A phrase that was introduced to me is the phrase "Pet to threat", and it is one that I have thought about since hearing it. To best explain the phrase, I'm going to use the example of being a Black woman in the corporate world. My story is, I'm sure, similar to that of many other Black women, we all just have our different "spins" on it, for lack of better phrasing.
At a former job, I was celebrated in a lot of ways, one of the most being the fact that I am a Black woman. Do I feel I was a diversity hire? No...? I don't think that was how it started, however, it wasn't long after that that I began to feel like a bit of a token, or a representation of the company being "diverse". I was asked to be on the Diversity Council before I had reached the typical employment length to apply. Once on the council, I was asked to lead not only meetings, but also to lead Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs. I thought nothing of these at first, as I was excited at the opportunity to do some important work that included uplifting Black people and Black voices. And of course, that was a good thing, right? I jumped right in and was so excited to have my voice heard. I was so excited to be able to share my experiences with other companies, as well as experiences at this current company, and taking those and seeing how we could best ensure that Black employees felt seen and heard.
That excitement was soon shifted into feelings of stress and frustration. When I started sharing my thoughts, I could see almost instantly that what I was saying and sharing was making people uncomfortable. It was obvious that explaining the ways that I had faced racism through micro aggressions made some people shift in their seats. I naively thought my sharing would open the eyes of the people around me. I thought that they would think about what they were hearing and want to know how they could make a difference to stop other people from experiencing those instances. I was instead met with pushback, doubting of lived experiences as part of sharing stories, and outright denial of the possibility of bias blindspots and discrimination. You can imagine my surprise and frustration at this occurrence, as the reason I was "picked" was to discuss the very things that were being discussed. And then it hit me. They wanted the "nice" version of talking about diversity. As in, they wanted to acknowledge that there was a diversity initiative, but keep tucked away the fact that diversity wasn't really the goal, just a performative act to have the company seeming more progressive.
When I spoke about what I saw, what I experienced, what others had experienced, that shifted the dynamic of things. At that point, things became too real, and things were no longer simply just a possibility, or a lofty notion that they could slap a council on. Instead, it was a stark reality of what needed to be addressed and dismantled. I had shaken their place of comfort where everything was "just fine" and the company was addressing any issues that would affect marginalized groups, specifically Black employees. And by me shaking things up, even in the small way of sharing stories and experiences, I threatened their false sense of reality of being that progressive company that was ahead of their time. I opened their eyes to the fact that in spite of hiring Black people, that doesn't ensure that Black people are being taken care. I was shown that I was better seen, and only heard in a way that provided comfort. Peeling back the layers of work that needed to be done, starting with the acknowledgement of the need for truly listening to Black people, that shifted the view of me as a gift and an asset to one of contention. How dare I expect actual efforts to be made simply because I was added to their initiatives? How dare I believe that having me on boards and councils was more than filing a diversity quota? How dare I believe I am anything more than a token to help white people feel better about their comfort in upholding biases and white supremacy?
In that one step, in that one move, I shifted quickly from their pet...to their threat. Simply by asking them to hear what was being said, listen to experiences, and take steps to help their Black employees, Black PEOPLE, feel heard, cared for, and uplifted. That bare minimum step was too much of an ask.
And I became too much of a Black woman for offering the ask.