The Human Impacts of Covid-19 and What It Could Mean for the Future

A few weeks ago, I sat down to write about the profession of social work in light of March’s designation as social work month. My intention was to speak to the work we do and express gratitude for all those who have come before me and hope for all those who will come after me. That seems like a decade ago. Now, I find time clearly demarcated as the world pre-Covid-19 and the world in a pandemic.

I look to the day we can add the world post Covid-19 to our continuum of time. To talk about the rich history of a profession that exists solely to challenge injustice and respond to the needs of the times now seems callous when the needs of the times seem urgent to many. But the reality is that for social workers, the needs have been urgent for generations.

While social media is flooded with laments of barren shelves in our local groceries, calling out those who seem to take what they want with little regard for their neighbor, I would say…same stuff different zip code. For generations portions of our communities have survived in food deserts where produce and fresh meat are an occasional option (one that comes at a premium price) and yet there is no outcry of inhumanity or moral abomination.

While some celebrate the low gas prices found as they travel from store to store desperate for food and supplies, others in our communities could share lived lessons of finding ways to survive without access or reliable transportation. Not because of an unprecedented pandemic but because of generational poverty rooted in racism and supported by systems designed to create privilege based on race, gender and who you love. While the worried well grow anxious about the limitations of a health care systems that weeks ago seemed fine from their perch, countless others in our communities live with the scars of a healthcare system grounded in privilege not equity.

The reality is we have been a nation in crisis for generations but a different dichotomous thinking has made this crisis our norm: the dichotomy of privilege verses oppression. Prior to Covid-19, black and brown people in our nation have been dying at rates much faster than their white counterparts. We accept a disparity of life expectancy of up to 13 years with little more than a shrug. But we close entire states for a virus that shows no respect to privilege.

Don’t get me wrong. Covid-19 is a national crisis and extraordinary steps must be taken to reduce it’s long term impact and protect those deemed most vulnerable to it’s assault. Social workers will lead the charge, support our communities as difficult decisions are made and meet the needs of these days. But I long for a day when we apply the same urgency to the disparities that render half our population vulnerable to the diseases of racism, poverty and bias from birth.

If our hearts are stirred to action to support those around us left isolated or at risk by a virus, why aren’t our hearts stirred about the hunger that is a part of our nations fabric every day? If we call our nation to prayer in the face of Covid-19, why don’t we call our nation to prayer over the disparities in the justice system?  We are flooded with updates on confirmed Covid cases and fatalities and our compassionate core rises to intervene. Would we respond with the same zeal to reports of children in our community who take hunger to bed like a blanket?

Many have written about the opportunities presented in this crisis. The opportunity to slow down, to reflect on what matters most, to reset if you will. As a social worker I support the idea of reset but with the call for a collective reset…not to what we once were but rather to what we can be. What we once were is a nation that mastered the ability to use privilege as blinders, allowing some to move freely in spaces that they control and that honor a singular story.

Let’s reset to a future that dismantles our past. One that acknowledges the sins of oppression and commits to equity and liberation as our sextons. One that is shaped by a daily conviction to connect and support rather than a crisis driven, telethon style response that assuages our guilt. The selfless acts of countless in the midst of Covid-19 show us all what we’re capable of. May our post Covid-19 world be the world we should have made all along.

5 Ways White Social Workers Can Respond to the Charlottesville Aftermath

Charlottesville Unite White Supremacists Rally

In the past 48 hours, we have witnessed the President of the United States make statements that led many to believe that he equates neo-Nazi and White supremacist groups with left wing protest groups as equals. We have also witnessed the President seemingly defend neo-Nazi and White supremacist groups – and even suggest that “very fine people” participated in the “Unite the Right” rally at which racist and anti-Semitic slogans were widely chanted.

These statements have drawn widespread condemnation from both sides of the political spectrum. Yesterday, on Fox News’ Fox & Friends television show, Republican commentator Gianno Caldwell even notes that the President seemingly refuses to place blame on the White supremacists that initiated the rally. You can read a copy of the transcript of the press conference at which all this occurred here. To say that the President’s demeanor and words at that press conference are a disturbing development in our nation’s history would be an understatement. While expressions of racism and the reign of White supremacy writ large are nothing new in the United States, the events of the past week have indeed rocked our nation and our profession.

As social workers, our voices and actions in these times will speak volumes about how true we are to implementing the National Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics that guides our profession. When we become a social worker, we make a commitment to “promote social justice and social change with and on behalf of clients” in all situations. So, how, exactly, do social workers begin to do this work in these times? Here are five ways you can start to do this work.

First, we need to educate ourselves about the history of neo-Nazi and White supremacist actions in the United States. Knowledge is power. Moving beyond the idea that rallies such as last Saturdays’ are one-offs, or that there is nothing to be done with a world spiraling out of control is also vital for social workers. Start by learning about the prevalence of neo-Nazi and White supremacist groups in your very own state, a map of which can be found at the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Social work faculty should check in with their colleagues and their students on how we can further educate ourselves.

Second, have a frank talk with yourself about how you may have benefitted from White supremacy (in the larger sense). “Owning” our own White privilege contributes to the social justice effort. Once we see how privilege works, we can see the other side of the coin that goes along with it, namely, oppression. To learn more about White privilege, consider this checklist and how the content relates to you.

While it may feel uncomfortable to realize just how much White people benefit from a larger system of White supremacy (even without being actively racist), this is a vital step in helping our society to shift. Doing this personal work will assist you in learning to center the voices of people who are oppressed in the journey to foster social justice. As author Roxane Gay points out in her book Bad Feminist, “when people wield the word ‘privilege,’ it tends to fall on deaf ears because we hear that word so damn much it has become white noise.” Don’t let the idea of addressing White privilege become white noise!

Third, take stock of your own thoughts about the events in Charlottesville and the President’s statements. Think about how you can advocate for social justice in response to all that has occurred. Standing up to oppression means stepping up in a time like this to speak out against hate and oppression.

While it can often be a losing battle to debate members of neo-Nazi and White supremacist groups directly, there are other ways to speak out. Let your community know where you stand – be that your family community, your work community, your geographic community or your social media community. Denounce oppression, but remember, you can also take a strengths-based approach and speak to what you think can contribute to peace and unity in our country.

Fourth, check in with your clients, especially, for example, your clients of color and/or those who are Jewish, in order to see how they have been impacted by the Charlottesville aftermath. As part of our professional social work education, we are taught that in order to truly understand our clients’ behavior, we have to think about their human behavior in the social environment. Given this, your acknowledgment of what is going on in your clients’ social environment can function as an engagement tool that can support your ultimate goals for intervention. Then, consider the ways in which you can partner with your clients to address social justice concerns germane to the case.

Fifth, if you’ve followed the first four steps, you are doing great.  However, it’s also important to remember that we don’t want to become a fix-it-all person or a guilt-ridden person with a savior complex.  In owning who we are and what has impacted us, and in standing up for social justice, we must also avoid what Dr. Robin DiAngelo refers to as “White fragility.”

This phenomenon can be defined as a condition when even low levels of racial stress become intolerable, thus setting in motion defensive actions.  The idea is that as White people, we exist in an environment that is insulated from race-based stress as a result of White privilege.  In some situations, when White people are challenged by the realities of White supremacy, we may become sad, guilty, hostile, defensive or even fearful.  We need to be aware of such reactions and must learn to manage them so that they don’t hinder our social justice efforts.

The idea is that as White people, we exist in an environment that is insulated from race-based stress as a result of White privilege.  In some situations, when White people are challenged by the realities of White supremacy, we may become sad, guilty, hostile, defensive, or even fearful.  We need to be aware of such reactions and must learn to manage them so that they don’t hinder our social justice efforts.

