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Talking about Race & Racism

21 Jul

Last week I was part of many conversations about race and racism – in organizations, with the people in my life, in the community.

Race and racism are tricky to talk about. People feel cautious – even afraid – to say the wrong thing, or to be perceived as ignorant (or worse, as racist). The trouble is that this often means that we are not having these important conversations. Because we don’t know how. Remember the “practice makes perfect” your parents likely said to you when you were a kid? Perfection is a lofty goal, but it sure is true that the more you practice, the easier something can become.

The spectre of political correctness is still with us. And while it’s important to think about what we are saying and the impact it might have, it’s also important that we connect with people, ask questions and learn about each other. How else will we learn what their lives are like, what matters to them, what they need, and how we experience things differently – and therefore what needs to change?  Because we can be in the same situation, organization, conversation, community, etc and be having a completely different experience because of race (or any other identity).

Take the recent shootings of two Black men in the USA by police officers for example. Firstly, these deaths were due to (at the very least) systemic racism. They were tragic, heartbreaking, and unnecessary. But if you are a person of colour, there was likely also grief and anger. I heard a lot of “no words” from Black people as we grappled with the reality that we are still not seen as equal, still not living the lives we should be on this continent, still not safe. Same incident, different experience.

When we open ourselves to see more about another person’s reality, it’s because we are beginning to recognize that we move through the world and experience the world differently. That things may be obvious for some and that others may be oblivious to those same details. This is an important first step. But what comes next?

We have to listen. Really listen to what is being shared.

And then we have to use that information and our privilege and commit to creating change by being allies (more on that later). We have talked about it long enough – we need action. Because action, not words, shows us you get it – and change doesn’t happen without it.

See more. 

Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity & Inclusion
www.annemarieshrouder.com

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Black Lives Matter = Opportunity for Growth

7 Jul

Black Lives Matter Toronto halted to Pride Parade on Sunday to make some demands of Pride Toronto.

It’s not the first and won’t be the last of their bold activism. And, as Naila Keleta-Mae writes in her Globe and Mail article, the point is that they make people uncomfortable.

Here’s my perspective about activism and marginalized groups.

In a society where one is marginalized, doing things the way that stays within the comfort zone of those in power often means that we wait, that there is lip service, that there is smoke and mirrors as people in power appear to be hearing. But no one is listening, and change doesn’t come. Simply put, when we play by the rules, we are often left waiting. And with no progress.

So I appreciate Black Lives Matter Toronto’s unapologetic tactics that disregard comfort and the status quo, and that make their presence known. Being seen is a necessary part of the opportunity to create change.

The issues they are raising are not new. And that should be a clue to underscore the above – that without discomfort, without someone being willing to stand up, be loud, be brave, think outside of the box, and not back down – the needle doesn’t move much. There are many great leaders throughout history who have used this approach successfully.

Could Black Lives Matter Toronto have used their honoured group status at Pride differently? Of course.
Would it have been effective? Maybe.
Would it have caused the amount of conversation, debate, and discussion? I doubt it.

Here’s why:
Because again, anything that happens within the comfort of how the system operates can then be swallowed up, massaged and fed back from the system in ways that are comfortable and don’t make waves. This often can create the illusion of change, but not real change.

If we remain in the margins as we fight, the mainstream doesn’t have to see us, and our pain is not seen. If we make the mainstream take notice, we run the risk of invoking anger. Sure, anger can cloud what people see and hear. But it also causes conversation. Visibility is an important part of change. So are real conversation and debate. And for getting at the real issues that a society doesn’t want to recognize, face or talk about. And we have to.

What’s happening in the Toronto LGBTQ and the broader community because of this latest move by Black Lives Matter Toronto, is that the underbelly of racism is coming out.

Racism is alive and well in Canada. Those of us who are people of colour know this to be true. We see it, feel it, hear it. I often experience incredulity from workshop participants (who are white), that racism still exists in this country. It does. Here it is.  And even now, it may be easily dismissed, overlooked and discounted as just anger. But it’s not.

