Diversity Caucus Incident: Response from Bottom Lines Anti-Racist Action Group
Dear NESEA Community,
Events this month exposed a vein of racism in our NESEA community. Many of us are hurting and need to acknowledge what happened and how it has affected us.
During BuildingEnergy Boston, someone on a conference attendee’s Zoom connection interrupted the Diversity Caucus session with racist comments about the Black Lives Matter movement. The comments were a direct response to the introduction that a Black NESEA member and Caucus organizer was in the middle of presenting. It was particularly upsetting because the Caucus was designed as a space for people of color, women, LGBTQIA and disabled folks to come together to talk about the challenges of being underrepresented in our industry. (Read a description of the incident and the response from NESEA's leadership.)
For some of us in the room, especially white people, the comments were shocking and deeply unsettling, because we aren’t used to directly experiencing these kinds of racist comments, especially within the NESEA community. For others of us in the room, especially BIPOC folks, the comments caused frustration, anger, reliving past trauma, and a feeling that the space was no longer safe.
For many members of our community, this was not an isolated incident. These types of statements are common.
Also, last week NESEA sent out an invitation to an anti-racism webinar. More than 50 people immediately unsubscribed from updates about diversity, equity, and inclusion as a result. A number of them emailed NESEA staff directly to complain about the fact that NESEA was offering an anti-racism webinar.
We’re struggling with how to respond both individually and as an organization. For the past year the Anti Racist Action Group (ARAG), which came out of the Bottom Lines network, has been meeting regularly to talk about how we can make our businesses anti-racist, comparing notes on the steps each of our companies are taking, and educating ourselves at the same time. These incidents feel like a call to do more, and do better.
Our plans for next steps include:
- Make our group and our work more visible and more disruptive to the status quo.
- Talk with other white people in Bottom Lines and our NESEA community about ways to respond to comments like these when we hear them.
- Work with the Diversity Caucus on ways we can support any plans for follow-up sooner than next year’s conference.
- Continue to move forward with opportunities for anti-racism training for companies and individuals in our industry.
We stand in solidarity with the Diversity Caucus. We recognize the steps forward that NESEA is making as an organization. And it is not enough. We must do more. NESEA is a member-driven organization, and as members, we demand action.
The disparity between the shock and disbelief experienced by many of the white folks who witnessed or heard about this event, and the totally unsurprised grief and anger expressed by the people of color who were subjected to this same event, shows us that NESEA and Bottom Lines still have much work to do in order to become a genuinely anti-racist organization. ARAG commits to being at the forefront of this work.
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