Dominant Culture: Who is Considered Normal, and Who is Diverse?
In our culture, there are dominant narratives that create a narrow box of what is “normal”, which is called dominant culture. Everyone falls outside of that “normal” box sometimes- perhaps because of how we look (my skin color, how large, small, masculine or feminine I present), what skills we have (if I can dance, play basketball, write well), or how systems are structured (if I can get a bank loan to buy a home, if my teacher calls on boys more than girls during class, if I get pulled over or arrested more than my white counterparts).
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work begins by acknowledging different types of diversity, and what causes the difference. Most of our Becoming an Antiracist Organization trainings begin with our trainers introducing ourselves by sharing a way that we have been perceived as “different” or “diverse” from the dominant culture.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Training: Mom was Right — I am Special!
Our differences can make us unique, special, and talented. They can also double as targets on our backs that marginalize us, oppress us, and prevent us from fitting in. Throughout our trainings we are doing the work of calling out, inviting in and naming ways that our psychological, physical and social differences impact how we feel, act and show up in the world. Whenever a participant shares an experience of a time they felt different, this act of vulnerability should ideally melt the hearts of those listening.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: If I Have to “Fit in” to Belong…I’m Leaving.
When we think about inclusion, we imagine the act of creating environments in which any individual or group is welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate and bring their full, authentic selves.
We all want to be fully included wherever we go. Brene Brown says fitting in is the opposite of belonging. We create a sense of belonging when our full selves are acknowledged and accepted wherever we go. The act of fitting in requires sorting through parts of ourselves, figuring out what fits and what doesn’t, and contorting ourselves into the mold of what we deem acceptable.
The concept of race neutrality is the belief that race is not an active player in creating conditions that exclude some, and include others. But if that’s true, why is it so hard to talk about?
The way to get to inclusion is by naming diversity, the parts of us that we want to celebrate, but also the parts of us that get marginalized and excluded — perhaps because of gender, physical ability, mental health, race, age — so many reasons! In my years of doing diversity and equity training with groups, stories of difference can sometimes trigger participants. For example, when someone shares a painful experience that expresses deep hurt but also triggers feelings of blame, shame or defensiveness on the part of other participants — especially those in leadership. Or if someone shares an experience of being marginalized and a different participant feels irritated by another “sob story”.
The point is not to create an oppression Olympics, with diverse groups vying for all the resources and attention, but to recognize that a culture that holds up a dominant ideal of what fits ultimately doesn’t work for anybody.
Racial Equity: So Whose Rights are We Going to Prioritize?
When we think about equity, we can define it as The guaranteed fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement of all and the simultaneous effort to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups. Sometimes, it’s hard to move beyond equity, because once you consider the myriad of ways that people are different and feel excluded … the pathway to equity can feel overwhelming.
In our Becoming an Antiracist Organization initiative, we acknowledge that the journey to discovering solutions is collective, and riddled with complex experiences. For example:
- Sometimes doing this work brings out conflicting emotions. People desperately want to do the right thing, but also worry about saying the wrong thing
- Sometimes the person who has experienced a particular marginalization feels exhaustion from having to share, explain or even prove it to those having a more privileged experience
- Sometimes the fragility of privilege makes it painful for white leaders or men or straight people to acknowledge how their privilege creates invisible supports for them to succeed, while leaving others behind
Nothing can be shifted if not properly acknowledged. Our approach to Antiracism begins with visualizing all the complexities and simultaneous priorities that this work unveils.
For more information, check out the Becoming an Antiracist Organization Initiative.