Our board meeting last week included a beautiful conversation on the Center’s continued commitment to deep diversity, led by fellow board members Estrus Tucker and Bonnie Allen. Our circles got me thinking about a lot of my own experiences around privilege, power, and all the various -isms. Here are nine learnings I’ve had that I share in the spirit of continuing the dialogue about these issues with the larger CCR community:
1. Friendship is the most powerful “diversity strategy” there is.
There is nothing more important than creating meaningful and organic relationships with people across the various borders that have historically divided us. It is through these real relationships–whole, vulnerable, reciprocal–that we really learn about our own blind spots and the beauty of others’ perspectives.
2. Learn in public.
You will screw up. You will hurt people. You are human. The most courageous thing you can do is not to try to never hurt anyone, but to acknowledge the hurt you cause and try to learn from it.
3. No one owes you an education.
Sometimes privileged people who realize they don’t know about a marginalized group will immediately jump to the conclusion that they should seek out members of this group and start asking questions. It’s the right intention expressed in the wrong way. In fact, this is actually one more layer of unexamined privilege. It takes effort and emotional investment to educate others, especially when it comes to difficult nuances of identity and experience. Someone may feel like it, they may have time for it, they may have the energy for it, or they may not. Don’t assume. (This is also where friendship comes back into play, as someone who is your genuine friend will likely always make the time or energy to teach you something because they know it will be a reciprocal experience.)
4. Shut up.
If you have power and privilege, of whatever kind, sometimes the most important thing you can do is stop talking and start listening. Privileged people are used to taking up space, being heard, contributing their stories and opinions. Don’t silence yourself, but consider the gift that your silence can be if offered in a spirit of true self-awareness and re-balancing.
5. Embrace the paradox.
Being conscious of privilege is about self-awareness, on the one hand, and about depersonalizing, on the other. I have to be constantly aware of the unearned privileges that I have been afforded because of my whiteness, my membership in the middle-class, my heterosexuality, etc. I also need to know that when I hurt someone else with my ignorance, I am not a terrible monster, but a person shaped by my racist, classist, heterosexist environment. It is my fault, and I am also a product of my environment. Both are true at the same time.
6. Guilt isn’t productive; accountability is.
Guilt doesn’t put food on anyone’s table or opportunity at anyone’s doorstep. Move beyond it. Move to the discomfort of taking responsibility, of admitting your own capacity for hurt and confusion and insensitivity, and then start learning.
7. Tokenism isn’t the answer.
Asking why there aren’t any non-white panelists or job finalists, for example, is a worthwhile but inadequate question. The real diversity work happens far before this moment. It’s about building a network, organically and genuinely, with a diversity of people so that an organization doesn’t have to “scramble” for diversity in highly visible moments because they embody it already.
8. It’s not about making policies for people, but making policies with people.
People at the decision-making table need to reflect the diversity that you want your policies to reflect. Asking, “How will this affect marginalized people?” is another worthwhile, but inadequate question. Better yet, let marginalized people help architect the policy in the first place.
9. An unequal society is bad for everyone, even the people who “benefit” from it.
Privileged people must not take on diversity work for the benefit of marginalized people. They must take on diversity work for the benefit of all people, themselves included. It is only from this place–of service to others intertwined with service to the self–that we will manifest the most powerful results of our work. We all lose out when inequity and homogeneity reign. We all are made richer by the surprising lessons and inspiring variety of diversity. It’s uncomfortable. It’s energy intensive. And it’s worth every minute.
Please add the 10th learning!