What we don’t see

There was a time in my life when I believed that everyone, at their core, was essentially Jamaican.

I probably wouldn’t have said it that way, but that’s what it boiled down to. Growing up in Jamaica, in the dominant majority culture, it was easy too think everyone had the same core beliefs and experiences, because everyone I met, and everyone who was respected, had those beliefs and experiences. So those things are just part off being human and deep down, everyone’s human, right?  So deep down everyone is like me.

The obvious problem was that for years I missed the ways that people were, deep down, not like me. It took me even longer to realize that their experience of the same world I lived in might be different from mine, even if we were right next to each other. I found myself able to rationalize away those experiences as isolated, unreal or unimportant. It turns out, that they were real. One of the major disadvantages of being a member of the majority or dominant is being blind to what others may see, and I was blind, and probably in some ways I still am.

The following headline and quote jumped out at me when I saw it.

Men are treating 2016 as as ‘normal’ election; women aren’t – Five Thirty Eight

To put this year’s gender split into a little more context: Trump’s 7-percentage-point lead among men is about how well George W. Bush did with men in 2000. If we had an average gender gap this year, we’d expect Clinton to carry women by between 5 and 10 points (given how men say they are going to vote). That kind of gap would result in a close race overall, which is exactly what the state of the economy suggests should be occurring.

Instead, Clinton is leading by about 6 or 7 percentage points nationally in the FiveThirtyEight polls-only forecast. Basically, the vote among men looks “normal”; the split among women does not. That is, the historically large gender gap this election is because women are disproportionately favoring one candidate (Clinton) — to an extent we wouldn’t expect them to in a normal election given the “fundamentals.”

It seems that women in this election overwhelmingly see something that says this isn’t just the regular battle between two less than ideal candidates. It also seems that whatever it is that women are seeing, as a group, men aren’t.

Unfortunately, this particular form of dominant culture blindness is not limited to the election. If you are a man reading this, you probably don’t think that women are saying proportionately less in meetings or classes than the men are. You probably think that their views are given equal weight as anyone else who is equally qualified. While stories and statistics say otherwise, it’s not something you’ve ever seen, so it probably doesn’t exist in your spaces.

While it is possible that your office, school, or community may be unusually woman friendly spaces, it is more likely that, as a member of the dominant group, you don’t see the ways in which those spaces aren’t women friendly. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it means you’re a human who happened to be born into the dominant culture.

What it does mean, is that when you hear a story like this one, when the non-dominant culture says something that doesn’t fit with our perception, it’s our responsibility, and our challenge to listen.

And to do something about it.

Photo Credit: paolo bosonin Flickr via Compfight cc


Stepping off the walkway: A few easy steps you could take to combat injustice

A while ago, in the post Tamir Rice and the unbearable reasonableness of it all, I referenced the idea that racism, sexism and other systemic injustices are like a moving walkway. If one simply stands still, one is taken to the same undesirable and as you might encounter if you were actively pursuing racism, sexism, etc.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

  • There are fewer women in Industry A to help make Industry A a woman-welcoming environment. Why? Because…
  • …there are fewer women applying for Industry A positions, because there are fewer women pursuing Industry A related degree. Why? Because…
  • …there are fewer women who feel welcome in those programs because there are fewer women in Industry A to help make the Industry A programs a woman-welcoming environment.

If you work in Industry A, even if you are not actively against the idea of women in Industry A, not taking action means that your industry ends up in the same place as if you were actively anti-woman. There will be few women in Industry A. And while the example above is a simplified, hypothetical example, if you replaced the phrase Industry A with either Ministry or Technology, this simplified, hypothetical example would not be very far from the truth. I work in both industries.

So what can you do about it (or maybe, what can I do about it)? Here are some ideas directed at the industries in which I work, but I’m sure you can adapt to yours.

  • Say something – You can point out, in a non-anxious way, the particular moving walkway that you’re on. Here are some examples
    • “I notice that we don’t have many women in our applicant pool. What can we do to fix that?”
    • “Our industry is notorious for being unfriendly to minorities. What can we do that’s different from the stereotype here?”
    • “Our speakers seem to mostly represent a single demographic, can we broaden that?”
  • Do the same thing in a different place – Sometimes we use the same communication channels or take the same actions in the same networks and get trapped with the same results. What if you moved some of these? for example
    • You’ve probably put your job posting on local colleges’ message board. Perhaps you can also send send it to the career office of the nearest HBCU, or perhaps to the local Women in Industry A group.
    • You’ve often put the posters for your college ministry in the student center. Do you know where the Hispanic Student Group meets? How about putting some posters there?
  • Do one significant thing differently – There’s often a big difference between where our industry is, and where it should be to just and equitable. There’s a lot of changes to be made and it can seem overwhelming. Perhaps you can start with a single change. For example –
    • Consider keeping your job posting open until your applicant pool has a certain number of qualified female applicants.
    • Consider only accepting conference speaking engagements where there is at least one woman or minority on the slate.

