Friday, January 10, 2014

Heart to Heart - Part 1

As I read the summary of yet one more book, slogged through the findings of yet one more report and perused yet one more article on diversity slash multiculturalism slash inclusion, I was disappointed in the business slash academic slash reporter slash concerned professional intellectual objectivity that informed the conclusions and recommendations, or lack thereof. For decades, there has been an intellectual strategy of confronting white bias and elitism through economic and social science logic. I know, because I have both used it and confronted it on many levels. I have always believed the reasoning or scientific approach, including speaking to a person's good nature, misses the fact that we humans are driven by emotions, and what we do with our emotions compels us to act or avoid. In recent years, there were several studies released that attempted to examine the emotional side of bias. Each seemed to conclude that we just need to try a little harder!

Oh please! Why can't we stop wringing our hands and say:  

  • Okay, men! Just keep your sexist comments and jokes to yourself - even at home. You may not like it, but you need to accept that you cannot go around telling a woman you barely know, or who works for you, that she looks "nice" because all she sees is your watering mouth! Don't worry your pretty little head about changing YOUR thoughts to fully embrace the equality of the woman or man you married, the women you work with or hired, or the daughters or sons you're raising. We know that's just too hard for you. But, for goodness sakes, can you stop making fun of your buddies whose wives are making more money than them?! Secretly, we know you would love to be in their position - take the pottery class you've always wanted to take, watch sports center while you learn to cook, and finally demonstrate to your lazy spouse that it is possible to get it all done! Maybe - just maybe, if you practice being more tolerant, participatory and understanding, some day you may actually be embracing, participatory and understanding.
  • Conservative White people, we're trying really hard not to give up on you, but we pretty much have. You're just not the same conservatives we once thought we knew. You seem to believe that every gain by people color means you are worse off. You don't seem to like your own kind (male or female) unless they are exactly like you - at least in terms of thought and action. So, maybe you could just be less hateful toward gay people (we don't use the term homosexual anymore), White middle class women who work outside the home (you seem to assume that other women are supposed to work outside the home), all women who have abortions or are the victims of sexual assault, working poor and poor people of all colors, and successful people of color. Remember that old adage about if you can't say something good about someone? Try to extend it to people whom you don't like.
  • Oh, and one more thing. Yes, at some point, "your kind" will be the numerical minority in this country. Unless you want to live in one of those godless, dystopic futures that you so hate in science fiction movies and books, you may want to start treating all people the way you want to be treated. Yes, I really do mean ALL people.
  • Progressive White people, we have the most to say to you because we are really depending on you to continue to turn the tide toward a more equitable American and global society. So, PLEASE stop thinking your s--t doesn't stink because it does the worst of all. You keep thinking that you know and you don't! You may know intellectually, but you miss the emotional connection and you tend to avoid those 'messy things' that make you uncomfortable. You think you're good, you're cool, you're 'down with all that'. But, how deep is integration in your life? Your work and activist lives may be more integrated; however, where are the women (regardless of color) and the men of color serving in your organizations, regardless of the type of organization? If you can count the number of people of color you have as "friends"? That's a problem. If those friendships have not traveled into terrain where you are occasionally challenged on your assumptions about how the world works or who the person of color is, then how deep are those friendships? Where are the LGBTQ people in your life? Are they included in ALL familial activities without hesitation? Okay, that minor hesitation that you overcome is acceptable because your new way of thinking overcame your old thinking. How integrated are your spiritual communities, your learning environments, your town meetings.... And, when someone says 'OUCH!' because of something you've said or not said, done or not done, it's a wake-up call to be radically present to life. Use it wisely! Listen to what is said. Don't defend yourself and PLEASE do not tell that person they are "being too sensitive" or didn't "understand" the "intention" of what you said, did not say, did, or didn't do. Take responsibility for impact of your actions by being willing to clean-up the mess - that will demonstrate what type of person you are. 
  • People of color, stop thinking that White people 'ought to know better than to...' because by and large they don't - they just don't! By and large, they still live in predominately white communities, work in predominantly white organizations, go home to predominately white households and have been educated in predominantly white institutions. All of the diversity training, multicultural seminars, cultural competence discussions and reading may have opened a window or a door to awareness that they don't know, but that's about it. They may have seen Roots, but most likely have not. By and large they have not seen The Great Debaters or 42 or 12 Years A Slave because they either believe those movies don't have anything to say to them or are afraid of what those movies have to say to them. The only practicum for application of how to be different is life, which is why they have just spoiled your moment or day with their humanity. I understand if you don't want to be the one to teach them - especially in that painful moment. However, getting upset and blowing up at them literally hurts your heart/mind/body/spirit and does nothing to open their heart/mind/body/spirit to understand the pain they caused - especially if it was unintentional. Believe it or not, many times their actions of being a jerk are unintentional.
  • White majorities within minorities, if you are not doing the psycho-social work you are demanding the larger society do to have you be comfortable, in my opinion you are only doing 40 percent of what needs to be done to create a society in which all of our humanity is respected.
  • Majorities within minorities, how can you expect the world to harbor less prejudice and hate when you foster prejudice and hate within your own group?! To call out two groups as examples: White Gay people, check your racism, sexism, classism, Anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia and cultural appropriation, in general (to name a few items); and White feminists, you still have a lot of work to do regarding race, class, gender and heterosexism (If you are comforted by my choice of two white groups, stop reading and go look in the mirror).
It would be easy to say that things have changed because that's what everybody wants to hear. While most oppressive actions are not intentionally dehumanizing what gets missed in focusing on how much "better" things are, is that the unintentional actions are still dehumanizing and evoke an emotional response that cannot be soothed with "they didn't mean anything by it". Additionally, it is very clear that most of the hateful responses toward women are very intentional, power-based and a very specific message that is heard by every woman. Most hateful responses toward Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexual people, Transgender people and Queer or Questioning people are very intentional, power- and religiously based, and unspecific to make it clear that the same could or ought to happen to anybody in the LGBTQQ community and their allies.

