Weight of racism
So heavy in our country.
Will we heal from this?
More diverse speakers at WordCamps means a more diverse community contributing to WordPress — and that results in better software for everyone.
This struck me as really fascinating, so I wanted to put it out there for the Saturday share. It kinda goes along with my theme of wanting to see more women, and other under-represented people writing, whether it is people with disabilities, people of color or just people with diverse viewpoints.
This weekend I’m running Grandma’s Half Marathon in Duluth, MN. SO under-trained for this year! Oh well, it’s more about the ability to get together with friends and enjoy a fun event. Happy official start to summer solstice!
Abby Wambach’s new book, Wolfpack, is short but full of actionable advice. She illustrates with stories from her own experience, and she unapologetically makes the case for a sisterhood of women supporting each other.
I have two favorite chapters. From Chapter Three: Lead from the Bench:
Old Rule: Wait for permission to lead.
New Rule: Lead now – from wherever you are
In Chapter Seven: Bring it All, she tells us:
Old Rule: Lead with dominance. Create Followers.
New Rule: Lead with humanity. Cultivate Leaders.
Yes. Leaders all around us. People who are awake, aware, conscious and engaged in what is meaningful to them.
I look forward to new models of leadership in the world, more inclusive and supportive than the models of the past. We are ready for a fresh approach. The old way we have followed results in stress, burnout, environmental distress and war.
We cannot solve problems with the same level of consciousness that created those problems. Instead, we must rally the Pack toward our shared destiny. Amen, Abby!
This post is a re-blog of an original I wrote in December, 2017, with some editing. On Thursdays I aim to review and edit some previously shared content to give myself more practice on the editing side. Thanks for your patience as I build my skills and allow myself to re-examine some favorite themes.
After my peaceful and grateful post yesterday, I dove into a few blogs based on some recommendations by WordPress. I read about women as superheroes, and encountered some powerful writing about racism and privilege in America. It hit me pretty hard, but the point landed, this idea that white people of this country built their foundation on treating black people as sub-human.
It is difficult to talk about this, to acknowledge it and to understand what it is like to be cast as the “other” when we are part of the dominant culture. As a pale Latina, I pass as white every day. And yet, part of me strongly identifies with this Otherness. When Philando Castile was killed in Falcon Heights, Minnesota in July 2016, I was in shock. This is not supposed to happen here, I thought.
But it happens everywhere. People are mistreated merely because of their darker skin or for their gender. Assumptions are made, and are reinforced. Political campaigns barely veil their “dog whistles” that appeal to the base, racist beliefs of their base.
There is a powerful dialogue from On Being with Krista Tippet, with Junot Diaz that keeps coming back to me on Radical Hope. One passage that keeps coming back to me as an empowering framework for re-considering how we view the body.
“I would remind us that, coming from a reality where our oppression was ineluctably linked to our bodies — that we had, for centuries, no rights to our bodies and that all of the traditional pleasures and all of the traditional freedoms of human agency were forbidden to those of us of African descent in the New World, for a long period of time — the body, in such a murderous regime, under such nightmarish conditions, becomes chapel, cathedral, dogma. It becomes nearly everything…
…for people like us, for people who come out of the African Diaspora in the New World, simply to fall in love, when you have historically been denied love, the right to just connect to the body which you have chosen and that has chosen you, means that an act of love is not only revolutionary, it’s not only transcendent, but it is the deific. It is Godlike. It is a taste of the omnipotent.”
I see parallels here in how slave ownership reflects a framework in which ownership of the body is central. It is a means of control and it is a means of denying basic humanity to people based on color.
I also see the ownership of body as a tool from a woman’s perspective and a feminist one. From our cultural lens, we have transcended a period when it was legal to own the bodies of African Americans. I also recently learned that early in our history, the practice of enslaving Native Americans occurred though was not explicitly legalized in the same way. (Listen to Hidden Brain’s “An American Secret” to learn more.)
Conceptually, I believe our patriarchy claims “ownership” of women’s bodies in a similar but more subtle way. Through creating laws to regulate women’s health, and their choices and ownership over their decisions about their bodies, we legalize yet another form of slavery. By judging appearance and “scoring” women on a scales of beauty or attractiveness, our media participate in this denigration of women’s bodies.
Recent disclosures of male authority figures using coercion and manipulation of women’s bodies against their will has shown the pervasiveness of this idea: women are routinely denied full access and ownership to their bodies. Women are “owned” and traded, consumed and marketed as commodities, products, objects that can be served up at will.
