Let’s Start the Conversation


Dear People of Color in a White Work World:

I see you. I don’t know what else there is to say.  So. Much. Uncertainty.

iseeuI just want to start the conversation.  I want to know what your problems are, what your solutions are, working in this white work culture. working to make room for more people of color who on the margins, are the exceptions that prove the rule, and show us what equality is and what it isn’t.

I’ll start. (I’ll instigate since it agitates me.) Since, as I am told, I am very articulate. I’ve lost count; I don’t know how many times I’ve been told how articulate I am. The first day on this job, as I recall. Many times before. And a few times since.

Once I told my colleague, with my tongue rolled in my cheek, that English is my second language.  I did not lie.  But I might as well have.

You see, I hate to admit it because it isn’t always true, but it is true for me: that my Articulation of a language that I have made my own, sorta, comes at the expense of my folded and stored-away native, nomadic tongue.

So I can’t say; I don’t have the words anymore to say what you mean, what I mean, to us.  I confess, I don’t know how to start this conversation.

I’m sure of very little, but I am sure we have this much in common:

We are here.  Somehow we’ve been able to survive this ________ (whatever it is-fill in the blank).

We are all fighting our own battles, some more public than others.  At this moment, I am fighting the urge to retreat into my comfort zone.  But it’s actually not so comfortable to be so isolated.  I see you.  And I will say so.

So. Although I don’t want to say this if it is not said well, I will anyway.  In this space of about 500 words, I give us permission.  I give me permission.  I do not need to be articulate.  I was not trained, prepared to write (or speak) as if my voice mattered. (The erasure of our history and language from our education ensured this.) To talk about race, privilege and my non-white experience as something more than statistically insignificant… We don’t need to have the eloquent argument at the ready.  Untangle our tongues and thoughts and enjoy the slow ache of a good stretch, burning muscles (in our mouths and between our ears) left too long unused.

We just need to start having the conversation. About race, about racism -individual, systemic, internalized and otherwise- about our lived experiences; our problems and our solutions. Yes, among blank stares and starry eyes.  It’s ok. Leave blanks where we don’t have words yet. We can fill in the blanks as we go.

And no, we shouldn’t have to rely on a person of color to start the conversation.  But when it is started, step up or step back as needed to lead by example.

Please leave me suggestions on how you start the conversation.  Start the conversation.  Comment. below. (or you know, leave an emoji if you don’t have words.)

Sida Ly-Xiong is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Sonia Chakrabarty

Thank you for sharing this post! I love the sentiment of filling in the blanks as we go. Too often, I think, we are discouraged from starting something by a lack of a complete plan.