The Reindeer Analogy
As we approach the Christmas season in the USA, this meme has been showing up in our social media feeds:
Being an atheist and shaming religions and spirituality as silly and not real is not okay.
Being a Christian is okay.
Being homophobic, misogynistic, racist ... in the name of Christianity is not okay.
Being a reindeer is okay.
Bullying and excluding another reindeer because he has a shiny red nose is not okay.
A pattern that shuts down communication.
These words poke fun at the way people can feel personally attacked when, in fact, it is their behavior that is being critiqued. All kidding aside, this defense mechanism is a problem. If you believe that someone is disrespecting your character or identity, you may feel you have carte blanche to disengage and disregard that person. This shuts down conversation and critical thinking. It deepens a cultural divide.
We saw this impulse at work when World Trust uploaded to YouTube "A Trip to the Grocery Store," the popular clip (embedded here) about white privilege from Cracking the Codes. This clip features Joy Degruy telling a story about how white people can use their privilege to interrupt a racist incident and influence others. One of the milder negative comments posted was simply "She hates white people." (We no longer allow comments on the video.)
Avoiding the dynamic in diversity activities.
As part of a workshop, a diversity trainer may convey statistics that speak to inequality in our society and the oppression of people of color. White people need to be self-aware of the emotions that can arise, including a sense of guilt. To avoid sitting with these inconvenient truths, it is easy for a white person to unconsciously jump to thinking "But I'm a good person!" or "This trainer doesn't like white people." In other words, these facts feel like an attack on my character. See how insidious this dynamic can be?
Use a systemic frame.
To circumvent this pattern, World Trust diversity and inclusion workshops provide participants with a frame for understanding how systemic inequity operates. When participants understand that they were born into a system they did not create, white people are less likely to feel blamed and people of color can feel more empowered. Making that shift from blame to accountability is key. Once one is familiar with the components of the system and how they work, it is possible to analyze what gave rise to those statistics, to understand what biases are at play, and how they intersect. This skill prepares people to reflect on ways in which they can interrupt the system, both personally and in collaboration with others in their institution or community. The added advantage of using a frame is that it applies not only to racism, but all forms of bias including Christian-centric thinking and the other innumerable ways a dominant culture oppresses that which is "other." Remember Rudolph's red-nose?
So, for all the diversity and inclusion leaders out there, we'd like to add a couple of lines to the meme that relate to our efforts to build a world in which everyone can thrive:
Being white is okay.
Ignoring racism and your role in perpetuating it is not okay.
World Trust produces film and curricula resources to support diversity initiatives in education, health care, nonprofit, philanthropic, faith-based and governmental institutions. To learn more about conveying the concept of systemic inequity to a broad audience, click here.