Reflection by Johanna Mercedes
I want to acknowledge and appreciate the work of the organizers in ensuring this safe space for participation and inclusion. I attended two sessions: Raising the bar: Strengthening our Capacity for Critical Allyship and Support Work to Racialized Student Leaders by WLU’s Center for Student Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Lauren Burrows and Humera Javed as well as, Agents for Change Both Inside and Outside the Academy by Dr. Ciann Wilson. Refer to end of document for links to these speakers.
These are my key takeaways from the event and personal reflections:
First I would like to point out the disturbing power dynamics my privilege as a light-skinned, educated, English speaking and raised by a white family provides me, I am the palatable, accepted, and/or token black woman in many circumstances. I dive deeper into this conversation in blog post Light Skin.
- Institutions, colonization realms these areas Dr. Wilson describes as “Spiritual Warfare zones.” These are the spaces where extreme forms of violence and patriarchy are hyper-inflated and thriving. They are designed to attack racialized students, employees to the point of most often inevitable breakdown.
2. Diversifying Burrows described as the “new currency”. Diversity especially when others (ie. institutions, workplace, advertisements) decide what it looks like based on profit models is exploitation.
- I would like to include a side interrelation here from a course I am taking Business and Entrepreneurship; Leadership where Professor Janet Boekhorst discusses the concept of surface level diversity. This is a concept that has really been pissing me off lately and the exploitation factor here is repulsive I speak to this in blog post: non-disclosure agreements.
3. Burrows and Javed encourage identification of problems directly using terms like racism, sexual violence and transphobia and addressing the shock factors when they arise. I know for myself I have been in so many situations in the past where I have tried to politely as possible explain a situation, that has proven to be ineffective and perpetuating violence.
- Another side note to this: language is extremely important in a lecture I went to recently titled (Re)politicizing Transformation of Sustainability by Jessica Blythe she quotes Pelling, 2014 “Transformation breathes! It has entered the life cycle of dangerous words.” This meaning society often jumps on the new bandwagon of strong, radical, political language that doesn’t always translate into political action and instead adds to the collection of distracting empty signifiers (ie. reconciliation, sustainability, single-use plastic). One example mentioned in Blythe’s presentation was the use of the word “resilient” when describing communities. It was explained that these communities who suffered repetitive hardships were fed up with being identified as resilient as this was perpetuating a state of livelihood towards them and maintaining power relations over this community in favor of the colonial state. For me, a personal example of this that I am fed up with is being described as/or, identified within a “minority group.” The minority group is a colonial term that suggests a majority group, it is intended to maintain a power relationship in favor of the colonial state. Using the term “minority group” is, in my opinion, is offensive and perpetuates colonial violence. I highly encourage transitioning to alternatives including “racialized groups” or “marginalized groups.”
4. Our institutions and workplaces have maintained and benefited from oppressive structures for so long, an audience participant addressed the point that commonly when one addresses a problem, they become recognized as the problem. Burrows and Javed explain that with this those in power often deflect responsibility onto those who raised the issue(s) and expect them to be the solution (as a reminder because they consider *them to be the problem), the expectation is that those who raise the issue, take on the emotional labor and leverage/burden the responsibility of change. This often becomes isolating, defeating and discouraging and the one(s) who had the courage to make a stand for change or took on important leadership roles for transformations, often end up dropping out, allowing the organizations to maintain status quo and disregard the concerns or implement surface level diversifications based on exploitation and profit models.
5. A new term I learned today that perfectly represents many of the fears and emotional exhaustion worries I have in spaces I present myself is “trauma-porn.” This is providing proof of racialized existence through testimony, experiences, stories in order to be validated, heard or recognized. In these circumstances, there are no changes in power dynamics or genuine care. This is as Dr. Wilson describes a situation of consumption; people consume and learn at the expense of others traumas. Burrows and Javed remind us that we (racialized people) do not need to strip ourselves bear or prove our existence to be validated or accepted. In many cases, this is asked of us to enter leadership positions, academic institutions, or workplaces.
- I really enjoyed that I did not need to explain or share any personal stories to be validated at this event, it was a big fear of mine in attending and it was so wonderful for that to not be an expectation and it has inspired me to be able to attend further events like this.
- This was very much my experience working in the reforestation industry when I brought up issues regarding bullying, harassment, and discrimination. I was obligated to describe the trauma and distress I suffered and it was deemed in the lense of the owners of the company uncomprehensible, invalid and not important. Additionally, I was told to be the solution to this problem and take on weight loads more emotional labor to push for something that was only a mere temporary distraction and set back to the organization. The entire experience continues to be extremely offensive and degrading and the result was profit selective surface-level diversity which I discuss more in the blog non-disclosure agreements.
6. Burrows confronts the myth that “institutions change slowly.” It was explained that people have the power to incentivize change and that New Zealand exemplified this with new gun regulation policies being enacted 6 days after a hate crime. Change should not only happen through violence, but advocacy and voice are needed for change.
7. During one of the breakout sessions discussion period, I decided to contribute to the dialogue with the person sitting next to me as was expected, although difficult for me, my intention today was to participate and use my voice. The question was to analyze the message behind a quote, I first listened to my peer’s interpretation and then shared mine. His response was ” well as a white cis identifying man, I cannot relate to any of that, and actually, am the cause for most of what you just said.” The conversation ended there, and I was annoyed. I didn’t understand why the self-recognition/identification was needed in response to what I said and I also felt like it completely dismissed an opportunity for dialogue as it shut down my perspective with the lens of I can’t understand. For those reading who perhaps identify being “cis white male” I suggest taking this into consideration in your next conversations. Some points from Burrows and Javed presentation that relate to this are to decentralize and step back, give up spotlight/power and instead credit experiences, labor, intellectual contributions and account for failures and adaptations. This male’s intentions were good and an attempt to respond critically but what it actually did was exemplify the lack of and misunderstanding of accountability and intersectionality.
8. Black bodies are often expected to speak and teach on demand, Dr. Wilson pointed out that this labor does not need to be put on you unless desired. Black bodies are not at the dispossession for free education. It is important to encourage people to educate themselves. Additionally in research black bodies currently have no protection from researchers working with black communities conducting biological material work etc it can all be done without consent and is a form of the continuation of chattel slavery trade. Dr. Wilson is currently working on African Carribean and Black research protocols to be followed.
9. Dr. Wilson mentioned as we augment in academic settings for example from high school to college or university onwards to graduate school the whitening of spaces increases. For every one of us who graduates matter. No matter how isolating the experiences can feel we are collectively uplifting one another and this was really inspiring to me.
Lauren Burrows Education and Inclusion Coordinator, Diversity and Equity Office, Wilfred Laurier University, Brantford.
Humera Javed Education & Inclusion Coordinator, Diversity & Equity Office, Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo.
Dr. Ciann Wilson Assistant Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, focuses on community-based interventions, health and HIV/AIDS in African diasporic and Indigenous communities in Canada.
Location: University of Waterloo, Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre