This is Not the Plantation. Why Would I Work for Free?
Organization's Email: "Hi Dr. Harper. One of our colleagues told us that you attended one of our events and that you were concerned about it being mostly white. We certainly do need help with getting more racially diverse partners, candidates, and suppliers. Do you have any suggestions? Do you know of other BIPOCs in this arena?"
Me: "Sure. Would you like to set up a time to talk about my services as a Strategic Consultant for Diverse and Inclusive Partnerships? My fees start at [$$$]."
Organization: "Oh, we are sorry we do not have a budget for that. We just need a few [free] suggestions."
Me: "Ok, let me be transparent. I see that you have a $50 million dollar endowment and that there is always money available for a homogenous group of people that your organization continues to fund and support in x-sector. You *DO* have the budget, however, you undervalue my DEI expertise as a Black professional. How do you expect to have a high return on diversity and inclusion if you underinvest and undervalue the very BIPOC DEI professionals that could help you achieve your goals? Is it possible that your organization actually doesn't care but performs this weird show that they do care by pretending to 'notice' the problem, reach out to someone like me, and then claim that they cannot pay a thriving compensation?"
Organization: "Ok, let me relay this information back to my leadership and we'll get back to you. You make a great point."
Me: (Still hearing the sounds of crickets, months later, and after me sending 2 or 3 follow up emails).
Ok, so the above is not verbatim of what happened recently. However, it is a fusion of 10+ years of similar types of emails or messages I have received from non-profit organizations, universities, or companies. It's a predictable yet terrible theme.
I have heard organizations lie and say, 'Well, we've reached out to other DEI specialists around racial inclusion but they do not want to work with us' or, 'We can't find anyone.' In my head I hear my voice yelling back,
"Y'all, it's because (1) you ain't paying and (2) even when you do pay you mostly refuse to divest away from systemic inequities that got your leadership in their privileged roles to begin with. That's an intense headache for most racialized minorities in DEI and of course they are eventually just going to stop working with you or just never want to work with you."
I know what these organizations are doing strategic to serve one purpose: It's all a show to pretend they care, but they do not actually care. Cosmetic.
How many of you are or know DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) BIPOC professionals who are perpetually underpaid/undervalued struggling to pay rent , food, etc? A significant number of organizations pretend to want to do DEI and then offer low compensation knowing that many contractors/candidates are so financially desperate, they will take it so they can eat or pay next month's rent. I have seen colleagues posting these stories like these, struggling on LinkedIn.
This is not right. But, this is the predictable outcome of many services-- including DEI-- that are offered by Black and indigenous folk in a neoliberal racial-capitalist U.S. economy that are inequitably undervalued.
I explore more of this Plantation Model mentality in my Spring 2023 conference. Click on the image below to learn more about this.