I think that when you work with people from disadvantaged groups and offer them a reduced rate (or are aware they were offered a reduced rate through your organization), you do have a moral obligation to honestly examine whether you are interacting with them in the same way you would if they were able to pay the full rate. This does not just apply to those with White privilege, it is true even when you are a member of a disadvantaged group. Don't assume that because you have the same group membership that you automatically understand what someone went through or is experiencing now. Don't undervalue their experience because you haven't had the experience. Be mindful of the words you are using and how they may shape other people's opinions, especially if you are publishing your opinions publicly. For instance, I've heard multiple racialized people say that racism doesn't exist and proceed to blame and shame the victim.
Lately, Black conservative U. S. political activist, Candace Owens, has come under fire for being critical of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. I am sure she honestly believes what she is saying is true (and she does have the right to her personal opinions) but she doesn't understand that voicing her opinions on a platform as large as she has access to, causes great disturbances and feelings of betrayal from not just the majority of Black people but all people who support Black Lives Matter. She lacks self-awareness of her impact on others and is not interested in learning more about her unconscious biases. Candace raises money for a conservative business who has openly made disrespectful comments about George Floyd and then chooses to view the behaviour of GoFundMe as discriminatory rather than trying to learn about the larger social reasons as to why they may have suspended her account. In my view, she fails to realize the crucial point: George Floyd may not have been a hero or a martyr and yes he had a criminal history but he did not deserve to die the way he did. His past does not make him less human or have less of a right to life. That is why he is a symbol for BLM and worthy of all the anti-racism protests that have been happening in his name. This is just like blaming a woman who had too much to drink for her rape; her choice to drink does not give a man the right to touch her body without her permission. I am not sure why this is still used as a defense because if she was drunk, then she could not have given consent.
Keep in mind the role of intersectionality and how that ensures that no two people from the same group have the same experiences. Your clients are already vulnerable due to factors beyond their control. They are dealing with systemic forms of discrimination in society. You do not want to inflict more harm. Solicit feedback and create a safe space for people to respond honestly to you.
Ask yourself the following:
Do you have sympathy or empathy for this client? If it is sympathy, what can you do to become more empathetic? Sympathy usually results in a patronizing attitude while empathy creates trust and a feeling of being heard.
"Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection"
– Dr. Brené Brown
Are you putting the same level of time and effort in?
Do you try to evade their phone calls, emails or reduce the number of times meeting with them?
Do you answer their lengthy queries with brief or vague responses? Short responses give an impression of not wanting to spend the time to look into any given point, question or concern. They convey that you are not worthy of my time.
Do you respond to all of their concerns or ignore some of them?
How do you feel when interacting with them? How may it come across in your tone and nonverbal body language? While people can not read your thoughts, your thoughts and feelings do influence your energy (which can be felt by others).
Is boosting your professional reputation a bigger motivation for offering the reduced rate than helping people? If you are a vocal advocate for the rights of a disadvantaged group, this can make you more of a target for criticism as people can feel when actions are taken due to self-serving motives.
Are you as considerate of their feelings and speak to them with the same level of respect as you do others? This is a tougher one to look at because most people will act in a way that they believe is respectful. However, to the other person it does not come across that way.
Are you trying to find other ways to get more money from them because you feel the rate you originally offered was not reflective of the work you put in or will have to put in the future? This is especially true if you are in a high-paying profession and don't need the money as much as the client, if not having it would result in you not having a luxury in comparison to them not being able to afford a necessity. It is also most ethical to stand by the original agreement even if you miscalculated the time involved (which would have been your fault and not the fault of the client).
If they don't agree to pay you more, are you still as motivated to do the work or do you try to finish as quickly as possible and/or end the client relationship as soon as you can? Don't penalize the client for your miscalculation. If you are truly interested in social justice, try to obtain the best results for them instead of encouraging them to settle for less than you know they can get.
Do you follow through on promises you made even if the client can not hold you accountable if you don't? Or do you follow through with what you said you would do even if they have already made the last payment? It is better to not promise anything rather than state you can help with something that you don't really intend to help with later. This puts the client in a position of waiting for you to help them rather than looking into other avenues to help with the issue. And then feeling hurt when you don't help them in the way you said you would.
Have you done the IAT (implicit association test) to assess the extent of your unconscious biases?
Have you done inner work to reduce your own unconscious biases about oppressed groups? I have detailed some ways we can do this in my last blog post about implicit bias.
Having a desire to help disadvantaged groups isn't enough. If you aren't able to offer a reduced rate without being able to treat these clients the same way as others who can pay your regular rate, you should not offer the reduced rate at all because it harms more than it helps. People know when they are not being treated equally and it is very hurtful and negatively impacts self-esteem.
From my experiences both personally and professionally, I know that people can remember these experiences for a very long time. As a service provider, people rely on you to help them and it is a serious responsibility. Your words and actions can be just as damaging as the incident they hired you to help with in the first place. Be mindful and do the inner work necessary to help rather than harm.