90 days after starting at August Public, employees are encouraged to write a letter to their selves of 90 days previous. Here’s mine:
Dear Max on April 27th 2017,
It’s Max on August 4th 2017. This is that guy you sometimes do favors for like buying concert tickets (Jurassic 5 was awesome), and sometimes you make his life really difficult, like by not sorting out your UK overseas election ballot in time (Brexit was basically your fault.)
Congratulations on joining August. Camping out on their doorstep for 9 months paid off! It’s gonna be just as awesome as you think it’s gonna be. I’m reluctant to tell you too much about the next 90 days. I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise, and I wouldn’t want to change anything about it. But here’s something you should have known a long time ago:
You are a white, heterosexual, cis male.
You’ve not given that much thought, at any point, in the past 30 years, so it is worth repeating:
You are a white, heterosexual, cis male.
Besides that, you are also tall, privileged, non-disabled and you have an attractive accent. You are a legal citizen of not one, but two of the most powerful and prosperous nations of the world. As a result of this incredible series of good fortune, there are a couple of experiences that you can always count-on:
- If you can’t stay in the AirBnB that you want to, it’ll be because of availability, not your skin color.
- You’ll never have the person next to you on a plane be reseated because of your body.
- You won’t ever get shot and killed by a police officer for reaching for your wallet during a routine traffic stop.
- You can go out of your house alone without ever being followed or harassed.*
- No one has ever assumed that people of your race get their university education for free.
Do you know how many white people truly and genuinely believe that black people get to go to college for free?
6. You will not have to educate your children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.*
7. You can always find plasters (aka “band-aids”) that match your skin tone.*
8. You can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or misspell words, or just be angry without it being attributed to the bad morals, the poverty, the illiteracy of your race.*
9. You can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to you race or gender.*
10. You have never been asked to speak for all the people of your racial group.*
11. If you declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn’t a racial issue at hand, your race will lend you more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.*
13. You can travel alone or with your spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility.*
(*Adapted from Peggy McIntosh’s essay “White Privilege”)
Your time at August over the next few months will teach you all of these things, but at the same time they are things that cannot wait. A few other things that will happen in the next 90 days: You’re going to have to explain to a very close family member why dropping n-bombs isn’t allowed under any circumstances, even contextually. You’re going to explain to a smart, successful friend why “non-white” is a problematic term. You’ll be derided by very old friends when you explain why you’re no longer using gendered pronouns to address mixed groups. You’ll notice that clients sometimes direct questions at you, rather than at your equally talented female colleagues standing next to you.
You will learn that you are an ignorant schmuck and that that ignorance is going to make you feel very uncomfortable over the next 90 days. You won’t want to ask questions about racism, sexism, privilege and gender issues for revealing your ignorance. You’ll learn that the real reason you shouldn’t ask is because you will be taking space from the conversation.
I make it sound as though the only reason to educate yourself about diversity is to save yourself embarrassment. You know that’s not why. You know that it’s important to your work, it’s important to your wife and it’s important for the integrity of the moral code to which you hold yourself and others so fiercely accountable. It’s important because it directly affects the richness of experience of your entire fucking life: it affects your ability to team with others, to meet amazing people, to learn from them and to draw from their experiences and ideas in order that you can innovate and create and live an existence that actually matters. It’s importance because it affects the richness of experience of the lives of those you hang out with, those you work with and those you love. It’s important because you believe so strongly in the ideals of equality and reciprocity that not educating yourself would be hypocritical. It’s important because in 2017, those who stand against these values are having their bigotry validated and congratulated every single day: the integrity of the diversity agenda is being interrogated and undermined by the highest powers. It’s important because you have no idea how important it is.
- “Is transvestite offensive?”
- “Waking Up White”
- “GI Bill”
- “Can I say able-bodied?”
- “Ken Hardy’s tasks”
- “White racial identity development”
You should also listen to Another Round, read Shrill by Lindy West (amongst others), and watch 13th on Netflix. Consume art and media created by people of color, women and LGBTQGNC. (Hip hop doesn’t count.) Prioritize women and people of color in your networking. Make an effort to increase the diversity of your incredibly homogenous friendship group. Give extra critical consideration to things white men say. Notice if you’re gravitating towards white people at parties. Read this and this and this and this and this and this.
Realize that letting women and minorities take an advantage isn’t positive discrimination; it’s leveling the playing field. Think of all the advantages you have had your entire life and realize it’s someone else’s turn. Equity even over equality, my friend. We all benefit.
I feel amazed and almost ashamed that I need to give you some of this advice, and I’m tremendously conflicted about publishing this publicly (part of the deal with August’s 90-day letter). This isn’t intended as egotistical catharsis, narcissistic confession, a sad attempt at validation or some kind of self-granted absolution. Your education, and the fight itself, will last for the rest of your life. You should have started it 90 days ago.
I’ll leave you with this, from Roxanne Gay.
Black people do not need allies. We need people to stand up and take on the problems borne of oppression as their own, without remove or distance. We need people to do this even if they cannot fully understand what it’s like to be oppressed for their race or ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, class, religion, or other marker of identity. We need people to use common sense to figure out how to participate in social justice.
Don’t tell us about your racist uncle or grandfather or sister or cousin. Don’t try to unburden yourself of guilt that isn’t yours to carry. Actively listen when marginalized people tell you about their oppression — don’t offer your pity (which only helps you) and don’t apologize. Listen and do your best to understand what it feels like to live with oppression as a constant. Speak up when you hear people making racist jokes. Speak up when you see injustice in action. Inform yourself about your local law enforcement and how they treat people of color. Vote. Take a stand instead of waiting for absolution from people of color. We don’t have that kind of time. We’re fighting for our lives.
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This letter was directly inspired by the 90 Day letter of Krys Burnette, which I’ve read twice, and encourage you to do the same. I’d also like to thank Sasha Ahujawho asked all of us at August to write a Letter To Self about diversity and inclusion. This is that letter, and many resources and ideas that she shared contributed to this. Finally, thanks to Mike Arauz and my partner Steph who inspire me to critically consider diversity and equality every day.
Likes and Twitter follows greatly appreciated.