Following last weeks post, that observed experiences of being othered, ostracised and shamed, attending a cultural phenomenon a nativity play. I continue this blog series observing a *recentish example of being the other remaining mute, and finding safe side bar.
A few years ago, I worked for a charity where the strange experience was of being othered and held outside of. It is not because of what some staff said specifically. Most are aware that saying racist, sexist, homophobic things at work will lead to reprimands or dismissal. Racial abuse was not metered to me as a member of staff but was in the acts that had me do double takes. Questionable acts were observed discussing cases involving marginalised communities that either worked for the charity or were supported by staff.
The feeling was of not being seen, listened to, wanted, being valued and insights shared – not appreciated. As I progressed from new employee, to my first, second, third and final year with the organisation, I started to notice the holes. I shared my understandings and points for growth change and development with managers and was either ignored or the ideas petered out to nothing. The organisation whilst heavily committed to engaging in change with those worked with, was less invested in making changes amongst itself for increased employee satisfaction. Handing to a manager Brené Brown’s 10 point manifesto for improved employee satisfaction was an example of mine, to shift an experience towards health. See Below from Brené Brown’s ‘Daring Greatly’. A sense grew in me that for as long as I worked within the charity even if I made it through the glass ceiling, I would be furthermore cutting myself crawling around on the broken glass to potentially make improvements.
Me being seen as the other, were based on a few factors: my training, age, race and the way I saw and interacted with the world was different to most of the colleagues I worked with. I saw my difference as a strength. Others may have seen my position, as a former prison counsellor, problematic. I did not fit. They psychologists, me an integrative counsellor. My support of probation services in London was quietly daring. Sharing insights with probation officers of the psychological lives of their service users. The feeling of familiarity to the experience service users had whilst working with psychologically trained staff did not escape me. The awkwardness, the implied superiority, the speaking over and talking down to, often present. The awareness could not be brushed off, packed or folded away. An interpretation I have of the experience is that within the charity I was looked on as criminal, outside I was hero? The binary can cause ruptures in thinking. I could code switch and was okay chopping it up with service users and probation staff alike. ‘Power amongst and power to’ helped build rapport to perform my practitioners role well.
I often sat across from people who looked like me in probation services. A feeling as if a fellow returnee from behind the wall, often present. My crime – working whilst Black amongst a charity that chose to look the other way. Focusing on delivery, winning new sustainable and long reaching contracts, rather than it’s culture and treatment of staff. The charity was long in service and yet poor in dynamic development. Tied possibly to governmental funding cycles and predicting positive outcomes to grant applications. Other Black staff working for the charity either left their work contracts early (sometimes within weeks) or found ways to make their set of circumstances work for them. I spent over 3 years thinking I could change culture, by kindness and cakes. Small acts could, I believed fell the juggernaut of racial oppression and the sense of othering I frequently found myself battling amongst, questioning lofty ideals.
Whilst amongst a staff team, I felt some responsibility to influencing the culture. I was not alone in wanting to positively affect things but when seen as an outsider, one often cannot change what occurs in the building shouting from the pavement across the street. I read Daring Greatly in September 2015 and thought there were a number of insights shared in the book that really brought in to sharp awareness what the charity could do. I enjoyed the chapter ‘Mind the Gap’ that looked at organisational culture determining specific changes that improve experiences for all. Brené Brown lists questions that could potentially push an organisation to be aware of the unease had in areas relating to; errors, vulnerability, (**pain) shame and blame. Brené concludes observing what an actively responsible culturally aware organisation, does to support a staff team and their work. Invite communication! It is a shame that the charity I worked at, was
criminally motivated to bring change only on their own terms.
I once mentioned the concern the charity may have had like this to 2 other Black members of staff.
1 is a manageable concern,
2 a problem,
3 a gang,
4 looks like an unmanageable riot
5 or more – a hostile takeover and at worse a mutiny.
My comments were made amongst a huddled meeting during a comfort break, outside on a cold, grey mid morn. The informed colleagues observed a perceived sense of paranoia from others when we rejoined the main group. I wanted to mark the occasion as important for the rarity of being seen together and seeing ourselves in a fleeting moment of solidarity – happy. When asked what were you lot talking about? Attempting to snatch the moment away. We knowingly smiled and said “Nothing that should bother you, much.” The suspicion confirming the hypothesis. We were trouble for a number of unobvious reasons. This moment sowed an important seed for me.
Being an outsider, I am often first to notice the roof smoking and catching fire. The possible routes to safety and what improvements can be made to support all who work in the building mitigate against future disaster! I am also on hand for the rescue teams when they arrive, accounting for all staff leaving the building and who may remain inside still and where they might be. We may have heard the saying ‘Prevention is better than cure’. An example could be of internally questioning what has some team members not be vocal or even in the room when choices, plans and change decisions are being made? The uneasy hard to reach one is often that which provides the most insightful answers and ways forward.
Within a circle, each point lies equi-distant from the centre. Being amongst can feel both precious and magical. When I think of community settings, I bring to mind gatherings that enable a circle to form. Within a circle, hierarchy and importance are difficult to assume. We are all at a point equal to the other. Recognising the importance of the whole together represents one truth. The sum total of the various parts and individuals is another. One is no more relevant or important than the other. To be discounted harms the whole, which is the point I attempted to arrive at in the White Supremacy series. Whilst silenced and left to remain outside of, the remaining whole cannot be as powerful or as life altering in relation to human development of all our experiences on the planet.
I have wanted to use this particular episode of Resistance since I listened to it earlier this year. The fit for me is, listening to Jermaine Guinyard walking a difficult path in Nebraska with his family. We listen to a story of being willfully excluded by a community and the pain that follows. We also hear how Coach G over time turns an impossible tide.
Resistance Podcast Coach G
**I added to the list because pain rhymes and offers a sense of direction.