guest author Kymberly Dakin-Neal
I want a DEI Do-over
Last month I was invited to a zoom performance by District Community Playback in Washington DC. I was excited to see how this company utilized a virtual platform for the audience. Playback is an art form that literally “plays back” true stories from the audience/ viewers, using improvisational forms, movement, and music. The conductor had asked us - the viewers - for instances of difference in the sociometric opening. A few people had volunteered, and then there was a lull after the conductor asked for more. So I decided to unmute and speak up - at the same time that another viewer, a black man, spoke up. This gentleman graciously gave me the floor. I thanked him and offered my instance of difference. I didn’t think anything of it until after the conductor asked for people to share feelings about how the previous segment had gone. The first woman to volunteer was a woman of color who said she felt frustrated that she did not get to hear from the black man who had given me the floor. She went on to say that this dynamic - a person of color stepping aside for a white person - was endemic in our culture, and she felt frustrated in seeing this play out yet again and being robbed of the story the man had to tell.
I felt myself stop breathing for a few seconds, like I’d been slapped in the face. After I recovered a bit, realization began to form. I had taken the man’s graciousness at face value, when in fact, if I had understood the exchange from a wider perspective, I might have seen the implications more quickly. But the truth is, as a white person in America, my privileges include not having to widen my perspective, whereas, people of color can’t afford to ever narrow their own.
Learning is painful. Regardless of how anti-racist I may believe I am, if I am not aware, and can’t own, that the scales have always been tipped in my direction, even as a woman, then I’m only adding to a pervasive and centuries old scourge.
The April Maine ATD panel event, titled “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – Strategies that Work” is one I am looking forward to. I hope you will attend as well. The panelists: Dr. Idella Glenn of USM, Dr. Ryan Polly of Maine Health, David Pease of Bangor Savings Bank, and Roy King of the Maine Dept. of Corrections come from a variety of experience, background, and points of view. I have much to learn about this topic no matter how convinced I may be of my own good intentions. Maybe you do too. It’s sure to be an interesting morning for everyone.