No more bystanders

DEI: three small letters with big potential. When I first started hearing about diversity, equity, and inclusion being packaged into one campaign I thought, Meh. This sounds like something to alleviate white guilt. Maybe it was and still is. But I think it’s okay to capitalize on this moment. It’s way past time to start focusing on people. And by “people” I don’t just mean marginalized people. I’m talking about the people who are silently corroborating instead of speaking out.

The killing of George Floyd was a wake-up call for some but a reminder for others. What did you do when you saw the video? Ignore it? Post an article about it on social media? Black and Latinx people have known for decades how dangerous the world is when ignorance and fear reign. With the emergence of COVID-19, we were reminded of how marginalized populations get hit faster and harder than most in emergency situations. But after the shit hits the proverbial fan, it seems like people do what they’ve always done: turn to survival mode and, like the early days of HIV, look out for themselves. 

So, who is left to speak out about the gross neglect that has left minority populations vulnerable? 

From my perspective, one of the best ways to fight for equity is for people to call out inequity whenever possible. And by people, I mean white people. Shaking your head and shaming the offenders in your private social circles does nothing to combat discrimination. White people calling each other out hits differently from when people of color do it.

Calls for diversity are great and should continue for as long as it takes to truly achieve it. But I wonder what diversity looks like to some people. I wonder if they look at things such as disability, religion, and age. I wonder if they consider economic backgrounds and political allegiances.

Not everyone can organize a protest or make great speeches. But it’s time to do something.

Inclusion should be at the top of everyone’s list when planning anything, whether you are restructuring an organization or planning a focus group. No more press releases that tell how you stand with marginalized populations. Show us how you do it. What does your management team look like? Who is making decisions? What kind of assessment will you employ to ensure that you’re doing this right?

If you get nothing else from this issue, I hope that you will be motivated to do something on behalf of those whose voices are often muted. The contributors and I have included some noteworthy action items in this issue that can help fight stigma, ableism, homophobia, ageism, and most of all, white supremacy.

You will read about how inclusion is not just doctrinaire language but a gold standard. In Olivia Ford’s article about how to incorporate transgender, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary people, you hear the voices of people who live this life every day and know the change they want to see. Listen to them and then do something about it.

Charles Stephens wrote a powerful opinion piece that discusses how you can support Black leaders in the HIV justice movement without yielding to fear or becoming an unwitting facilitator of white supremacy. Ever hear of a gatekeeper? You may think differently about that word when you read his musings.

Sannisha K. Dale, PhD, EdM, wrote the following in her personal essay on HIV researchers becoming scholar activists: “Addressing the HIV epidemic demands an approach rooted in social justice and intersectionality given that HIV inequities are driven by interlocking systems of oppression inclusive of racism, heterosexism, cisgenderism, sexism, ethnocentrism, poverty, and more.” What does research have to do with social justice you might ask? She explains the connection in her piece.

Not everyone can organize a protest or make great speeches. But it’s time to do something. This won’t go away. Finding your voice in writing or theater or photography or whatever works for you makes a difference. You can help make DEI a required part of planning and execution of HIV treatment, care, and prevention. Find your way and do it.

No more bystanding.

Candace Y.A. Montague (she, her) is an award-winning, independent journalist based in Washington, D.C. She covers health, gender equality, and social justice topics for several local and national publications. She has been covering HIV and AIDS news since 2008.