And so now more than ever before, we have the opportunity – and must – delve into conversations that are otherwise often brushed aside, overlooked, silenced. Because Black Lives Matter are shaking things up and exposing the underbelly. Systemic racism is deeply rooted in our society. So deep it can be hard to see unless you are impacted by it – and sometimes elusive even then. Black Lives Matter Toronto is giving our city (and beyond) the opportunity to grow, because the only way we grow is when we are out of our comfort zone.

All lives DO matter.
And because this is true, we need movements like Black Lives Matter to remind of this – because not all lives are treated and seen as though they do.

See more. 

Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity & Inclusion
www.annemarieshrouder.com

Sign up for my weekly Inclusion Insights!
Weekly emails to keep diversity and inclusion on your radar.

Food for Thought about Orlando

28 Jun

It’s been just over 2 weeks since the mass shooting at PULSE nightclub in Orlando, Florida where 49 people were killed. As a member of the LGBTQ communities, and as a Diversity and Inclusion speaker, facilitator, and consultant (specializing in LGBT Inclusion) it has given me pause on many fronts. Here are a few thoughts.

The media and what we hear / don’t hear.

It was interesting to me that when I first started listening to the news on Sunday afternoon, PULSE was a nightclub frequented by a lot of LGBT patrons.
By Monday morning it was a gay nightclub.
But it wasn’t until I communicated with a friend over email on Monday afternoon, that I became aware most of the victims were Latino. Had I read the paper that morning, that would have been obvious.

I wasn’t tapped into all news sources, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a reminder that we hear what someone wants us to hear – which means it’s biased, reported through a particular lens, and we are potentially missing information.

Also, let’s think about which tragic events are labeled terrorism, and which perpetrators of crimes are labeled terrorists, and which are not. These words seem to be quickly and easily used when someone is not white, and if they are Muslim (or assumed to be). The media often seems to use these labels first and ask questions later in these situations – a courtesy they don’t seem to extend to white suspects or perpetrators. Hmmm…. In the world of unconscious bias, it seems that terrorism/terrorist, brown and Muslim are inextricably intertwined. Pay attention to that in the news. Notice.

 

Homophobia is alive and well.

There is more to this than you think.
The shooter has been described as homophobic, and his disgust at seeing two men kissing some time before was speculated to have fuelled the attack.
So was homophobia a motive? Since the nightclub was a gay nightclub, we can assume it was.

Here are a few things about homophobia:

  1. It’s systemic – and then we call it heterosexism.

We live in a world that assumes everyone is heterosexual or straight.
Many laws underscore this – marriage being one of the last to change in North America. The language used in policy and lawmaking can open up rights or cut people off from them.
Many countries around the world still have being LGBT as a crime – and in 10 countries it’s punishable by death. Still.

  1. Disregarding the homophobic nature of this attack is also an example of homophobia.Some people didn’t/don’t want to recognize this as a hate-motivated crime. That disregard is a further example of homophobia because it again seeks to make LGBTQ people invisible. It’s a perfect head-in-the-sand example: if I don’t see it or talk about it, it doesn’t exist.

Imagine what’s it’s like to be so hated that someone doesn’t even want to think that you exist. Imagine what that will do to your sense of self, your self-esteem, your ability to love yourself.

Homophobia can be internalized

Here comes the loop – if the message someone is getting from society and the people around them (including those they love and who love them) is that they are bad, evil, wrong, disgusting or that they don’t even exist, how can they possibly love themselves and be all of who they are? It’s impossible.

So then one has to make a choice: to be who you are and become all of those terrible things in the eyes of the people who care about you (and others – often many others depending on where you live) or to deny who you are. Both are painful.

