I am so heartened by people's willingness to discuss this topic, it is not easy, but I believe it is so very worth the effort. None of us are at the exact same place on this journey, so I try to keep that foremost in my mind, that we are all being helped along by each other - I don't know everything, you don't know everything, none of us are experts (at least I doubt anyone reading this is an expert, but if you are, I'd love your feedback!)
While I am very much not an expert, this particular subject is something I've been studying intently for the past few months. Not years, not decades, but months. I'm still in a place of taking in a flood of information, opinions, ideas and perspectives. I share knowing that what I write (and don't write) comes from my perspective, is relatively new to me, that I have MUCH to learn and will always be learning, and that, likely, not everyone will perceive this the way it I intend it, so I welcome feedback on all aspects.
Context: I went to a tech conference this year and had a great experience, so I joined its Slack community. The channel that I found myself most drawn to was the "D&I" group - diversity and inclusion. This is a fairly common phrase, most people probably know it, if not, it's easily Googled. However, most of the top results are related to business or formal organizations such as schools or clubs. Still, the principals can be distilled to apply to any group and to our lives and society in general. I am sharing some points that I've culled from the group I participate in, articles I've read and podcasts I've listened to, and conversations I've had with some of you! in order to share points upon which I think a constructive conversation can start.
I discuss some points in terms of "being an ally." Despite its baggage, I think it is apt and a useful way to talk about the issues we're considering, especially coming to this subject anew. To me, being an ally isn't about supporting everyone, it's about leveraging my privilege to support those who do not have the privileges I have.
"An ally is someone who advocates for and supports members of a community other than their own; reaching across difference to achieve mutual goals." -- Nikki Stevens
(Some of what is written below is pulled from a talk she gave at DrupalCon 2017 in Baltimore.)
Introduction - Why It Matters
My commentary assumes that you appreciate the value of diverse and inclusive groups.
While segregated and exclusive groups can serve a valid purpose, that purpose is often so a marginalized group can make a space for itself because the dominant group in a society already has a space. Also, it is understandable that people like to have spaces in which to focus on shared characteristics or interests, not to the exclusion of others, but to focus on a specific thing. There's nothing wrong with that.
However, public society and open groups (education, epidemiology, citizenship, civil participation, business, science - some might say friends and family) derive large and many benefits from diversity and inclusion... if only because they are comprised of diverse constituents. I hope it is not a stretch to assert that the wants and needs of a diverse populace are best met by a diverse populace.
https://www.opm.gov/faqs/topic/diversityinclusion/index.aspx - "Increased creativity is another byproduct of capitalizing on differences. Historically, some of the most creative periods in civilization have emerged when people of different backgrounds have contact and work together. The Renaissance grew in part from the meeting of peoples from the East and the West. America's energy and inventiveness have been attributed to the diversity of thought born from this nation of immigrants. Many scientific discoveries and inventions have been developed by and for people with disabilities. More recently, research has shown that effective diversity management coupled with inclusive work environments improves organizational performance and innovation. Employees from varied backgrounds bring different perspectives, ideas and solutions to the workplace that result in new products and services, challenge to the status quo, and new collaboration."
http://www.rbc.com/diversity/what-is-diversity.html - "In simple terms, diversity is the mix; inclusion is getting the mix to work well together."
** Quoted paragraphs below are from this article:
Engaging in diversity and inclusion conversations and being an ally are work. They are difficult tasks and can be painful or embarrassing. Sometimes they result in shame, defensiveness, hurt, confusion, irritation, anger, or other unpleasant feelings, but they are worth it. On the other side, we can find a diminishment of those difficult feelings as well as increased connection, comfort, openness, growth, awareness, empowerment, humility, creativity, a new appreciation for oneself as well as others, and so much more.
There is a common fear of saying the wrong thing in these conversations, but the fear of being wrong or "called out" is a conversation stopper. It can be helpful to consider your contributions in these conversations but that process should not prevent you from contributing. i.e. There is a difference between walking on eggshells and considering carefully what you say. That said, feel free to just pay attention if you are interested and contribute when it feels right.
"Start paying attention to what you say. Most people already know to avoid generalizations and stereotypes. But most of us are still guilty of using language that causes offense even if we don’t mean to. Commonly used words like 'gay,' 'crazy' or 'lame' are actually exclusionary, offensive and derogatory."
