November 10th, 2017
By Ankita Jhaveri
As an immigrant South Asian woman, I can’t separate inclusion and equity from my daily life. If only I had a penny for every time someone changed my name to Anita or Nikita, or commented on the fact that I don’t have an accent even though I was born and raised in India, or asked if I speak Hindu or Indian or compared Bhangra to screwing in a light bulb. The list continues.
And as an immigrant South Asian woman working in the nonprofit sector, I can’t separate inclusion and equity from my professional life. How do I ensure that I am not just a number, meeting compliance? That I am not tokenized as a person of color on a mainly white team? That organizations are creating a culture and conditions that allow for my full and authentic self to show up, and then keep showing up over and over again? And how all of my team members are able to do this – equally and without being vulnerable each time – with the wealth of their experiences and strengths.
At a recent training on Racial Justice, a white woman asked the question “what is my role when doing this work? What is the right thing for me to do? How should I behave in my organization as we elevate this work?” At first, I was perplexed by the question because the idea that there is a “right role” or “right behavior” is foreign to me. My experience tells me that we all must do what we can, and that it may look different for each person. There is no one story – we all have our own. My experience as a person of color is different than that of my Latina or African American colleagues, and so I do what I can from where I sit. The key being, doingwhat you can do. And in the same way, my White colleagues must do what they can, and that will invariably look different for each one.
And as I sat with the question throughout the day, I couldn’t let go of the idea of power dynamics. In situations where I have not been able to bring my full self to work or could not exercise my leadership, felt undermined, or couldn’t tell my own truth, all had one thing in common – lack of space. Lack of space to speak up, lack of space to do the work in a way that is mine, lack of trust that I can do the work. And it often begins with “yeah, but …” The idea that some power must shift, there must be some letting go is inevitable if we are to do this work, to do it well, and to do it in a way that is authentic and long-lasting.