It is no surprise then, to find out that the shooter was at the very least questioning his sexual orientation or was bisexual, that he had relationships and encounters with men. If you hate who you are (strong word and I’m using it on purpose), then it isn’t a far walk to hate others who are like you. And if you can’t be who you are, it can be difficult to watch others who can and are. And that pain, I imagine, might result in inflicting severe pain on others who make this pain more real for you by living and loving life in a way you cannot.

 

The more we create LGBT inclusive spaces, the more (and the earlier) we talk about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools and create classrooms and schools that are LGBT inclusive, the more opportunities we will have, as societies, to grow, accept, and love everyone. The more opportunities LGBT people will have to feel safe, loved, accepted for who we are. This will help to reduce loneliness, fear, anger, frustration, desperation because we won’t have to choose being invisible over being who we are.

If you’re an ally – we need you to speak up, and speak out. It’s not enough to quietly be supportive of us, we need you to share your commitment out there in the world as you walk through your day. Respond to homophobic comments and ideas. Challenge people to think differently, think again, see more. Allies are crucial to creating safer spaces for LGBT people – you are heard and seen differently; in a way LGBT people may not be, because it’s not personal; it’s not about you.

Sending prayers for Orlando, and everywhere as we work to increase awareness, acceptance and love.

See More

Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity & Inclusion
www.annemarieshrouder.com

Sign up for my weekly Inclusion Insights!
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Prejudice is Taught Early

14 Jan

It’s not new concepts that prejudice (pre-judging) is learned (sometimes taught) and that unconscious bias is insidious. Here is a stellar example of both (and the impact on my 3 year old) that made me particularly furious.

Recently I was watching an episode of My Little Pony with my daughter. It’s about friendship and there is usually a decent message. But one episode caught my attention.

The ponies were trying to make friends with the yaks (yes, actual yaks, the animal). The yaks were from Yakistan. Red flag #1. Where in the world do countries end with “stan” and who lives there?
But wait, there’s more: The yaks were very hard to please and they were dangerous – when they got mad they went on a rampage and ruined everything in their immediate surroundings. BIG red flag #2. So yaks, from Yakistan are not reasonable, are dangerous and are not particularly nice.

See the problem?  (Here’s a hint: Islamophobia and Orientalism)
By the way I’m not suggesting this was intentional. Unconscious bias affects us all and is unconscious. It’s also everywhere.

Shortly thereafter my daughter was playing with some animal stickers. One of them was a yak. She promptly told me yaks were yucky.

And there you have it. It’s not unreasonable to assume that countries ending in “stan” may also be on her radar as yucky somewhere in the corners of her 3 year old mind only to surface later when she learns about geography.

So we had a talk about how you can’t judge people (or yaks) until you meet them. But the thought was already there, and I had to mitigate it. And it came from a cartoon that my three year old watches. Thankfully, she doesn’t watch alone!

We swim in the soup of unconscious bias every day.
When we acknowledge it, and examine what we are seeing, reading, hearing, we can at least practice catching it and mitigating the effects (i.e. discrimination, exclusion, etc) instead of passively taking it in and having it impact our thoughts and actions unconsciously.

See more.

Copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Author and Facilitator on issues of Diversity & Inclusion
www.annemarieshrouder.com

Radio Show Host – Creating Families
www.creatingfamiliesradio.com

 

 

 

 

Silent ways marginalization occurs

10 Dec

If you’re a parent, you are familiar with the act of registering your child’s birth.  Probably not something you associate with discrimination or inequity.

Your child is born. You register yourself or yourselves as parents. Voila!

For some people, birth registration is a painful reminder of unequal rights, and that not all families are recognized in the same way in Ontario (and other provinces). As an LGBTQ parent, birth registration is not straightforward and parental recognition can be costly.

Costly, you ask? Isn’t it free?
Not for everyone.

My daughter has two moms that she lives with, and a dad. Her biological parents are on her birth certificate (that’s the law, unless you use an anonymous donor from a sperm bank). And that leaves her second mom out in the  cold unless we have about $5000.00 to drop for second parent adoption or a declaration of parentage that lists all three of us.

