“Does anyone see me, or am I invisible?”
I was confused. In the big auditorium where five thousand staff were gathered, I looked over at two of my coworkers in the seats next to me. They were in tears. I had no idea what was happening, because all I had heard from the speakers on stage for the past thirty minutes was encouraging updates about their ministry. What could have made my friends so upset?
Every two years during July, Cru puts on a conference at Colorado State University where their United States–based staff gather for connection, learning, and worship. It’s quite an impressive production: huge television screens, skits, speakers like Tim Keller and Francis Chan, and even Christian bands like Rend Collective and Tenth Avenue North.
This conference is also quite a phenomenon for minorities, as the attendees are over 85 percent white. I still recall when one of my local Colorado friends who visited a session remarked, “I’ve never seen this many white people in one room before.” It can be a shock for those who live in more racially diverse places in the world.
But minorities can feel “invisible” in ways other than demographics. As I turned to ask my coworkers why they were crying, I learned that a painful experience in their organizational past had just been spun into a positive report by the speakers up front at the conference. As a result, they felt unseen by the organization and their leaders.
It then struck me:
Positivity can be blind.
When Organizations Refuse to Address Pain
Over the next couple of conferences, I noticed there seemed to be an organizational commitment to share mostly uplifting stories of progress and success. On one level, it made complete sense. I mean, who goes to a big rally only to walk away, depressed and sad? However, over the years I started to sense a frustration and hopelessness from the minority community, and finally I started to get it.
It wasn’t that minorities didn’t want or like the positivity of the organization. They were more bothered by the seeming refusal to address difficulties, challenges, mistakes, and oversights.
• When the organization didn’t address challenges, it didn’t see or acknowledge the unique realities many minorities faced—pioneering, fundraising in new ethnic communities, and so on.
• When the organization didn’t address mistakes, who were the ones these mistakes had most impacted? Minorities.
Put another way: by refusing to acknowledge pain, the organization also refused to see or acknowledge the people in the most pain—minorities.
After all, pain is a very important part of reality. If organizational conferences and leaders don’t publically and consistently acknowledge pain, they can quickly become out of touch with reality, and with minorities who must constantly navigate additional layers of pain and complexity. And if minorities continue to feel invisible in this way, they may question their fit or place in the organization.
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