To me, one of the most important parts of this work around diversity and inclusion and anti-racism/anti-oppression is to give people a chance to expand their awareness and broaden their thinking. Because generally speaking we all live in a pretty small orbit – our own.
This works really well for some people, and not so well for others. Here’s why:
- When you add power, that small orbit results in a system that is designed with only certain people and their needs in mind. When we have power, we make the rules. When we consider the rules we want, we usually reference our life.
- There is a tendency to think that everyone is dealing with the same things and having the same experience. We are not.
Simply put, we have different life experiences, depending on which groups we belong to – those who have (all or more) identities in common with those in power, and those who do not (at all, or mostly not).
Thus, we move through the world and experience the world differently – and we are perceived differently and treated differently. Generally speaking, people from marginalized groups know this, and often those in dominant groups do not. Here’s a simple explanation: When things work for you, it’s easy to assume they work for everyone. When things aren’t working, it’s easy to notice that they are working for others. So the barriers faced by people from marginalized groups (information, access, opportunity, discrimination) are not always evident to others. And our lived experiences and realities are not always taken into account – or recognized.
The result is that oppression, marginalization, and discrimination continue because systems (and the people in them) deal with issues and situations through one lens – the lens of those in power. Making assessments and decisions without all the relevant information needed to do so in service to everyone.
Last week I facilitated a discussion within an organization about racism and anti-racism. Small groups grappled with scenarios of both institutional/systemic racism as well as individual acts of racism. They didn’t have to solve the problem, just ask questions and examine what was happening and what else was going on. They came up with a lot of questions and thoughts from different angles to assess a situation.
And that is the point.
When we take the time to ask questions about what could be happening for others who are not like us, we have the opportunity to see these different realities, experiences, and needs. So the parent who the school principal is seeing as “aggressive” may be worried by the fact that they are missing work and therefore losing much-needed income, tired from the long bus ride to reach the school, frustrated with a system that continues to see their child as a problem, and on top of this are passionate advocates for the child they love. But the questions are crucial.
And what happens then?
We begin to recognize our own orbit – and start to see that not everyone is moving in that same space. That allows us to ask more questions and begin to really see others and learn what is happening for them. When we do that, we begin to create connections and change.
Because we can’t change it if we don’t see it.