I’m thinking about inclusion again. Now that diversity has been shunted as the desirable term to describe the aspiration of drawing people together who reflect the variety of identities and backgrounds which more closely represent society at large, some (myself included) have said what we really need, seek and should be working towards is inclusion. Opening doors, offering invitations, seats at tables, a mic on the stage, a space on the panel – centering those in prominent public forums from whom we have traditionally, historically heard less. OK, I can get with that.
I read a post in response to the #EngageMOOC: Engagement in a Time of Polarization which is happening for two weeks now in the middle of February. Kay Oddone argues that we can in our own small and sometimes larger circles, insure that marginalized folks who are at the table experience true inclusion, rather than serving as placeholders for someone’s good intentions.
The rest of the above quote speaks even more to me and my experience: ” …comfortable enough to join in with the conversation that is happening at that table. And knowing, when the talking stops, and the faces turn expectedly, how to share one’s opinion in a way that makes it able to be heard.” (emphasis mine) Those expectant faces, yes. How they turn to you as the one brown face in the room (or the only queer, native, or poor person), hoping that you will grant them both grace and an easy way out of whatever discomfort may have arisen in the conversation.
Putting it succinctly:
Allow me to broadly generalize: It happens all the time.
Kay Oddone’s post reminded me of what is at stake for marginalized folks who come to the table:
We have the power to counter the ticked box form of diversity, we can and need to practice real inclusion wherever we are. For us as educators, we can begin by incorporating more student voice and choice into our practices. We can listen to our young people when they tell us what is working for them and what’s not. We don’t give them voice; we learn to ask and listen and act on what we learn as a result. That’s what inclusion looks like. It’s responsive, open, ready to learn.
We tend to think of engagement in terms of output, as external actions that are readily observable, measurable even in some cases: speeches, reports, demonstrations, coursework. I want us to also recognize the power of staying quiet when someone else finally finds the courage to speak; for stepping aside when a leadership post comes open and nominating the better candidate who might easily be overlooked. Those are forms of behind-the-scenes engagement we need more of.
Maha Bali writes compellingly about the dilemma of reproducing marginalization even in our attempts to be inclusive:
In open online spaces, opening doors is not enough.
In open online spaces, an open door means easy exit just as it means easy entry.
In open online spaces, we are not there on equal footing.
In open online spaces, we are not equally fragile.
It is everyone’s responsibility to listen and care and support marginal voices. Whether or not they wish to speak. Whether or not they wish to be present. Whether or not they like what we do.
It is everyone’s responsibility to recognize their own privilege and to use it with purpose.
I know, I know, we’re working on it. Sometimes it pays off to think small. Think next door, down the hall, at the next meeting. Act large in small spaces. Notice who’s speaking and who isn’t. Practice not knowing and being curious. Be kind. Welcome warmly and mean it.
We can do all those things and still run a meeting on schedule. Let’s try. It’s worth the effort.
image via Pixabay.com CC0