Back in 2014 I published what would be a key blog post of my career; taking a stand against what I felt were problematic practices of “diversity and inclusion” panels and discussions. My Shapeshifting the Panel piece was me taking a stand against the tokenization, the parading of our POC identities and experiences to predominantly white audiences as an illusion that we were doing something to “solve the problem” of diversity. It was a key post in my career because the article was picked up by a manager in the US Forest Service and I was invited to participate on an advisory council for the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, which then landed me a board appointment for an award winning news magazine, High Country News.
This blog post opened up my voice.
I remember writing the piece over the course of just a couple of hours. I started with my heart rapidly beating in frustration and determination because I knew what I did and experienced on my last diversity panel was something I wanted to let the world know. I wanted the community to know why it was problematic. I also knew I wasn’t going to let my voice be violated by opening up the pathway for defensive responses, blame, or ranting. It needed to come from ME in every sense of the wording, flow, and emotion.
I knew I needed TO OWN this piece.
So looking back on where I was in my personal AND professional development, I can see how those parts of my story are now being implemented in how I function as an independent agent with Rino Consulting Solutions. My values of social and racial justice are more clear.
So how does it show up in my practice?
I focus on THE WORK from a JUSTICE LENS
When I was vetted to serve for the US Forest Service I had to make sure this wasn’t exactly what I was standing against. I asked what would my positionality be with the council, why they wanted me there, and made sure this was an invested working group, not just a talking piece for the agency. I made sure the entire council as a whole was diverse in participation and perspective.
In my Open Space Equity Presentation I challenge the notions of where our separations in environmental engagement come from by looking at the evidence in land use, historical colonization, and the socio-economic impacts of how we engage with the environment today. I show the systems at play and how our personal value sets influence the decisions made in our urban environments. I connect the evidence to show how social and racial justice are embedded in the landscape. Doing the work means presenting a different perspective and understanding how that impacts our personal value sets, which then drive our passion to participate in change and make choices.
I do racial justice, NOT diversity and inclusion
I remember one presentation I did for a college group really bombed. I mean, really bombed. I lost the audience, there was silence when I was done, and the post Q & A session seemed to just perpetuate my frustrations with diversity work. I heard later that I left the audience drained of their energy, lost, and I seemed really bitter to them. And I was.
I became stuck. I didn’t know how to think differently about how I felt about “diversifying the industry” and my participation in this work in my career. Until a close friend of mine listened to how I spoke about my frustrations with diversity work. And when she said to me, “You know, I’ve always been confused about why so many organizations don’t understand that there’s a big difference between ‘diversity’ work and ‘racial justice’ work. They’re not the same thing.” Instantly it became clear to me! I do racial justice work, not diversity work!
Mind you, diversity as a “body of work” is more than a thing, it’s a BEING. And some strategies like increasing the number of POC staff is a stopgap to cultivating your being a more diverse entity, culturally. It just gets you the numbers. Racial justice on the other hand, focuses on the actual systems of society that create the separation of communities, land, economics, power, status, and the disparities in industry engagement. It gets to the belly of the beast and works from the core. And I'm presenting THAT as the take away or starting point for the work. That’s what I do.
So, going back to my bombed presentation. I had another opportunity to present to a similar audience. This time I changed the words on my presentation from “Diversity Engagement Strategist” to “Racial Justice Centered Engagement”. And I focused in on the language and content from a racial justice lens. What was the response from the audience? They wanted to know more about racial justice and what I meant by that. They shared stories of feeling the same ways in the workplace or in internships, and one student even came to me after the presentation crying because it brought up similar emotions and challenges in her identity at her agency. She found deeper moments of relating to me and my experience as a WOC. I have to say, I think I landed that presentation!
Calling IN, not calling OUT
I consider myself a super-duper empath. The level of sensitivities I have with people and energies around me are so enormous sometimes that I’ve actually had to devote intentional time and investment understanding how to manage my sensitivities. That’s the healer in me. So, when I see people in pain emotionally and physically it affects me A LOT.
In previous experiences as a training participant AND facilitator I’ve seen too many instances when activities done around power and privilege go nowhere the next day or just go south. I see and feel the pain and frustration. If not held and cared for in its delicacy and safety, triggers can bring out the ugly parts of us. I could shovel out a bazillion articles of what happens here, but I think we've all been around the tension in a room with diverse perspectives talking about race, power, and privilege. Why do I (1) want to risk being a part of that and (2) make efforts to try and manage and facilitate those types of incidents? That work drains me and always just leaves me with all kinds of negative feels. Or I have to go home and do all this extra work to decompress and level my emotions out.
What’s my conclusion and solution to this? I believe in doing A DEEPER KIND of work in these trainings. At the root of all of this we long to be seen and heard on our own individual terms AND as a source of greatness to the world. I want to see EVERYONE achieve THIS. So, bringing in deeper practices of communication skills to the individual level allows people to OWN their experiences. Also, understanding when and if the processing needs to happen in the safety and privacy of the individual, within a shared identity group, or in solitude. Identifying safety is a key approach I began to implement in my trainings and a key component of how I coach.
So, instead of asking folks to role play their power position or act out some implicit biases, I challenge folks to focus on language and deep listening during dialogue. I challenge folks to reach deep into their life and values and understand WHO THEY ARE FIRST before taking action. I offer tools that reach into our human condition after presenting our divided societal condition. I guide the development of individual growth towards impacting community growth, safely and effectively.
I CALL YOU INTO YOUR IDENTITY and reveal your unique gifts.
I choose to begin with the INDIVIDUAL
developing deeper communication skills IN SAFETY
Personally, this choice brought me some NEXT LEVEL adulting and resulted in some major shifts in my life and the people around me. And because I've practice this approach myself, I know how to hold this process for others. More importantly, when we take personal responsibility, it lands the overall responsibility of creating change in the world to the individual, not others!
Racial justice IS self-care
I have to credit my business coach, Anthem for handing this one to me! He said that when we’re not working on racial justice we’re not taking care of ourselves. It was a reminder and validation that all the self-care time and investment I have done and continue to do in my work simultaneously informs and develops me. All of these challenging times; the times I felt stuck and times I felt like I was talking to crickets in the room were all meant to be there for me as 'trail markers' for which direction to walk next.
And the way I feel about my walk is that it is more in alignment today with who I am and the values I hold in my life. What's your walk like?
What are your thoughts on a racial justice lens? Does any of this resonate or trigger you? Let me know by commenting below or forwarding to your awesome community of change makers!