I love talking to other DEI practitioners about this work. Not just the day-to-day tactical aspects but what it takes to do this work. I clearly remember when several people would say they wanted to go into DEI because they were ‘passionate’. I quickly realized that equated to social events or elevating issues that were very specific to white women. I made a note.
So when the summer of 2020 arrived, I sat back and watched. I watched how passion quickly turned to confusion or a lack of understanding of the topics beyond those that touched the lives of the passionate. What happened? The people leading DEI efforts off of passion and no lived or professional experience was now center stage with no clue on what to do or say. Many, if not most, love the glamorization of DEI but have not done the work on themselves to prepare them for the shift from gender to race and, in doing so, caused more harm than good.
Constant Journey of Learning
When people ask me when I started in DEI, I jokingly say when my family moved to this country. From an early age, I learned to navigate between two cultures. I knew that my home life was different than my friends. I also knew that if I went next door to my friend Nia’s house, her Filipino home would be different too. By the time I was in college, I was fascinated by what I could learn from other cultures AND how those cultures navigated US culture. In the summer of my junior year, I took an elective course, Ethnocultural Psychology, that shifted my mind to focus on people and their relationship with each other and their own cultures. Until then, I believed everyone had the same relationship with their culture.
Since then, I’ve been on a constant journey of learning and understanding the events and experiences that shape how we show up in the world. Even now, I take clients through exercises that help them see that just because they are all in the same physical space, the path to get there is different for everyone. I encourage them to think beyond themselves to learn about others and, in turn, learn more about themselves. Every practitioner should be purposeful in their learning journey, sometimes unlearning, to help others in this work.
Common Denominators of the Oppression Olympics
One of the most challenging aspects of DEI is the competition of oppression. Oppression is oppression, regardless. However, privilege plays a part in the process. As much as intersectionality is being demonized, we all hold multiple identities. Some have more privileges than others. Someone that is able-bodied does not think about how to navigate spaces that were designed with them in mind. The same cannot be said for individuals with disabilities.
And as much as people want to believe we are in a post-racial society, there are places/spaces that Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, etc., have to navigate that white people don’t. Period. The same with gender, sexual orientation, age, body size, or other aspects of identity that may ‘other’ people. This isn’t a competition, but it is all by design – crabs in a barrel. What would it look like if the most marginalized partnered with other marginalized groups, found common problems, and worked with allies to develop common solutions?
This is a topic that I’ve been thinking about lately. What if we (practitioners) are causing more harm than good? I am not a fan of cancel culture for this reason. By ‘canceling’ someone, we remove the opportunity for rehabilitation. We create a space of intolerance that is not psychologically safe. As I continue this work, I’ve realized that people have lost (or many have never had) conflict resolution skills. It’s all or nothing, which accomplishes just that – nothing.
After recording this episode, Yeong Cheng shared a story where someone on LinkedIn asked them, “What do you do when a client is homophobic?”. Yeong shared –
“There were many responses, but the overarching theme was to fire the client. Sounds great in theory and is probably part of the company policy (no tolerance) but what harm may be created in this scenario? And is there room for education?
By firing the client, the company is making a statement in that moment but moving forward (since clients = $$), they will less likely put someone from the LGBTQIA+ community in client-facing roles, reducing their professional growth opportunities.
How much better could the situation be if the employee or their manager, (if it was reported to the manager) felt empowered by how to respond to that client?”
Are we looking for opportunities to reduce harm, or are we moving so swiftly to make a statement on inclusion that we are subliminally creating environments of exclusion?
In this episode, Sacha chats with Yeong about the continuous learning journey of practitioners, the oppression Olympics, and harm reduction in DEI.
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