Reflections on “Normal,” Part 2

Classic corporate black leather office chair with a chrome base and wheels, photo by Vadym Nechyporenko

As Veronica and I left the conference room and made our way back down to the parking lot, my mind flitted over the gendered, raced, and classed nature of the interview in the same intangible way that I register “tree” when I see a Cottonwood in the park.

More vivid were my reflections on the two white men in the meeting and the significance behind one being chosen as the spokesperson, and both occupying considerably more energetic and verbal space than their colleagues.  The nature of their privileges made this reality almost painfully by design- or, rather, by construction.

Photo of Veronica LaCrue

My brilliant friend and colleague Veronica LaCrue, The Business Doctor. Veronica is dedicated to helping people reclaim their ability to think flexibly and humanely in their workplaces, personal and family relationships, communities, and in the world at large.

Veronica broke up my musings with thoughts of her own.  She speculated about which people came from which class backgrounds, who she believed to be managers with a sense of agency vs. interviewers with little institutional authority, and noted that some interviewers seemed to be force fitting themselves into ill suited, pre-prescribed roles.  Particularly into the role of “authority” or the “image of success.”

While there are many ways to be successful and occupy positions of authority, there are also very defined dominant cultural images of what it means to project these things.  So often this means being “in control” of a situation at all times (including leading from behind), holding the position of removed (and often intimidating) observer, occupying a strict and limited emotional range, dressing “professionally” to demonstrate access to financial resources and convey orderliness, and so on.  When occupying this space, what one conveys externally takes distinct priority over how one regards themselves internally or what one thinks of the role itself.

Veronica, her expression worried and unhappy, expressed that in the end, such roles do not serve anyone well.  That they leave everyone overlooking their true potential.  And, as we drove back to her home, she questioned the entirety of the process, and the deep irony of using “traditional” or “normal” practices to pursue inclusiveness work. Read More

Reflections on “Normal,” Part 1

Corporate conference room featuring a large black conference table surrounded by beige cloth chairs, photo by Aaron Kohr

A while back, Veronica LaCrue (also known as the Business Doctor) and I submitted a proposal in response to a Request for Proposals (RFP) from a local organization.  The RFP requested a facilitator for a large-scale, ongoing inclusiveness project.  Veronica is chosen family, and brilliant about people and how they work.  From a business perspective she focuses on leadership development and organizational culture, whereas I have a strong background in anti-oppression and social justice philosophy and practice.  We are a phenomenal team, and submitted the application jointly.

Photo of Veronica LaCrue

My brilliant friend and colleague Veronica LaCrue, The Business Doctor. Veronica is dedicated to helping people reclaim their ability to think flexibly and humanely in their workplaces, personal and family relationships, communities, and in the world at large.

We were accepted into the second phase of the hiring process, and recently went in for our in-person interview.  We were invited into a medium sized conference room with a large, heavy wooden conference table that shone just enough to pick up fingerprints, and asked to sit at the head of it.  The rest of the group, about ten people, sat all around the remaining perimeter, all in professional attire, all staring at us.

As is customary in “professional” environments, most people looked reserved and observant.  They were stoic and polite, and expressed no warmth, particularly initially, with a few exceptions.

One person was tasked with running the meeting, while the other people at the table each had one interview question that they were in charge of asking.  We were instructed to give a 15-minute presentation, which we had not realized would be the case, and then given 2-3 minutes to answer their subsequent 10 or so interview questions. Read More

Letter to a Young Man About Sexism

Close-up of a vibrant red envelope, its ornate flap slightly raised, photo by Victor Burnside
Dara Burwell, Coffee Shop

Dara Burwell

I wrote the below letter to a teenager who is an important part of my life.  As an anti-oppression trainer I regularly talk about issues of oppression, power, and privilege.  Regardless, I often find that discussing the same issues with the young people in my life is difficult for me.  I recognize that a good portion of this is my own adultism, which gets in my way and muddles my approach.  I have been working to address this in myself, and engage the young people in my life in more meaningful conversations. So far, I’ve found it to primarily be a process of trial and error.

The young person I wrote this letter to loves mainstream rap music, and when we are together, there is a constant stream of it coming from his iPod.  He knows that I don’t like most of what he listens to, and sometimes teases me by playing songs he knows I will hate.  Not long ago we spent several hours working on his homework together.  I kept asking him to turn his music off, which he played on and off in a mostly playful attempt to get under my skin.  I, however, reached my limit toward the end of our homework session, and shut him down.  For me, the deeper issue is not the music.  It is the intense sexism, internalized racism, homophobia, and glorification of violence and dehumanization embodied in it, and what that reflects about our values as a society.  But, I didn’t make that clear.

He and I have had a few conversations about sexism, but I know that he does not understand why all of this matters to me, or matters at all, other than the fact I am an adult, and that adults don’t like much.  I wanted to use the opportunity to deepen the conversation about sexism.

I will continue to work on expanding the conversation beyond a gender binary, keep an eye on my internalized sexism, and incorporate more complexity.  In the meantime, here is one example of engaging a young man on sexism. Read More