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Years ago, my department head said in a team meeting that an important system change could not be implemented because the manual effort would be too great. He said, “Well, we can’t hire some n***ers to do that …” and fell silent. He realized that I, a Black person was sitting in the meeting and he laughed out loud. I was speechless. My colleagues did not react.
There are moments in life when we just need support. I often felt that way. If no one stands up for me in situations where I have obviously been racially discriminated against, then I at least want to talk to people about it at a later time. I need people to comfort me, see my pain, and build me up. Unfortunately, though, the exact opposite happens and I hear phrases like, “I’m really against racism, but…”, “My son has curls too and he gets his hair grabbed”, “It’s only well-intentioned to want to know where you’re from…”, and “If you always think people look at you funny, I’m sure it’ll become a reality for you eventually.” My experiences of discrimination are minimized, put into perspective, or dismissed as “non-mean-spirited.”
This especially hurts me as a Black person. It makes me feel not heard, not seen, or not understood. There have even been times when I actually thought that I was just imagining that certain situations were bad. However, conversations with other Black people confirmed that I am not alone in my pain and trauma. In the meantime, there are numerous books* that describe exactly those scenes that have accompanied me in my everyday life since I can remember.
As much as I am a proponent of diversity and different perspectives: People sometimes just need safe spaces in which they are accepted and understood as they are without prejudice. As a coach who guides people through their changes, I’ve often asked myself if it’s important for me to resemble my clients.
Personally, I don’t think it’s necessarily important as long as I work professionally as a coach. Nevertheless, it makes a difference when I have to explain or even justify myself in a coaching conversation. This circumstance makes it almost impossible to build a trusting basis for an appreciative relationship and thus effectively come to a solution. It is not without reason that there are executive, leadership and business coaches who specialize in specific industries and speak the same language as their clients.
In addition to all the experts, that’s why there’s me. As a queer woman of color, I know experiences of discrimination because I stand at a crossroads where sexism, racism, and queer hostility can hit me – sometimes from all three directions at once (intersectionality). I strive to use gender-equitable and inclusive language and am open to people from all ‘walks of life’. Even though I am privileged myself, I have a large portion of empathy in my heart for people with different social or cultural backgrounds as well as for people with disabilities.
And yes, my clients are also white, male and heterosexual. They all share a desire for more tolerance, they all see colors and are committed to equality in their own way.
Black people, BIPoC and LGBTQIA people, however, find a particularly safe place with me and are accepted as they are.
My book recommendations
- Layla F. Saad: Me And White Supremacy, 2020
- Reni Eddo-Lodge: Warum ich nicht länger mit Weißen über Hautfarbe spreche, 2018 (german)
- Robin DiAngelo: White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About, 2018
The term Black is a self-designation and does not refer to a person’s biological characteristics, but to their position in a social construct. Black is capitalized to make it clear that it is not about skin color, but about a constructed assignment. Accordingly, being black does not mean being assigned to an assumed ‘ethnic group’ but also being associated with the common experience of racism. Doctors, philosophers as well as anthropologists such as Bernier, Linne, Buffon or Kant subdivided people into races and derived developmental stages based on skin color and attributed certain psychological characteristics to them. Thus, people with darker skin color were less worthy, more uncivilized, and dumber than whites (Zerger, Johannes, 1997, Was ist Rassismus? : eine Einführung). For more on formulation tools, see here.
- BIPoC – Black Indigenous Person of Color
The term BIPoC is a self-designation and stands for Black Indigenous, Person or People of Color. It groups together all those people who are affected by experiences of racism and recognizes that not all non-white people face the same level of injustice. By explicitly naming Black and Indigenous people, it recognizes that Black and Indigenous people face the worst consequences of systemic white supremacy, classism, and the consequences of colonialism.
Queer includes multiple forms of sexual/romantic orientation and gender identities that deviate from the norm (hetero- and cis-normativity).
The acronym is a self-designation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual. In German, LSBTI (lesbisch, schwul, bisexuell, trans- und intergeschlechtliche Menschen) is also used. Further terminology is explained here.