As I have come to a better relationship with my own body in my yoga and meditation practices, I now see how “radical” it is to reclaim our bodies. For those women (or men) who have endured assault or other violations of the body, there can be a numbness or a disassociation with parts of ourselves. Even for those of us who have not endured physical violence, the objectification of women’s bodies in so much of our daily media have taken their toll.
We disown parts of ourselves, perhaps our hunger, or our sexuality, as an attempt to distance ourselves from what is portrayed as dirty or distasteful. This is not a coincidence, nor is it a benign reality. Listening and attending to our bodies is a powerful tool. Disconnecting from the body separates us from our truth.
Churches that advise us to transcend the “carnal” and embrace the spiritual do us a disservice. For when we separate the body from the spirit or the soul, we disconnect what makes us whole as people. Sadly, this is more of a lived reality for women than for men in our current ethos.
What I would like to suggest is a radical and necessary step is for women to reclaim ownership of our bodies, in both real and symbolic ways. I see this not only as a personal and a wellness imperative, but as a political act. This is certainly not a new idea. Back in the 60’s and 70’s when the women’s liberation movement was at its height, this was certainly one of the goals.
Even my own personal weight struggle has been a process of coming to terms with loving and appreciating my own body. I recognize the ways in which I appropriated the body hatred that was rampant around me. It is a bad habit, this criticism of our body, diminishing the instrument of joy we have been given. But it is a habit that can be changed. Accepting and embracing our bodies and our feelings is a tool for empowerment. It is the place we must begin for full political and personal agency.
I am reflecting on the lessons I have learned during my time decade plus of working in the medical device industry for a very large company.
One of the observations is the way I respond to leaders who approach their work with entitlement versus those who aim to serve. The former set were wrapped up in a sense of “we are the winners” and they set up their organizations to demonstrate that. The latter approached from a more humble place of openness and willingness to learn.
Carol Dweck makes a powerful case for leaders and organizations who embrace a “growth mindset” versus a fixed mindset in her book Mindset: the new psychology of success. In summary, the person who believes they can grow and develop over time and with practice will far surpass the person who believes they are born with a fixed intelligence or talent. Children who are told they are smart, rather than the ones praised for their ability to work hard and persist, are actually at a disadvantage in the long-term.
I can relate to this principle and how it created a bit of an identity crisis when I first went to college. I had put in some hard work, but my belief was that I was “naturally smart” and this was how I identified myself. But going to a place like Swarthmore, where I was nowhere near the “smartest” and had not yet developed the academic work ethic I would need to succeed, I struggled, especially in my first year.
I called my parents one weekend to tell them that the college may have made a mistake in admitting me. I was not sure I could handle the work. But my mother reassured me – she knew I could do it if I worked hard. College was about challenging ourselves at a higher level. Thank goodness my professors agreed, and when I admitted to other students and to the professor that I was struggling, I realized I was not alone. I would have support in learning and growing if I was open to it.
The parallels in leadership intrigue me as I consider the effectiveness of those who believe they are the “smartest” in the room versus those who are open to learning from front-line employees. I respond best to those leaders who are open to feedback, who ask to hear my ideas. I want to contribute to their cause, because they see it as “our cause.” I want to figure out creative ways to help because I feel their belief in me. I want to learn and understand new things, because I know I will gain greater skills along the way.
When I consider my own responsiveness to feedback, I aim to improve my ability to take in criticism that can improve my performance in the long run. Though it can be hard to hear, when delivered and received in a spirit of mutual respect and investment in growth, it is a gift.
This applies to individual contributors also, not just managers. Those who are willing to learn from their mistakes are more willing to take risks rather than try to keep a perfect image as someone who never fails. If the environment is conducive to it, the growth-minded person will be unafraid to challenge the status quo. They will have courage to communicate what may be “blind spots” to leadership.
The research also shows how the growth mindset can be taught and coached, and is not something we are simply bestowed or lacking. This is fundamentally the philosophy I have embraced. I have seen so much evidence of this in my own work with colleagues over the years. To me there is nothing more rewarding than watching someone succeed at a “stretch” goal and knowing that maybe just a year or two before, they may have doubted their ability to achieve it.
Where do you want to grow? How strong is your belief that you will get there with practice and determination? What if difficulty just means “not yet”?
Dignity sculpture in Chamberlain, South Dakota.
Plaque underneath sculpture: