Anti-oppression work is complicated, and there are a million lessons and pieces of context I could add to this newsletter. But it’s a newsletter, so for now I’m going to offer one. It’s about the critical difference between intention and impact.
Ignoring the difference between intention and impact is one of the ways that people with power distance themselves from the harm they have done.
It can sound like — “If I didn’t intend to do anything wrong, then surely it’s not that bad?”
Or it could be — “That’s not what I meant!”
Or the classic — “But my heart is in the right place.”
Oh, or — “I’m a good person!”
If I’m not careful, I fall into this kind of thinking a lot. This newsletter, and the whole context of it, is a classic case.
First, I intended to hire with a diversity agenda, but I hired a white person. Then I told a story all about my intention. Through sharing it on this platform, I was inviting you to collude with me and affirm my good intentions. But the impact is the same — a person in a position of societal power was given more power.
The same is true for the newsletter itself. I intended to open up, share an experience and create space for thought and dialogue about the complexity of diversity work in a small business. The impact is that people felt tokenized, angry and silenced. In responding to that, it was critical that I not hold my good intentions up like a shield, but instead to sink in listen deeply, paying attention to the impact of my words and actions on the people who were hurt by them.
If you are a person with societal power, you don’t understand the experience of not having it. White people don’t see racism. Cis-gendered people don’t see transphobia. You might try, you might have good intentions and some insight, but the ongoing, invasive, all-pervasive force of it is invisible to you. And so, when we make mistakes in these arenas, it’s critical that we don’t stay in the small circle of what we already know. We need to stop, listen, and let ourselves be changed by what we hear.
If your instinct in reading this is to rush to my defense because my “heart is in the right place”, I urge you to take pause. Harm was done. People were hurt. Those are facts. Yes, my intentions were good, but we can’t build a better world with good intentions. We need to work harder.
Thank you for reading. Here’s to owning our mistakes, sitting with the hard stuff and working towards more and more awareness every day.