Social workers, you are primed to act in times like these! In fact, I argue that you are compelled to act, per the Code of Ethics. Remember, as Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel famously noted, “we must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”

The author would like to extend her sincere thanks to one of her accountability partners and colleagues, Dr. Shannon Butler Mokoro of Salem State University’s School of Social Work, for her consultation on this essay.

Engaging Individuals Entrenched With Power and Privilege

University of Southern California Professor Melissa Singh with COBI Fellows in Washington, DC

Like many Macro students trying to obtain their MSW, I have gone through many trials and tribulations trying to pave my own path of what I can do with my degree. From the countless lectures spent being forced fed how to conduct Motivational Interviewing and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (I do not want to be a counselor) to being placed as an elementary school counselor (once again, I do not want to be a counselor). I honestly began to question if I would ever break free from the stereotypes of what position I could fill and achieve as a social worker.

Oftentimes, when a macro social worker states they do not like clinical work they are often met with the counter argument: “Clinical work is the foundation of our profession and every social worker must know how to engage their clients.” However, the clients we work with as macro social workers are not the same clients as a micro social worker. Macro social workers are working with clients entrenched with power and privilege.

Macro social workers are working with clients entrenched with power and privilege

In my opinion, we are working with the most difficult populations and we must  develop a different type of skillset. Skills that allow us  to navigate through the bureaucracies and change the public’s perception on what they deem underserving or the bottom of their priority list.

I have been in two different social work programs and each time as a macro social worker, I feel my education is not tailored to fit me. It wasn’t until I had to opportunity to apply for University Southern California’s Community Organizing Business Innovation (COBI) Fellowship, a program with a mission to create professionals trained to tackle organizational problems and social worker’s grand challenges by introducing, developing, and facilitating social innovation in local, national, and global settings. This mission resonated with me, and it fits my definition of what social work can be.

Over the summer, USC’s COBI Fellowship gave me the opportunity to learn and practice my macro skills. I was able to engage with individuals from 16 different agencies who are bringing innovation into the public sector and learn the tricks of the trade on how they bring positive change in resistant spaces.

There were many takeaways from the trip but here are a few:

  • The OPM Innovation Lab emphasized the importance of navigating through bureaucracy and to inspire public sectors to take risk. We also learned the concept of human-centered design.
  • We discovered the concept of developmental evaluation with Tanya Beer at the Center for Evaluation Innovation.
  • Congresswoman Karen Bass discussed how to engage individuals with privilege in the workplace. She further discussed her Shadow Day, where a foster youth is paired with a U.S. Representative and how it is not only a transformational experience for the foster youth but also, the U.S. Rep. Once a U.S. Rep spends a day with a foster youth teaching them, it becomes personal, and they think twice before saying no against a bill in the favor of foster youth. THIS IS INNOVATION!!!
  • SAMHSA discussed how to engage agencies on the importance of evaluations and message tailoring.
  • Ashoka with Changemaker Executive Partner Sachin Malhan identified the difference between addressing a need and changing the system.
  • Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) discussed looking for ways to weigh in as professionals in policies.
  • NASW consultant, Joan Levy Zlotnik discussed being at the table and articulating both facts and story.

It was inspiring to be among leaders who are experimenting with different models and methods to tackle societal problem. I gained a sense of empowerment and agency being able to sit among them and exchange ideas.  Most importantly, I not only first handedly experienced the importance of having a seat at the table, but I saw my place as a social worker. After this experience, I wished more macro social work students could have an experience like this.

Like many social workers, I chose social work because I want to bring positive change in the world. Although we need social worker helping the immediate needs of individuals and their families, we also need social workers looking at the bigger picture and changing the system.

Until we invest in more macro initiatives where social work students can engage with leaders and learn the skills to navigate and collaborate with individuals who possess power and privilege, our profession will not be in the frontier of innovative change in the public sector.

