Sometimes at a conference, we are challenged by the people in the seats, as well as by those on the stage. The Diversity@Work conference put on by Skills for Change on November 9th was no exception.
The panel discussion (When is a hat not just a hat?) was interesting; we heard from a Minister, a former Buddhist Monk, and Immam, and a Rabbi. To me, there was a common message of taking more time to talk, to listen, to ask questions, and to get to know each other, and to not be afraid to name and talk about the things that are happening around us so that we can learn from and support each other; all amazing calls to action.
But there was something nagging at me that I couldn’t put my finger on until someone stood up and asked a question about power and privilege. Ah…
She pointed out that we were still using words like “tolerance” and “ethnic” and “hospitality” in this discussion that suggest an Us and Them approach. What we weren’t talking about, she continued, was the way the dominant culture has been woven, seemlessly, into not just what we do, but how it is done. When, and how were we going to talk about that? she asked.
There was applause.
Sadly, although there were responses, no one actually addressed her question. I think we just don’t know how to have that conversation. And I think we spend so much time talking about accommodating and recognizing the other that we don’t realize that this in itself is perpetuating the Us vs Them. Until we see that and recognize it, we will continue to welcome others into our space, but not really create spaces for all.
It’s time to change the conversation!
Copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
author, speaker and facilitator on issues of diversity & inclusion