Is it my responsibility to carry the burden?

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Dark purple background with an illustration of a Black woman with an afro facing forwards. She has her arms out on either side with "Yes" written on the left hand-side and "no" written on the right hand-side."

Is it my responsibility to carry the burden? 

There are times, where we can be the ‘only one’ or ‘one of a few’ in a room. Whether it is at work or school, being in the minority is not a pleasant feeling. Yet how much responsibility lies with us to ‘be the change you want to see’? 

In many of these spaces we often experience diversity and inclusion work as an add on, rather than a priority. Many racialised people and communities have experienced taking on the extra load to champion diversity and inclusion initiatives. This may include hosting events putting on panels or drawing up recommendations for greater inclusion in these institutions.  Many are happy to do the work because they feel that if they don't do it nobody else will,  and more so it benefits everybody including themselves to have a more inclusive, diverse and authoritarian environment. However, there is a major problem of there being unequal workload within these areas. 

Is it the responsibility of people who experience  oppression and marginalisation to lead or push through such initiatives?

There are two sides of this argument regarding whether it is the responsibility of the minority to carry through initiatives that create more diverse and inclusive institutions. 

Side one: It is my responsibility to make a change
The first side of the argument is that ‘if I don't do it who will?’  This question puts many people in a difficult position, especially if they are the only one, or one of the few, because there is unlikely to be other advocates. A lot of diversity and inclusion work stems from lived experiences and in such cases, it is best to be the one to champion these causes because you have lived the experience. 

Alternatively, you may just be passionate about this topic and while it may be unpaid labour, it brings joy knowing that you have contributed to making your institution a fairer place for those who are coming up behind you. Some people subscribe to the belief that if you are in the minority, it is your duty to not only represent your community but make efforts to educate those around you and support initiatives that seek to create a more inclusive environment.

Side two: It is not my responsibility to commit to unpaid labour 
On the other hand, there are those who believe that it is not their responsibility to carry the burden of educating people nor doing unpaid labour in their institution. The fact that a person comes from a certain identity or community does not necessarily mean they are well versed in the areas of diversity and inclusion. 

Many organisations and companies exploit people’s identities and assume that individuals would be interested in certain initiatives because of the communities they come from. Furthermore, people of colour already have an extra burden of navigating their institution as minorities and many don't want the extra burden of having to be a leader or champion of these causes. Some people don't want to be put in a box and defined by their identity and that tends to happen when you take on extra work doing diversity and inclusion. It can lead to a situation where you are only known for the diversity of work and your other skills, position or qualifications are forgotten about. 

Not everyone wants to be the company representative and voice for diversity and inclusion in your institution. It can lead to people feeling undervalued and underappreciated in their actual roles because people no longer ask them to speak about their technical skills but instead speak about race, diversity, and inclusion or navigating workplaces.It is understandable why there are many people who feel it is not their responsibility to carry the weight of being a representative of their community or championing initiatives outside of their role. If you land on this side of the debate, you might find it helpful to signpost your organisation to the following places that are paid to provide diversity and inclusion training and have lots of tools and resources on the topic:

  • Spark and Co. have a variety of resources that can help you generate ideas for your institution
  • The Other Box (is a diversity and inclusion company educating businesses on bias)
  • Fearless Futures (are a diversity and inclusion company that facilitates learning experiences as well as providing consultancy services)

There is no right or wrong decision to take when it comes to navigating spaces as a racialised being. Just make sure that you have the capacity and energy to do so. 

On Spark & Co there are many resources to help with specific stresses and pressures of being a person of colour in this situation. Whichever side of the argument you fall on, what is most important is that you do what is authentic to you and ensure that your wellbeing is prioritised at the workplace.
 

 

This post was written by one of our Community Ambassadors, founder of A Touch of Colour, Leonie Mills.

Find out more about Leonie here.