Trust-building outside of work was the first step towards having the possibility of a cross-race colleagueship that was truly effective.
From Luz’s perspective: As I reflect on my partnership with Judy, it is hard to think of the moment in which I felt that I could finally trust her in a professional partnership but if I had to pick a moment it was when Judy shared her salary status with me. It was the moment I knew I could take a healthy risk in working more intentionally with Judy. I was fully aware that Judy made more money than me but I did not know exactly how much. It was common for my white peers to make more money than me even when we did the same work. I remember her saying something along the lines, “I’m just going to tell you my salary because I feel like we are not encouraged to talk about it.” I also remember her taking a deep breath and when she finally said it seeing the sign of relief on her face. That was when I knew, that there was potential here for us to work together intentionally and to build trust as colleagues. I was lucky enough to have found that potential partner on my team, and I was able to observe her in multiple spaces. As I interacted with Judy in more meetings both within our areas and outside our area I realized that she was someone that I could advocate and be strategic with.
In general, I am an observer and often pay attention to see if what people are saying and doing is parallel. Many folks love to speak about how they are social justice educators, advocates, and all about anti-racist work but often it is nothing more than a performance. With that said, there are risks I have to make to both survive and do my work as a social justice advocate and educator. I have reached the point in my professional journey where I refuse to be an institution’s pawn. Although, it is important to note that when choosing to work at a higher education institution, it means we function within privilege and white supremacy. Throughout the process of developing our colleagueship , I was in a better space both emotionally and psychologically to deal with my anger towards white people’s dismissive and defensive attitudes and behaviors in academia. Therefore, I was better able to identify white folks who made the attempt to be better accomplices. My anger is often still there but I am aware that it is process for me and that not all white folk deserve my time and vulnerability. Ultimately, I went on a leap of faith that Judy would be my accomplice in the workplace. In taking such a risk, I reminded myself that I had to have boundaries because at the end of the day I was the one taking the larger risk both personally and professionally.
From Judy’s perspective: Something in our relationship cracked open when Luz shared with me that she felt exhausted and often micro-aggressed by social situations with predominantly white people. At first, I could feel myself wanting to respond defensively, but I pushed that defensiveness down and listened. After that conversation, our interactions felt more fluid and authentic. But I knew that it was only a beginning–to keep building Luz’s trust as a friend and colleague, my actions in meetings with and (perhaps even more importantly) without her, needed to align with our private conversations. If I wasn’t consistent in talking about race and racism both in private and public, she would see the mis-match.
Although I had started investing in some self-work around race and racism (attending conferences, reading works by POC activists and scholars, reflecting on what lessons about race and people of color I had absorbed and didn’t question as I grew up, talking about race regularly with my white partner), it wasn’t a full investment. It was an investment of convenience, on my time, and without urgency. When I started working with Luz and learning that if we worked in true solidarity across our identity centers (Luz directed the ALANA Center, I direct the LGBTQ Center and Women’s Center), we could serve students exponentially better, I felt a real stake in racial justice work for the first time. I’m ashamed that it took until I was in my mid/late 20s to truly feel that I had a personal stake in fighting racist oppression. But I try as hard as I can to stay out of that dangerous guilt loop we white people often stall out in.
Our personal reflections on our journey shows that we were in different places–in large parts because of our different identities–but we were able to connect because we ultimately had similar goals. In the next post, we will share some of the specific strategies we worked on together.
Artwork by: Vincent McIndoe