You might be at the end of this post and thinking that I did not fulfill my promise of “easy steps”. The truth is, they will all require some bravery, and they don’t solve the entire problem of the various -isms of our society. I’m not even sure they will all work. But the step that I can guarantee will result in continued injustice is to do nothing.

Photo Credit: WikiHow

Storytelling for good: An example from the Red Cross

I came upon a good example of nonprofit storytelling that I thought I would share with my readers as they think of how they use storytelling in the upcoming year. Check out the story from the International Committee of the Red Cross

Photo of two South Sudanese woman and a man, each talking on a cell phone for 3 minutes.We live in the most connected of times. It has never been easier to communicate with a loved one; by text, email, … What, if instead of mass communication, you could just phone one person, for two minutes, and nothing else. It’s almost impossible to imagine. Who would you call? What would you say?

In South Sudan, for many people, that is their reality…

Source: Three minutes to call the person you love — Pushed to the Limits — Medium

Here are some things I noticed that you may use in your next storytelling venture, whether you are in ministry, the nonprofit world, or an activist in some other arena.

  • Less can be more, if you edit well – In each of the stories, the author walks the tightrope of giving the reader enough to get the emotional heart of the story, but leaving enough gaps so that the reader’s mind is engaged in filling them in, resulting in a more compelling narrative.
  • Individuals (in their individuality) matters – We sometimes have a tendency to abstract away the specifics of this person, or this interaction. The texture and the details make it stick better
  • There is no call to action, and that’s ok – Some of your stories will end in a call to take action, to donate, to make a life change, but not all of them will. The truth is also that before someone makes the step to take action, they need to emotionally resonate with your cause, believe that your approach can make a difference, believe that they can help, and feel like they need to help now. Take some time to build your case, to build trust and connection before you make the ask.

There may be other things in this story that you can take from it (and if you do, I’d be happy to hear them in the comments) but I hope you’ll consider these three points the next time you have to tell a story for good.

Loving People, Changing the World, one photo at a time?

TED Blog | Restoring humanity after the tsunami: Becci Manson at TEDGlobal 2012.

Becci Manson works as a photo retoucher. Her job involves making models appear prettier, skinnier and to have better skin. In the video embedded above she talks about how she, and her friends were able to use those skills to restore alleviate some of the loss that the survivors of the tsunami in Japan felt.

I don’t know what her faith background is, but I think she’s a great example of what it means to consider “love your neighbor as yourself” one of the two greatest commandments, and in her story I see an approach to loving and serving others that I think Christians should emulate.

First of all, she responds to need with action. She saw that there was a tragedy and she was moved to help even if that help was just another pair of hands with a shovel.

Second, she looked for the ways that she could apply her own background, skills, and giftedness in love for others, even when those ways were small things.

In the Christian world we talk about “calling” a lot. There are lots of us figuring out how we are called. I would like to suggest that even without the clouds opening and the voice from the sky that sounds suspiciously like James Earl Jones, that you are called to respond to the needs you see around you and to see if there is a way you can apply your own background, skills and giftedness in love for others.

Proof of Concept: You

In the new movie The Muppets, Walter grows up as a muppet in a small town full of regular (read: human) people, never growing beyond 3 feet tall while his brother is being played by Jason Segel. One day he sees the Muppets on TV and realizes that there are people like him and that they are awesome! His life is changed by that moment.

There are a lot of kids who are looking for people like them, and not finding those people. At least, they don’t find them in popular culture, particularly if these kids are of an ethnic or cultural minority, or if they’re gay. But even outside of those big divides, there are smaller divides where kids don’t see a lot of people like them. Like being both a football player who writes science fiction short stories or any of those “walking contradictions” one might see in a Starburst ad.

We all have those things that the rest of the world seems to say are walking contradictions and as kids, the world seems to tell us that we have to choose one or the other. You can’t be passionate about haute couture and hockey, choose one. You can’t be both a jock and a nerd, you can’t love Shakespeare and Saturday morning cartoons.

As adults, we still have those contradictions, and those aspects of ourselves that don’t fit the stereotype. And somewhere out there, there’s a kid who doesn’t believe there is anyone like them. You can be their Proof of Concept, that somehow there are people who have gone through the things they are dealing with, that it is actually possible for someone who looks and feels like them to be happy, successful or both. You can be their proof of concept that what they feel is a walking contradiction, isn’t one.

In order to be a proof of concept, you need 3 things.

  1. You need to be okay with who you are. This isn’t to say that you think you are perfect, but that you realize that who you are is no worse than who anyone else is, it is just different.
  2. You need to be okay with talking about who you are. This would require some vulnerability, and some courage, but you can be honest with your struggles, your thoughts, or even your contradictions.
  3. You need to (at least occasionally) interact with kids. If I may borrow a metaphor, you have the opportunity to be a light, but it makes no sense to have that light hidden away.

And by the way, kids aren’t the only one who need you to be a proof of concept. Even adults sometimes need to see that it’s possible for a [fill-in-the-blank] to survive through and succeed in whatever it is you are surviving through or succeeding in. Live your identity, there are people out there who need to see you do it.