Three Ways to Reduce Power and Privilege

campaign-2016-huge

Pure and honest political conservatism as an ideology is often at the heart of our global problems – it unapologetically promotes privilege. While I might be wrong and certainly will be persecuted for this line, it seems to me that true conservatism is synonymous with privilege.  If we are to save our planet and our people, don’t we need to change our current acceptance of political conservatism?     

If you have followed along to this point, there are logical interventions we can put into place to make sure that we challenge the status quo and ensure we leave our own power and privilege at the door when possible. Social Workers and helping professionals need user-friendly tools to remind us of the foundational elements in any given intervention.

For example, if we are sitting with a client who is accused of or discloses the abuse of power and control against women and children, we have a window of opportunity to present information or introduce interventions to challenge and redirect the client’s path. Are you with me?

In thinking about power and privilege as I do, I came up with the following acronym to remind me of our ethical obligation to challenge privilege and the status quo. A.C.T. is a useful acronym to remember when trying to think about how to combat the structural inequities helping professionals are faced with daily.

A.  ACKNOWLEDGE

Acknowledge represents the foundational best practice of self-awareness and begins at home.  In order to combat privilege and power inequalities at the micro and macro level, we must first be aware of our own histories and privilege before we move forward in challenging privilege in our systems.

If you are a white male, for example, you have privilege. As a helping professional, it is necessary for us to understand our own person-in-society/environment position before we can help others. What do we inherently bring to the table at the outset of any conversation? What is our place in the power hierarchy in relation to our clients? How do we leave, to the extent possible, our power and privilege at the door in order to engage with our clients where they are at? How do we ensure we don’t replicate the power dynamics already impacting our clients?

C. CONVERSE

While for some it may seem overwhelming to challenge social and political systems, it can be done, and it doesn’t need to be complicated.  It starts by having conversations about the privilege you know about which is likely your own. Simply, have conversations about privilege and these conversations will bring more conversations and before you know it people are talking about power and privilege.  Conversations lead to actions and change. Conversations about power and privilege are tied to and link back to our awareness. If we question and analyze our own privilege, we are then able to help others do the same.

T.  TEACH

The next step and sometimes in conjunction with conversations is teaching.  Social workers and helping professionals are the best teachers of structural inequalities and privilege. Teach people through conversations what you know and understand about power, inequality and… you guessed it, privilege.

Our work is inextricably tied to the power structures of our organizations, our communities, and our states and our nations. As Gandhi so eloquently said, “be the change you want to see in your world!” If we desire a more equitable society, we must A.C.T. against power and privilege.

Privilege and Power: The Role of Shame and Self-Awareness

quote-Kathleen-Parker-people-in-positions-of-power-and-privilege-97333

If you are a helping professional, chances are you were trained in self-awareness and learned about its importance. In fact, self-awareness is foundational to all areas of helping. In micro intervention, we must be aware of our biases and feelings about a host of presenting problems. If we are not self-aware, we risk placing judgement on our clients and decreasing our credibility and effectiveness as a result.  

Similarly, self-awareness plays an important role at the macro level. Specifically, we must know our place in the hierarchy of the structures and systems that we are charged with ameliorating, and self-awareness must be part of what drives our analyses of structural and systemic inequality.  

The latter, self-awareness and macro structural analyses, is not a popular topic among many elements of North American society. However, without challenging the status quo with analyses such as the one contained herein, the progressive and change-oriented elements of society cannot make progress. We must challenge and be truly progressive in order to help the people we are charged with serving. Vulnerable populations and marginalized groups remain marginalized time and time again if we cannot change damaging conservative elements within our political structures.   

Evidence, a case study

I am a white male, 45 years old.  I am a 5th generation Canadian with European roots dating back to the United Empire Loyalists.  

For the majority of my adult life, I have felt a great deal of shame regarding the history of my country and that of the United States of America in so far as I can claim to know the history of the latter. The shame I have felt and carried and to some extent still carry, stems from our collective white, European history.  