We are not even close to post-racial - and is that good enough? We need to be a post-bias society. We have a multifaceted history of bias, prejudice and discrimination that we have mostly glossed over and ignored, and they are the landmines that catch the dominate culture off-guard and stir emotions that few know how to address. There will be another George ZimmermanPaula Deen, or Phil Robertsonracistsexist and heterosexist writers, commentators and athletes; and Judge G. Todd Baugh is still on the bench, to name several of the knuckleheads who gave us pause in 2013. Perhaps that's part of the problem - it's too easy to dismiss the celebrities and the ordinary that rise to our attention as the exceptions. We don't want to believe it's really that bad.

Well, it's really that bad. The damage done is widespread. At times it is debilitating. That is why I am also concerned about the less visible dehumanizing actions, such as the:
  • Holocaust Studies teacher who denies any comparison of the Holocaust to the Atlantic Slave Industry or the many anti-indigenous people campaigns in this country and around the Globe.
  • Man who earnestly believes his wife or girlfriend is his property.
  • Well intentioned white boss who dismisses the concerns of the staff person who feels bullied as a personal issue that they just need to workout.
  • White feminist who gets caught with her hand in the privilege jar and uses her race and class to escape punishment by using her race, class and gender privilege.
  • Spouse or partner in a cross-cultural relationship who dismisses the offense their partner or spouse feels in response to something said or done to her/him as a supposed joke.
  • Antisemitic Christian who doesn't believe what they say is Antisemitic because it's what they learned in Church.
  • Ways in which we collectively and individually do not recognize or own the toxins in our minds.
The list of missives that ought to be written is endless because bias, prejudice and discrimination are endless. To each of us, I say bias, prejudice and discrimination in their many forms such as racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism - xenophobia - are in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the news we read or hear, the music, the fashion.... and is in the foundation of our establishment as a country.

While I am not discouraged, I am frustrated and exhausted. The only way I can go a whole day without being a witness or a target - however unintentional - of bias is to stay home in silence and be very selective about what I read or watch. However, that I have to be selective causes me to still be confronted.

We keep saying we want a better neighborhood, society and country - what does that look like? What is the dream of a better country? World? Because it feels to me like we play at the edges of the ideas, visions and thoughts that gave us our great and not so great present. We can collectively dream what we want our future to be and begin to live the values and cultivate those polices now. All of us are likely to suffer some psychological displacement as we join our hearts with our minds to share our stories and dream bigger than we have ever dreamed well beyond what we have been told is possible. However, it won't be the first time we collectively and individually went after the unobtainable, nor should it be the last.

The only question is: Who will join me in this heart to heart? Who has started the conversation in other places? What ideas do you have?

Interested in hosting a discussion on this on another issue on your campus or within your organization? Still seeking for a spring speaker? Sabrina Sojourner may be just the thoughtful presenter you need! For booking information email ssojourner at ssellc dot net

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2014