If I were straight, I could likely put any guy’s name on the birth registration without raising any alarms – because no one would question it. But of course two women can’t “make” a baby, so that won’t fly.

In Ontario, you can have two moms on a birth registration if the donor is anonymous. That was a victory. But if you have a family like mine, or you are two men in a relationship having a baby through a surrogate, you have to do the extra steps and pay the money. (This may be the same for a straight couple using a surrogate as well.)

The bottom line? It’s not equitable, and it means some families are recognized as families and others are not. Until they pay for it.
Cost aside, imagine that you would have to wait to be recognized as your child’s parent?

This afternoon in Ontario, MPP Cheri DiNovo’s Bill about parental recognition (Cy & Ruby’s Act) is being read for the second time. Which means that by suppertime, our family could be one step closer to being legally recognized!

The sneaky thing about inequity is that we don’t necessarily know about it unless it impacts us.  What things do you take for granted that others only dream of or have to fight for?

See more!

Copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Author and Facilitator on issues of Diversity & Inclusion
www.annemarieshrouder.com

Radio Show Host – Creating Families
www.creatingfamiliesradio.com

An Inclusive Canada?

15 Oct

Not being included, not having a feeling of belonging, or of being welcome can be uncomfortable, lonely, angry, sad (to name a few) – all of which add up to a feeling of separateness.

Depending on who we are, this feeling of not being included (of exclusion) can be familiar or unfamiliar.
If it’s unfamiliar, we can walk through our days with a sense of belonging that we can take for granted.
But if exclusion is a familiar feeling, there can be daily reminders that we don’t belong and are not welcome – looks, comments, actions, not feeling safe, physical altercations, being ignored or left out…etc.

Bullying is used to exclude: to make someone feel alone, unwelcome and ‘less than’. It happens in schools, on the playground, in workplaces, on the transit, on the street – and through the media on a large scale.
Spreading fear of the ‘Other’ is a more insidious form of bullying, which creates a negative stereotype of a group.  “Othering” is a tactic often used to ensure people (populations) follow suit, and participate in the alienation of a person or a group of people. These fear tactics producing an “Us vs Them” mentality have happened throughout history with devastating results (Nazi Germany & Rawanda are two examples) and it is currently happening quite visibly to the Muslim population Canada – whether already living here or as a consideration for entry. They are not the only group experiencing this in Canada, but it’s a current and particularly public example.

If you haven’t yet read the article in the Globe and Mail by Sheema Khan published on October 7 (Fifty years in Canada and now I feel like a second/class citizen) please do.

And then please reflect on the type of country you want to live in, and how your actions contribute: a country that values inclusion and human rights for everyone, or one where those values only apply to some people?

See more.

Copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Author and Facilitator on issues of Diversity & Inclusion
www.annemarieshrouder.com

Radio Show Host – Creating Families
www.creatingfamiliesradio.com

“A girl is a girl”

14 Oct

The Girl Guides of Canada – one of the oldest organizations serving girls in this country – are now officially welcoming transgender girls and women to the fold. Hooray!

You can read more about it in the Huffington Post article, but a few things bear special mention here.

The organization has been working on this for a while – responding to the increased awareness about gender identity as well as requests from parents and girls. They have created a set of guidelines “designed to respect and accommodate all children identifying as female”.

The central guiding message is that “a girl is a girl”.
Wow. A bold and necessary step that shows their commitment to inclusion and to all girls across the country.

It’s so good to see a national organization involved in the lives of many girls across the country making an effort to understand and adapt in order to serve their demographic well. And the welcome extends to girls of all ages as well as women who want to be involved as leaders.

What this move shows is an understanding that gender is not the same as sex, and that regardless of anatomy, a transgender girl or woman is a girl or a woman. Period.

Way to go Girl Guides!

See more.

Copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Author and Facilitator on issues of Diversity & Inclusion
www.annemarieshrouder.com

Radio Show Host – Creating Families
www.creatingfamiliesradio.com

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