Although I do not easily acknowledge my expertise, I am an ‘expert’ in many areas of social work knowledge, and  I have become ‘expert’ through study and practice experience of 20 years.  These areas include domestic family violence, trauma and posttraumatic stress.  I acknowledge my areas of expertise because they factor into the shame I feel as a person, as a man, and as a social worker who has worked with children and families for 20 years.  

Maybe I am an anomaly, but I feel and identify with shame a great majority of the time. Perhaps, it is because of my privilege as a white male.  I studied male violence toward women and children for many years and worked in the treatment of women and children victims and male perpetrators for many years.  Often, I have identified as feminist and anti oppressive almost exclusively.  

Have you read about or studied intergenerational trauma?  I wonder if this is perhaps some of what causes me historical shame?  Did my ancestors personally participate in wars and acts of oppression?  These are questions I don’t have answers to.  If I did have answers or insight into my ancestors actions in the past, I suspect they would be tainted with some sort of justification for their acts.  

Things I feel shameful for

I feel shame for being a man.  Men, I think it can be argued, are responsible for the majority of gross atrocities carried out against human populations at the individual / family, community, and societal levels.  Although we as a planet have histories of non -white men and groups acting out atrocities against others, it seems to me that the great majority of atrocities are carried out by white men or at least groups that have strong power relationship ties with white men.  In this way, white men are inextricably tied to global suffering. Other men are too but it seems to me that once you start to explore or investigate conflict it leads to the power structures that are predominantly white and male.  

Men abuse women and children. Women do too, but it occurs on a much lesser scale. Men are the face of domestic family violence as well as the atrocities and secrets which exist in patriarchal family systems.

Men stole North America from first nations peoples.  Plain and simple.  I actually can’t believe that I have never read the history of North America in such simple and truthful terms.  That is the truth, we, our ancestors, stole this continent from first nations and we used force to take it. We killed and violated countless first nations people.  How is this not a shameful history?  

Is my shame different?  

Is my shame different than that of other men?  I have no way of knowing this because to the best of my knowledge people do not generally talk about or write about this. How do I feel connected to a history that has nothing to do with me personally?  Is my shame quotient that much bigger than normal because of my own abuse and post-traumatic history?  

Is shame helpful?  I can only answer this for myself.  I know people avoid pain and shame which is a big part of psychological and emotional pain.  It seems to me that shame can destroy people through the likes of addiction and other self-destructive paths.  

But isn’t shame also helpful?  If we connect to shame doesn’t it act as a compass for moving forward?  I know that my connection and relationship with shame is something that makes me who I am. I am incapable of hurting other people unless there is a real threat to my personal safety or that of my family and loved ones.  My shame is part of my life in terms of my goals, beliefs and values.  It is no accident that I am a social worker.  

What is the cost of privilege?  

Privilege gives people power over others.  It allows people in positions of power to dictate the terms of other people’s lives.  A clear example of privilege is government setting the terms of welfare recipients for those living in poverty. Making a person do a drug test in exchange for still living below the poverty line is an abusive use of power and privilege.  Plain and simple. If this was not true, those with power and privilege are exempt from drug testing to receive government subsidies and/or other governmental funding.   

Is privilege and power the same or inextricably linked?  Does privilege corrupt like power often does?  It seems to me it does.  

I’m not naive enough to think that there is an answer to this query.  Sometimes, I’m not even exactly sure what the exact query should be. I often find myself thinking analytically and as a result negatively about the state of our world. Our current lack of global peace is a stain on all of humanity in my mind.  It is easy to remove oneself from responsibility for the current state of affairs, but this is not honest living in my mind.  Living honestly means accepting one’s connection to the past and committing to move forward in new, nonviolent and non-privileged ways. 

Reflection Papers Actually Serve A Real World Purpose

Think back to when you took your program, and you were asked time and again to write “reflection papers” for your courses. I remember looking around the room and seeing the avalanche of eye rolls work themselves around the room much like “the wave” at a sporting event.

