It’s commonplace to find Equality & Inclusion programmes in the modern workplace, & while to some they may seem to be a waste of time, they are actually quite important in influencing the work environment. Unfortunately, the reason this type of work has garnered a reputation for time-wasting is because, frankly, sometimes that’s all it boils down to. When seemingly endless email trains become longer than the next George R.R. Martin novel, but no actions ever come of the words, it’s not hard to see why some people feel this way. It results in what we call “performative equality”.
Performative equality is used to pacify marginalised groups by appearing to address discrimination without actually dealing with it. It dampens the flames before anyone important gets burned, and before others have even noticed the fire. What it doesn’t do is rescue the smouldering embers from further damage; the result being that the oppressed stay that way, but are made to look angry & ungrateful in the process.
As anyone who belongs to a marginalised group will tell you, there is nothing more infuriating than performative equality. The constant battles without results will wear you down, steadily eroding away your faith in humanity until nothing is left.
There is, however, a way of combatting performative equality; persistence. As much as the performance wears you down, you must wear down the performer.
Drip. An issue is raised.
Drip. The issue is raised again but gets more attention.
Drip. The issue keeps getting discussed as more and more people become aware of it.
Drip. The pressure starts to increase & tensions rise.
Drip. The issue causes conflict, be it personal, legal or even civil disobedience.
Drip. As the conflict gains traction it also attracts more attention, tensions keep rising, & the conflict keeps growing.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Eventually, the dam will break, & the flood that comes rushing through will change everything in its path.
Admittedly, this kind of dogged persistence is exhausting, degrading, & would be wholly unnecessary if some people cared less about money & power, & more about being a decent person, but in my experience it’s also the only way of effecting real change.
When all is said and done, one of my biggest fears as someone who writes about inequality & sits on equality & inclusion committees is that my work will be performative only, & that nothing of substance will come from what I do. In fact, I’ve actually been accused of this several times, although only ever by people on the internet after I’ve called out their bigotry, which I find hard to take seriously. Still, this remains one of my biggest insecurities, & I frequently try to evaluate the impact I’m having in an effort to remain authentic. The day I cannot think of something new to add to the list of changes I’ve helped bring about is the day I know that I’m not doing what I set out to do, & it’s a day I hope never comes.