A few weeks ago, I arrived on-site (yes, you read that correctly — IRL) to help a client lead a portion of their board retreat. The organization is led by a phenomenal black woman, with a mostly white/white-presenting Board of Directors.
Minutes before the start of the meeting, an older, white, male board member walked up to the CEO who had spent weeks planning this amazing retreat — and asked if he won any prizes for pointing out spelling mistakes or grammatical errors in the meeting materials. Apparently, at 8:30 am, he’d found a few in the board packet. Quelle horreur!!
The week prior, a new client warmed my team that her boss was fixated on spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and warned us to copy-edited documents to avoid derailing meetings. The boss leads the HR organization of a not-insignificant organization, i.e., she likely has better things to do with her time, but chooses to fixate on tiny errors.
These conversations took me back to another client that I worked with for 18 months, nay, nearly 20 months. Back when I had far less confidence, and struggle with anxiety — trying to make a case for diversity, equity, and inclusion with a group of older, mostly retired, mostly white members of a not-for-profit board.
No matter how hard I tried, there’d be a tiny error (or many tiny errors) in some document, or I’d phrase things in a way that made sense of my multi-lingual immigrant brain — but it wouldn’t land quite right with the client. I’d leave each meeting feeling defeated, small, inadequate.
White folks, if you’re fixated on tiny mistakes, you’re not here for the learning. No meaningful conversation begins with “I caught a spelling mistake at the top of page 2”.
The fixation, the shaming, the curt remarks — they all signal your inability to sit with the discomfort of having a real conversation about what it takes to create greater equity and inclusion.
When you derail an entire meeting on the basis of grammar or formatting — you are showing me what truly matters to you. Upholding white supremacy culture. Tema Okun has a whole section on perfection on her site — https://www.whitesupremacyculture.info/one-right-way.html
It’s possible, white folks, to show up with your entire humanity — fear, anxiety, vulnerability, discomfort. The people that work with you, will be grateful when you do. A list of resources below, to help shift out of fixation and into inclusion.