"Be willing to accept correction. Even the most well-meaning people make mistakes and have misunderstandings about others. When someone points out your errors, offer a sincere apology and be ready to learn from the experience. It will earn you much more respect than responding with defensiveness or anger."
Acknowledge and understand your own privilege. If that word is a trigger for you, it might be a good time to look at why that is. We have to talk about privilege. We all have it. Your background does not erase your privilege. If you are white, you have that privilege. If you are a man, you have that privilege. Naming privilege is not an attack on people who have it. It is seeing it and acknowledging it. It is a social situation, and pointing it out it is not a personal slight. Group privilege is not the same thing as individual privilege.
Privilege doesn’t mean that things in your life haven’t been hard. Many white people are marginalized in many ways, including class, gender, sexual orientation, age, regional prejudice. This is why we talk in terms of intersectionality.
Consider the demographics of: who has money, who are in positions of leadership and power, who graduates from high school and college, who is in jail, who gets arrested, who lives in poverty, who is celebrated by the media, who is offered more and higher paying or prestigious jobs, who is or is not considered during industrial design and infrastructure...
The current numbers and our history as a nation make it clear that black and brown people suffer deep and extremely disproportionate racism; women suffer infuriating and crushing sexism and harrassment; LGBTQI (yes, that acronym does keep getting longer) people and communities are harrassed, ignored, or excluded from basic civil rights like marriage; people who have different abilities or are neurodiverse are treated like an afterthought. There is so much more.
If you're curious about real numbers, here are a few starters:
As I try to make sense of "white fragility" means to me, in the context of a broader sense of general touchiness around feeling unfairly judged, burdened, accountable, etc... I will put these links here in lieu of my own sense of it. Always learning :)
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism
The Sugarcoated Language Of White Fragility
White fragility will not protect you from accountability
White Fragility Leads to White Violence: Why Conversations About Race With White People Fall Apart
howard dean vs. touchy white people
Seeing, Acknowledging and Doing
This is where I feel most of the personal work is. I have been truly unaware of the scope and scale of systemic racism, and even sexism (I say as a woman thinking I'd had that one on lock), most of my life. Privilege isn't free. My privilege of being a white, middle class American with a mediocre education and comfortable income has cost me perspective. I am loathe to admit it, but I was someone who thought, "Hey, we have a black president, racism is pretty much over! Right? Hello? Anyone?" I didn't want to see it because it's unpleasant, it sucks, it's work, it's a burden, it's hard, it's uncomfortable, I feel guilty, I feel ashamed, and I don't want to be wrong, so very, very wrong... but at some point, I could no longer not see it. Good grief, it's right there. It's all over the place.
Learning to be able to see and distinguish racism, sexism, or other marginalization or oppression, is the first step in being able to combat it. If you don't see it, how can you talk about it? How can you change it?
http://www.microaggressions.com is a brilliant project and resource: Several years worth of personally experienced or witnessed incidents, concise reads—all of them, who those with privilege often dismiss, minimize, ignore, deny, or simply do not see. These are people's real experiences and they happen SO much more than any website could ever account for. But this is a great place to start seeing not just the oppressive or exclusionary situations but also their profound effect on those who deal with them, often repeatedly and/or over long periods of time.
"Seek out marginalized voices and perspectives. Go online and look for activists, bloggers, authors, artists and other voices from marginalized communities. Their personal stories and experiences will greatly inform your point of view. If you have the opportunity to spend time with someone from a marginalized group, your most important job is to listen to them and learn."
Note: (This was a hard one for me.) It is not your job to apologize, nor is it your job to prove that you are not one of the bad ones, nor is it your job to ask someone from a marginalized group to assuage your feelings of guilt - you can do the emotional work of managing your own feelings.
"Be intolerant of intolerance. Are you willing to confront derogatory and hateful speech online? What about in person? What if the person is a friend or relative? The risk of staying silent is sending the message that discrimination and intolerance are values that you are willing to tolerate."
"Educate your own community. Your voice is most effective within your own group since you are in the best position to confront its stereotypes and misunderstandings, some of which you may have overcome yourself. You also have a special access to them as an audience that other communities do not. Use it!"