Inclusion again


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 CC0

Spikeball for Everyone?

I’m not sure I really want to write this post. Part of me says, “c’mon, get over yourself.” While another part is saying, “it’s bothering you, get it off your chest, move on.”
Here’s the deal. I like fun, I like movement and games, I like people from lots of different backgrounds – put all those together and I consider myself extremely fortunate to be working as physical education specialist in an international school – all the bases are covered.

Recently, I learned about a new product which looks and sounds particularly interesting for middle and high school students. One of my PE tweeps showed some of the positive student feedback she got after introducing the game. Cool! So I found the company’s twitter profile which led me to their website which told and showed me all I needed to know about the game, the product and options for purchase. For further orientation, I clicked on a couple of their videos to see the game in action.

This is where my internal conflict kicks in. The videos that I watched featured young fit males and one or two young women in the 18-24 age range I’m guessing, all white. Several clips show players on a beach but there are clips of people playing in other spaces, too. Everyone in the videos is white. Everyone is the videos seems especially physically adept and coordinated, to the degree that I wondered, would this make any sense for less athletic school populations?

I was reminded of an article touting the benefits of an anti-obesity program entitled “Operation Pull Your Weight” where I couldn’t help but notice that the promotional video included no one who could be considered obese. Product marketing I suppose often produces such messaging mismatches: saying one thing, yet showing something else. In the case of Spikeball I pick up the message “This game is for everyone” and we’ll only show it being played by white guys.

My point here is not complain or point fingers of accusation. I am simply noticing and observing. The target demographic of this game appears evident and as such, their current marketing materials absolutely reflect that. As someone who does not fit that particular demographic, yet finds an interest in the product and the novelty it may offer students, I note a peculiar reaction. Not seeing people like myself or my students or my colleagues represented among the product’s demonstrations, I take away the feeling that this game is not really intended for us (people of color, people over 40, less coordinated players). We do not belong to the intended audience, so no great loss to the company if we don’t purchase or promote this particular game (That’s my gut take-away).

At the same time, I see a familiar trend. This is a new product, aiming to build its user community quickly. The founders appear to be young white dudes who are crazy enthusiastic about their product and the sport and they seem poised to appeal first and foremost to folks of similar backgrounds: white, college educated, athletically inclined and socially active (because you do need friends in order to play). Neither their strategy nor their visible reach so far should come as a surprise. They seem to be fully on course for doing what they’ve come to do: popularize a trendy new sport and sell the inventory.

If we’re simply talking markets here, catering to the caucasian college crowd may be all this company needs to claim success. Good luck to them. What strikes me is how the experience simply reinforces my sense that this is the norm. White people play certain games and enjoy certain forms of entertainment with other white people, while Blacks do their own thing and Latinos do theirs. And so the marketing of everything from beverages to TV shows to popular games reflects this “differentiated” or “targeted” approach.

To be fair, while writing this, my PE buddy encouraged me to seek out some of the instructional videos on the company’s YouTube channel. I found some and while still very vanilla, I at least could see kids playing and the game introduced in a more approachable fashion for beginners. Here’s a sample clip created by high school students: and here’s a group of junior high kids playing.

In many ways, it would be so easy to just skip over this episode. And that’s exactly the point: for most of us this is normal. We don’t find it odd that there are no people of color and few women or girls to be seen playing this game in the company’s videos. But this time, I just needed to say something.

I bet I’ll like Spikeball just fine if I ever get a chance to play with students or my sons. It looks like fun and like something you can easily find new ways to challenge yourself over time. Maybe the sport and the Spikeball community will grow its diversity over time. Even though this may present a challenge.

Connecting the Dots: Privilege, Social Justice and Choice

A few days ago  I read this opinion piece:

Author, Desmond Cole, writing in the wake of the mayoral election in Toronto,  points out: “It is crucial that we distinguish these things – white privilege and racism – and that we learn to talk better about each. ..So let us start here: white privilege is real, and it affects every single Torontian.”

He goes on to explain:

“white privilege is the flipside of racism: if those of us deemed to be “visible minorities” suffer discrimination, white privilege speaks to the corresponding people who, whether or not they realize it, gain advantage from this dynamic. Systemic racism does not just have countless victims, but beneficiaries as well…

White privilege isn’t about what is in the hearts and minds of individuals; it is a set of circumstances in the world, with which we all must contend – but which white people can ignore with impunity while the victims of racism cannot.”

He concludes with the argument that because inequities will not simply fade away, it behooves us as individuals and as a society to take actions which redress them. ” Racism is the bully who shows up at the party without being invited: almost no one wants to associate with him, but few have the courage to show him the door. Those of us affected by systemic racism don’t have the luxury of ignoring that bully.”

Read the full article to take in the weight of his nuanced analysis.

A little later  I ran across this post in pursuit of a different interest:

Here the author, Kevin Hodgson (@dogtrax), is referring to the challenge of creating connected courses under the banner of access, equity and diversity. Essentially he and his colleagues are doing their part  to insure due diligence in developing programs which actually reach and impact  underserved urban and rural communities.  The Western Massachusetts Writing Project is the organization in question and the following quote comes from their vision statement adopted some years ago:

Central to our mission is the development of programs and opportunities that are accessible and relevant to teachers, students, and their families from diverse backgrounds, paying attention to issues of race, gender, language, class and culture and how these are linked to teaching and learning.

The author acknowledges costs in the process of taking this stance which is more clearly grounded in social justice: the loss of some issue-weary members who worry that the primary aim of helping students and teachers with writing has been pushed to the back burner. The author points to the steps they are taking to keep access, equity and diversity near the top of the agenda – an upcoming symposium, past gains in mobilizing membership around advocacy against teacher evaluation based solely on standardized test results. Nevertheless, the tension remains: “when many discussions come filtered through the social justice lens, it can feel as if the “writing” and “teaching” elements get lost in the shuffle, replaced by a political action lens.”

I hear his struggle and applaud his and his organization’s efforts to work against or perhaps through the tide. It certainly isn’t easy.  This is where these two pieces come together for me. The privilege lies in being able to choose to address, redress or ignore the uncomfortable topics of equity and access. Sticking around to put up a fight time and time again on behalf of those who are excluded from this privilege may strike some as tedious, as a lost cause. For those who belong to marginalized groups, there simply is no choice.

Let’s recognize that there is good work being done and that there is much more to do. It is upon all of us to do the work we are able to do wherever we find ourselves – in our families, schools and communities – breaking down barriers, acknowledging privilege here,  dismantling the structures of systemic and institutional bias there.  We all can afford to get better at connecting the necessary dots.