Part 1: The Problem
The hardest thing I am finding is the pain of being misunderstood when people have not studied race and gender as much as advocates have. I remember when people would say something I did or said was racist or heterosexist and I positively knew that it wasn’t my intention and I would be devastated, angry and furious all at once and one shut down.
And then when people said I was privileged it felt like nothing I had accomplished was real and that my life had no meaning.
It was like being told I was naked and not being offered clothes.
Well, for me, antiracism is the clothing of integrity for our time – but it has taken me twelve years to get there and I still sometimes hide away in my burrow of comfort on the hill overlooking the Sound.
W.E.B. du Bois wrote in 1903 that as a Black man he felt like people were always looking at him like he was a problem. How does it feel to be looked at as though one were a problem? Now White people are beginning to be looked at like we are the problem. And we don’t like it.
The real problem however, is the system. What is to be done?
Part 2: The Beginning of a Solution: Curiosity, or an Inquiry Stance
The real challenge in a diverse, multiethnic organization striving for authentic relationship is to create a shared pool of meaning between people who unjustly benefit from and/or are underserved by the false hierarchies of wealth and race and class in the United States.
That’s why I like to tell people to consider not only the content of their interactions in diverse organizations, but also the means of communication. Zaretta Hammond writes in her landmark book Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students (2015) about the neuroscience of information processing, noting that the communication patterns and learning modalities in culturally or linguistically diverse populations are more communal. Having read more recent anti-racist publications, I have a feeling that even Hammond’s framework could be criticized even though she is a distinguished educator of color – and I don’t believe that this is fair. To continue with Hammond’s argument: While all humans – according to cognitive scientists – go through the three stages of input, elaboration and application, we must add a cultural connection that allows for oral processing and authentic relationships where people feel like they can be fully known and not have to submit to the white-normative frames of dominant American culture.
We should not be uncomfortable without an end in sight: the thriving of a multicultural and authentically multi-ethnic organization, where everyone can succeed.
When people have trainings where they learn on an intellectual level the dynamics of what is going on in their schools, families, places of worship, it is often not enough. We need – as Brené Brown writes in her stellar book Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead – the integration of thought, feeling/emotion, and action. And feeling our way through those conversations in a way that gets to the heart while not creating a fight or flight response is possible when we take what Brown calls curiosity – and Hammond calls an inquiry stance – into our places of struggle. Curiosity paired with faith that we won’t always feel as bad as we do in the beginning.
The hardest thing I am finding as a trainer is the pain of being misunderstood. I want to tell people that I remember when people would say something I did or said was racist or heterosexist and I positively knew that it wasn’t my intention and I would be devastated, angry and furious all at once and one shut down.
But I stayed curious, even the smallest part of us being curious is the path through to steady ground. The thriving of our society demands curiosity right now. I’m curious: are you?