Even though this task required us to reflect upon our roles and how our experiences shape how we view education and learning, there were never many of us who enjoyed this practice. Even though I didn’t always love writing calling-and-vocationthese papers, they were an essential task that forced us to evaluate our practice and behaviour as an educator and learner.

In both my personal and professional life, I have made a point to be constantly reflecting on how my role in society has impacted the way I teach and conduct myself as a person. There is no doubt that my white male privilege has benefited me economically, socially and politically. To get a deeper understanding on this issue I suggest checking out this article on male privilege, and then research how oppression can permeate our society.

Since the majority of the teaching population in Alberta, and to a larger extent Canada, is made up of white middle-class folks, we need to be able to confront how our privilege perpetuates our interactions with students and our pedagogy. This requires us reflecting and confronting issues that could conjure up some uncomfortable feelings, confusion, and and even guilt.

Schools are often places where the dominant ideologies and characteristics of a society are perpetuated, which can leave students who don’t fit into those dominant groups feeling less than or not represented in their educational environments. It is absolutely necessary that teachers not only understand how privilege can benefit them, but also how it can shape their classroom rules and what they deem as “good behaviour” from students.

The development of my consciousness has led me down an incredibly rewarding path. Now don’t get me wrong, coming to terms with my privilege led me through an array of emotions. I often felt that I was living through white privilege and guilt at the same time. However, I quickly learned that as a white male of privilege, I have a responsibility to not only understand how my privilege operates, but to also be a part of the solution in ending a system that perpetuates oppression through race, gender, sexuality, class and many other categories.

The understanding and combating of my privileged world view has not ended. It is a daily routine of reflection and dialogue with others to learn how to support and be in solidarity with folks from more oppressed backgrounds. I have a lot of work to do in order to combat my privilege distorting how I view issues within our world and within my classroom. However, it is a life long task that I think is most important in my development as a teacher and person.

What I’m asking teachers to do is to not just understand your own individual privileges as a teacher and a citizen, but to also work towards systemic changes within society to end privilege for some groups and oppression for others. We have the choice to perpetuate the dominant ideology within our classroom or to engage with students in a dialogue of possibility for what a different world could look like. Students never cease to amaze me when they start to discuss new ways that humans could take care of each other a little bit better.

We not only have the opportunity but also the responsibility to model for their students the type of conduct and dialogue that it will take to start having these tough conversations. We need to make sure we create environments that ensure students feel safe and comfortable to have these conversations.

Most importantly, we need to ensure that all students have a voice in the classroom to be able to share their experiences around privilege and oppression. After all, it is our responsibility to provide young people the ability to make the world a better place and not just be passive observers in the society in which they live.

Power, Prejudice, and Paradox

I’ve recently changed how I describe myself or, more accurately, my experience. I now talk about “my paradoxical experience as a queer, caucasian, cisgender man with unique function (disability).”

indecision-967718-mEven doing this is paradoxical, given I argued the point in 2012 at TEDxAuckland that we need to decay labels to reveal diversity. But I’m doing it to explain a phenomenon of power, privilege and paradox, rather than to label myself.

Power and privilege have long been part of the politics of diversity and discrimination. Recently I heard another diversity expert, Leslie Hawthorne, encourage those with privilege to raise awareness of it by, for example, not using the word “lame” to describe something that is bad or stupid, because you are implying that people who can’t walk are bad or stupid.

There has also been the story of Ijeoma Oluo, a woman of colour, who experienced an instant reduction in racial slurs when she changed her Twitter profile picture to one that made her look caucasian.

These examples seem to me to slightly simplify the understanding of power and privilege — change a word here, look a bit different there. I think there are more complex subtleties at work, like context, subjectivity and objectivity, that paint a broader, more complex picture of power and privilege.

So back to me — let’s deconstruct those labels (or decay them) in terms of power and privilege (I’ll use P&P to save keystrokes).

