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

I’d like to introduce my [adjective] wife

Today, my wife and I watched the 2013 United States Presidential Inauguration, and we noticed how much time was given to talking about what Mrs. Obama and their two daughters were wearing, as well as what Mrs. Biden was wearing, yet they didn’t spend any time talking about what the President or Vice President were wearing. It reminds me of how much we communicate that a woman’s value is in her appearance. This post was originally published in August 2011

You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting much recently. There’s a very good reason for that. I’ve been getting married! You may have also noticed the blog name change as well. If you haven’t, the blog title is currently Richard Matson-Daley instead of Richard L. Daley. Getting married has brought into the practical world many of the things that were simply theoretical beliefs (like what I’ve believed about the significance of names). This is one of those things.

You’ve probably heard the standard introduction from speakers, pastors and others that goes like “I’d like to introduce my beautiful wife…”. It’s pretty ubiquitous, and (at least in my case) very true. My wife is beautiful. Stunning in fact, and I have no problem saying so. Unfortunately, the ubiquity is what makes that statement problematic.

Recently I happened upon a blog post that led to an article that points out the same thing, that when we meet little girls (like younger than 10) we often compliment them on their appearance. We tell them that they are wearing a really pretty dress, that their hair is beautiful, or simply that they are really cute. And when that is consistently the first thing, and often the only thing we compliment them on, we teach them that the thing that is most important is how they look.

Obviously, little girls are more than that. And I don’t think that anyone who compliments a six-year-old girl on the ribbons in her hair thinks that those ribbons form the entirety of their character. But the ubiquity and primacy of these compliments perpetuate the idea that beauty is a prerequisite for worth, if you are a girl. And if nothing else is said, it implies that beauty is the entirety of a girl’s worth.

And the truth is, beauty isn’t why I’m married. I’m married because my wife is brilliant, she graduated from seminary this year with an almost perfect GPA. I’m married because my wife is caring, she cares about individuals, communities and the world. She works really hard at all she does, and gets an amazing amount done. And there’s a host of other reasons, not just because of her looks. And while I could introduce her as my beautiful wife, she is so much more than that.

So I’d like to introduce you to my brilliant, caring, hard working, capable, godly wife Katie Matson-Daley. Oh, and she happens to be beautiful too.

Pardon me, but my privilege is showing.

Not very long ago, I was sitting with a group of people, and somehow the discussion turned towards whether this person should go to the Macy’s in downtown St. Paul at midnight for Black Friday, and more specifically, whether this young woman would be safe.

For those of you who haven’t been to downtown St. Paul, it’s not exactly a hotbed of activity at night. There aren’t many clubs, nor are there many people. For the crowds, the parties, and most of the crime you cross the Mississippi into downtown Minneapolis. Based on my own experience, I was arguing that she would be fine.

The problem is that in the moment, I forgot that because I am male, my experience of walking down the street is significantly different from the experience of the typical female. I essentially forgot my privilege.

If you ask a group of men what they do on a daily basis to protect themselves from being raped, you’d probably get blank stares and maybe one answer of not going into really sketchy parts of town, or depending on the group you’d get a homophobic joke. Ask that same question to a group of women and you’d get a significantly longer list that includes things like where you walk, who you walk with and how you hold your keys (see the banner on this page)when you’re walking by yourself.

I know this, and I recognize it as an injustice, but somehow in the midst of the conversation, I forgot it and started arguing from my privilege of being a guy.

So why am I telling you this? It reminds me of a TEDx talk given by Jay Smooth recently where he talks about talking about race.You can click the link above, or watch the video embedded below.

Here’s the quote that got me thinking about this incident:

And in general I think we need to move away from the premise that being a good person is a fixed, immutable characteristic, and shift towards seeing being good as a practice, and it is a practice that we carry out by engaging with our imperfections. We need to shift from, we need to shift toward thinking of being a good person the same way we think of being a clean person. Being a clean person is something that you maintain and work on every day

I’m someone who cares about the equality of women and the elimination of sexism. What Jay and this discussion about Macy’s reminds me is that this isn’t stuff that you learn once and you’re set for life. It’s a matter of practice, of continuing to see the residue of sexism, privilege and other -isms, and continuing to work to become better at cleaning that residue off.