to send me some snail mail, you can find me at P.O. Box 21481, Oakland, CA 94620-1481. If you want me to send you some happy mail, feel free to give me your address.

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