After presenting on Communal Intelligence (CI) at the 2018 Dublin IAPOP conference: Embracing the Edge: New Frontiers in Process Work (Communal Intelligence Presentation, 2018) many questions keep filling my head:
How can we reconcile the urgent need to abolish systemic racism and the trauma and suffering it creates while also advocating for a relational and facilitative approach that wants to hear and value all voices?
And, how can we acknowledge the experience and practice of white defensiveness and fragility on one side as well as the reaction of shaming and righteousness?
Definition of racism:
I personally like the one from Ijeoma Oluo: “Prejudice against someone based on race, when those are simultaneously reinforced by systems of power”. This definition implies that you don’t have to be “racist” to be a part of a racist system. Individual behavior is relevant in the sense of how it reinforces and supports the unjust distribution and use of power.
Individual versus systemic:
Individual or interpersonal prejudice, racism, sexis
It also means that we cannot fix racially based systemic injustices and inequities on an emotional basis alone and that when we ignore the institutional support of racial bias we perpetuate racism. Every voice and experience is important. The question we all need to ask ourselves is: how much impact will what we experience have on our life in the future? On our prospect to be treated fairly and humanly, to receive services, to obtain economic opportunities etc.? There lies the difference. Some of us are exposed to greater risks and injustices than others.
When we talk about racism and raise awareness about the consequences of individual behaviors we need to comment on the systemic impact they have and how they reinforce and participate in unfair collective structures. We need to keep in mind that the issue is not us but the system of racism that shows up in our statements and behaviors.
It is crucial to remember and frame that when we focus on the individual level, although important, we may incur the danger of avoiding the systemic issues and so reinforce the existing power structures.
One facilitative approach is to bring awareness to the individual psychological rank (see slide on rank structures) of a marginalized voice. While this is important in the momentary context and can help resolve conflicts, if we omit to frame that the systemic lack of power persists and is unchanged by the individual resolution, we perpetuate structural racism.
Common ground, diversity and social injustice:
As humans we share 99.5% of our genome or genetic makeup. We differ in only 0.5% of our genes.
On the other hand, while we all share the same basic notes, we differ in how we play the notes and what tunes we compose with the notes we play, which is called genetic expression or Epigenetics. These tunes are strongly influenced by our personal and family histories and the social environment we live in.
What does this all mean?
It means that the concept of race is biologically meaningless. It also suggests that how we relate to each other and the social arrangements we develop together have a strong impact on how well we can play our genetic instrument.
We are essentially all the same and how we treat each other individually and systemically has a huge impact.
The resulting diversity, besides bringing beauty and variety, leads to jealousy, competition and wars. It is also being used by certain social groups (i.e. white men) to marginalize others and preserve their privileges and powers.
In view of social injustice and trauma, talking about common ground can be inflammatory. But on the other hand, rejecting our shared essence may contribute to perpetuating the existing disparities. Once we displace people from their centrality and privileges we often adopt the same abuse of power. Holding the tension of both truths is difficult and not always possible.
We have to celebrate diversity, fight the injustice and some of us may be able to remember once in a while that we share 99.5% of our basic makeup.