Empathy on MLK Day

I’m going to take a bit of a risk here, and if I’m wrong at all, I want someone to call me out on it. I’d like it to be done in the spirit of learning and community.

I struggled like hell with the idea of writing this blog post. I don’t want to appropriate anyone else’s experience, and I don’t want to insinuate that I understand all the nuance of discrimination. What I want to do is tell a story about how even the potential of being discriminated against feels.

As many of you know, I’ve been out of work for a while, so much of what I’m posting these days has the backdrop of my search for my next role, as does this post.

I found a really great organization that provides business opportunities for women of color who had an open marketing role, for which I seemed to be a good candidate from a qualifications perspective. So I applied, and did some outreach to the leaders of the organization.

At a certain point, I recognized the irony of the white man applying for a role in an organization that provides opportunities for women of color. I brought this up to Suzanne and Annie, suggesting that I might not have much of a shot at the role because of my demographic profile. Suzanne immediately nailed it: “Doesn’t it suck that you might not get picked for a job because of your race or gender?”

Yes, it sucks. It sucks because I like what this organization does, and I probably won’t get picked. It sucks because I believe that in the current environment, they’re totally right if they don’t hire me. Why should I get an opportunity with an organization that provides business opportunities for women of color, when this role is a business opportunity that a woman of color might fill?

It sucks at so many other levels, so many of which I don’t claim to understand. I do know it squeezed a little hope out of my soul. This was just one moment for me, who can go back to his privilege of being a white male. What if your life is filled with those moments? How do you maintain hope?

So on this MLK day, stop to think about your own position in our stratified society. Think about how you can empathize with others who are unlike you. Do what you can to understand as best you can the experiences of others. To quote Dr. King, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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