In our current social and political climate, there is no question that we have work left to do when it comes to combating the oppressive forces that pull at the very fabric of our identity as a nation. For those of us in seemingly privileged positions, these forces may not be daily considerations as we go about our lives, heading to and from work, and tackling the daily projects that occupy our time. However, that is all the more reason why it is important that we accept the responsibility we have as allies for fostering change and promoting inclusive excellence.
Very often, as Jenn and I speak with members of the UD community, we are presented with a very straight-forward, but far from simple question. “What can I do?” This is feeling of confusion can be overwhelming in the face of so much turmoil and so many concerns. It can seem a daunting task as we speak with our colleagues and truly begin to realize just how different our life experiences can be from the person one office over. However, there are many direct strategies we can employ as we strive to be allies for social justice!
Assume oppression is everywhere…because it is everywhere. Just as we breath the air around us but forget it’s there, it’s important to remember that racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression are everywhere, and they influence all of our actions. It’s important to think critically about how these forces influence our actions, as well as those of our colleagues, family members, and friends. Once we recognize who has a voice, who doesn’t have a voice, and how those voices are received, we can begin to understand the scope of oppression in our daily lives.
Recognize how oppression is discussed. Do we talk about these oppressive forces, or do we hear folks denying their presence and impact in our lives? Are people making other excuses for oppressive behavior? Are racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forces being downplayed around us? If and when we can answer yes to these questions, then we begin to see not only why it’s a difficult conversation to have, but more importantly why it’s such an important conversation to have with others.
Notice who is at the table. When you walk into meetings, attend events, or go about your work day, notice who is present and who isn’t present. Notice who has power in those settings and who doesn’t have power. Recognize not only who is speaking, but how their comments are received and respected.
Avoid personal attacks. There is a big difference between stating that something that someone SAID was racist/sexist/homophobic, and calling that person racist/sexist/homophobic. Focus on comments and actions, and avoid personal attacks. You can discuss the nature of a comment, but you can’t support a personal attack on someone’s character.
Be ready to slip. All of us slip up from time-to-time. No matter how long you spend discussing issues of oppression, you are going to say something inappropriate and instantly regret it. Be open to that feedback without getting defensive. Being an ally means constantly learning better to do better.
Build alliances. We can’t do this work alone, and we can’t do it in silos. Find others who are committed and collaborate on projects. Attend workshops. Read more. Learn more. Look for opportunities to educate family and friends around you. If you are a parent, talk to your children about these ideas. They see it and experience it everyday too, and it’s important for them to have the knowledge and language to address it as well.
There is no quick fix for the problems tugging at the fabric of our society, but finding our place in the solution is an important step. We all have a role to play in creating a community based on inclusive excellence, and we are ask excited as ever to participate in that journey with you!