Good intentions in diversity and inclusion work

In Inclusive Design Communities, I address how intent and impact are two different things. No matter how good our intent is, the harm caused can be much, much worse. I recently talked to some people about the myth of good intentions and finally came across a blog post that I think covers it well: “How ‘Good Intent’ Undermines Diversity and Inclusion” by Annalee, a safety consultant.

The things that Annalee talks about in this work are what I’ve seen regularly:

Here are some of the really good parts of this blog post that I know I’ll be citing in future conversations:

Telling people to ‘assume good intent’ is telling them that no matter how badly they hurt, they still need to smile and be nice so the person who hurt them won’t feel blamed.

Including “assume good intent” in your code of conduct tells victims that they aren’t safe in your space, because if they do anything to make others feel bad about harming them, they will be held accountable for breaking the rules.

When you tell people in your community to “assume good intent,” you’re reinforcing the notion that marginalized people shouldn’t trust their instincts.

Marginalized people already know that we’re supposed to “assume good intent” in others. We are told every day that we’re “paranoid,” “overreacting,” or just plain “crazy” if we don’t feel good about being treated badly. This process is called ‘gaslighting,’ and it’s a way of making marginalized people distrust our own perceptions so we won’t object to being mistreated.

One of the best ways to be an ally is to stop centering yourself and instead listen to and support those who say they’re being harmed. It reminds me of some of the allyship-related topics I wrote about eight years ago