Confronting the Denial: Race in the Workplace

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This is the sixth episode of the Voices of Energy’s limited series, Race in the Workplace. This series compiles the insights of several black energy professionals from our conversations with them during the Summer of 2020. Amy Deaton, emcee of this series, has categorized these insights into several themes around race in our workplaces. In Confronting the Denial, listeners will consider why there is so much denial surrounding issues of racial justice, how to confront it, and how certain buzzwords impact the race conversation.

A closer look at privilege (01:25)

To kick off the conversation, Amy hands it off to Rodney Williams, Lead Project Manager at National Grid. Rodney explains that, as he understands it, privilege exists when you don’t have to think about anything. Or, in other words, it shows up whenever a person can be totally unaware of an issue that someone of another race, gender, etc. is forced to be aware of because of their race, gender, etc. Rodney explains examples from crossing the street, to how potential employers respond to names on resumes, to stop and search procedures to illustrate the ways in which privilege takes shape. He urges privileged listeners to educate themselves and do something about issues of racial injustice, rather than turning a blind eye and assuming their own experience to be normative.

'Black' vs 'all' (03:37)

Next, Gaurdie Banister, former CEO of Aera Energy and a member of the DOW Board of Directors, comments on the phrase, “All Lives Matter.” According to Gaurdie, it is important when acknowledging privilege to say “Black Lives Matter” without jumping to “All Lives Matter.” The importance is rooted in an abundance versus scarcity mindset, which Gaurdie explains through an anecdote about his daughter. Using the story, Gaurdie illustrates how in society as much as in family, we need to pay particular attention to people who are hurting. Right now, the situation of black people in America has reached a tipping point where honest conversation is possible, and we need to own up to the hurting and injustice faced by the black community.

Dispelling reverse discrimination (05:52)

Following along the same vein, Carolyn Green, a co-author of The Energy Within Us and a managing partner at EnerGreen Capital Management, emphasizes that the act of amplifying oppressed voices is not a form of intolerance, but the exact opposite. Within her work, Carolyn has no problem with being accused of playing favorites, because equity requires meeting people where they are and working for a level playing field. Advocacy, she says, is not so-called “reverse discrimination.”

History speaks for itself (07:10)

The BLM movement is committed to equality, and this involves a reckoning with history. Gaurdie explains that America has been in denial about its sordid racial history for a long time, and this denial is accompanied by a dominant-subordinate group dynamic that views a shift in power occurring. Together, these forces work against both acknowledgement of wrongs and the process of reconciliation. The US would do well to draw a lesson from South Africa, which underwent a reconciliation process that involved the government admitting to its wrongdoing; this process, in turn, helped advance national healing. The US has never even recognized its original sin of slavery, making it challenging to convice corporations and individuals to themlseves take responsibility for past and present racism and work for healing.

Combatting racial norms (09:46)

As the conversation concludes, Gaurdie details the complicating factor of a dominant-subordinate group mentality. Such mentalities are present in every area of society, and involve a dominant group bent on staying in power. In the situation of American race relations, though, it is both challenging and necessary to get past this mentality in order to deal with systemic racism.

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