  • Queer — not heterosexual (but not obviously so) — P&P comparatively low
  • Caucasian — not of colour — P&P unquestionably high
  • Cisgender — not transgender — P&P unquestionably high
  • Man — not woman — P&P unquestionably high
  • Unique function (disabled) — not non-disabled — P&P unquestionably low

So the question becomes, where do I sit in terms of P&P? We could do simple maths: 3 high P&P, only 2 low, ergo I have +1 P&P.

More complex maths — let’s give more points to unquestionably (2) than comparatively (1): -1+2+2+2-2=+3 — so I have +3 P&P? Or do I have +6 P&P as well as -3 P&P?

Of course this is where the paradox and complexity comes in, as well as context, subjectivity and objectivity (and other things I haven’t thought of but probably will do later). Let’s do some more decaying…

Context: As I said at TEDxAuckland, but to reframe it slightly, if I’m in a room of cisgender, caucasian men, they will not see my +6 P&P. They will see and/or sense my -3 P&P, feel awkward, discount me and I will lack P&P.

If, however, I’m in a room of indigenous, transgender and/or queer disabled people, chances are my +6 P&P will become very noticeable and my -3 P&P won’t be enough to save me. There goes my P&P. Again.

Similarly, if I’m in a recognised leadership role or on stage talking about P&P to a TEDx audience, I’ll have more of it than if I’m a stranger in the street.

Subjectivity: This works two ways. 1. The more people know me (i.e. the more subjective their experience of me), the more relative P&P I will have. They’re looking past the labels and seeing me for who I really am. 2. The more P&P I feel I have in different contexts, and the more I am aware of the behaviours and language that are commonly understood in the situation, the less threatening my perceived lack or abundance of P&P is likely to be.

Objectivity: I’ll refer back to Leslie Hawthorne, who recounted a story of an orchestra, which lacked female members. On becoming aware of this, “blind” (I’m not sure if that’s offensive or not to people who can’t see) auditions were held, so that decision-makers couldn’t tell the gender of the auditioning person.

Within a few years, female members had increased several-fold. So, ensuring some objectivity around P&P can decrease its impact.

So, where are we? Well, if you’re anything like me you’re likely in some state of confusion and uncertainty which, I would hazard to say, is a very good state from which to tackle diversity, not to mention leadership, complexity and change. Our human need to be sure and certain and to know the answers are precisely what leads us astray in the world, a world which is nothing like what we would like it to be.

In “A Short History of Stupid” by Helen Razer and Bernard Keane, Razer observes:

When you elevate lived experience to centrality in your socio- political critique and politics, you delegitimise the contribution to debate from other perspectives; if the traditional logical fallacy is appeal to authority, since the 1990s appeal to experience has come to rival it, creating a hierarchy of analysis with lived experience at the apex of authenticity. Moreover, as the phrase ‘check your privilege’ implies, it is not merely that a non- experience- based contribution to a discussion lacks legitimacy, the possession of other forms of experience creates an illegitimacy that is impossible to overcome: the scoring systems used to allocate ‘privilege points’ can be neatly flipped into a ‘how illegitimate is your opinion’ scale, depending on the colour of your skin, your sexual preference, your income and your gender. The result is a further fragmentation of public debate on issues, with fewer voices heard and greater unanimity among those voices given the imposition of dominant narratives even within sub- groups. The result is also a lesser willingness among generalists, and particularly media practitioners, to genuinely engage on policy issues arising from or including identity politics, for fear of being labelled racist/misogynist/homophobic/middle class/transgenderphobic/ableist/fattist/perpetrators of rape culture. They live in fear of fatally missing some critical nuance that would reveal them as inauthentic, or worse.

I agree. I don’t see myself (or anyone else) as absolutely either owning or lacking P&P — I don’t think it’s a useful paradigm. Sometimes we have, it sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we can influence it, sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we’re prepared, sometimes we’re not. Sorry kids, it’s messy out there.

And — hate to say it — it’s getting messier.

Exit mobile version