Earlier this month, I attended the Art of Hosting’s Turtle Island (North America) Practitioner’s Gathering in Columbus, Ohio. It was the first of its kind in North America.
The topic was a big one: “What is needed to consciously host and work through tensions of race, power, and privilege while honoring unity in diversity?” Everyone there was encouraged to question their assumptions, host their discomfort (discomfort does not equal unsafe), and co-exist with their shakiness. Such topics — especially race — are very slippery when trying to keep them on the table.
It was an amazing gathering with participants coming from as far away as New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Austria, Germany, Japan … and domestically from throughout the United States … and regionally from as close as Columbus itself.
What did I, a Caucasian woman who grew up with some privilege have to offer this discussion? I had access to education. My only fear if a police car pulls me over is for my driving record. I have enjoyed so many other privileges that were just “givens” most of my life. What right do I have to be engaged in this conversation?
It turns out, plenty. Because listening to us wrestle with this heavy, deep topic, and watching these tough, hard-to-hear issues consistently, almost imperceptibly, slip underneath the conversations made it crystal clear that concerted, conscious effort is required here. To listen and to teach others how to listen. To open the eyes of others to their privilege, to acknowledge it — maybe for the first time in their lives. To identify and make sure the right voices and the right people are in the conversations that impact them, and in the conversations about designing programs, policies, laws, and actions that impact them.
Maybe the most fascinating concept I’ve been chewing on since early June arose from this gathering: racism is at the heart of these issues. In a world where one element seeks to subjugate another — it’s racism at the core. Whether it’s the classic concept of racism we naively thought was abating, a Hitler-esque glorification of one pure race, or a cadre of white males deciding policies for women’s health and women’s bodies. Whether it’s America’s treatment of the Native Americans, participation in the horrific slave trade used to build this country, or the most current approach to immigrants. Whether it’s how we react to religious faith that isn’t mainstream or the denial of rights to marginalized populations, including the LGBTQ … it’s racism at its heart.
I continue to wrap my head around this concept, chew it, and dissect it. What I do know is this:
I can do my part to keep the discussion of race, power, privilege, equity, and diversity front and center, and to consciously empower conversations that matter and that involve all necessary voices. Power is amazingly nuanced — there’s power over (top down), power with (more sharing of the process), power for (advocacy but a very slippery slope), and power among (co-ceative). I can work to ensure the right people are engaged in conversations that are about them and about the policies that impact them. I can contribute to this effort to bring about real change, real equity, real community, and real conversations.
Grateful to have been involved.