What’s Love Got to Do With It? | By Sonya Finley
Featured image from: (https://www.walsallcollege.ac.uk)
A couple of weeks ago, my “blogger in crime”ended her post with the question, “What if we considered how we loved our children as a measurement of success?” Well, I ask you, “What if we considered how we loved people (all people) as a measurement of success?”
These days, there is a lot of discussions centered on diversity, inclusion and unconscious bias. The responses range from defensive anger, to candid conversations, to denying its importance. Even you, as you read this may have a polarizing reaction based on what you have read, heard, or experienced. But have we really taken the time to see what those words truly mean? And what does it have to do with loving others?
As a person of color, my default meaning of diversity and inclusion is the never-ending fight to belong, to be included, to be seen, heard, and accepted for being me. Understanding bias is accepting the fact that when I go shopping I will be followed by a sales clerk who tries to hide it by surreptitiously fixing a rack of clothes that don’t need fixing at all because she believes I will steal (yeah, that happens a lot). This vision is based on my own experiences, yet they are certainly not the only way these concepts can be experienced. Diversity, inclusion, and unconscious bias encompass so much more than just race relations.
I recently had the opportunity to hear Dr. Aaron Bruce, Chief Diversity Officer at SDSU, present on this topic. He was African-American and has experienced marginalization because of his race, but his presentation was not race-centered. It was presented in a way that greatly expanded the attendees’ understanding of what those big ol’ words mean on a much larger scale. He pointed out how all humans have biases against a variety of characteristics—gender, race, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, background, education, physical abilities, politics—the list is endless.
Here are a few highlights from what I found to be a powerful and enlightened presentation:
- “Equality is about ensuring everybody has an equal opportunity, and is not treated differently or discriminated against because of their characteristics. Diversity is about taking account of the differences between people and groups of people, and placing a positive value on those differences.”Equality is not enough. The goal is diversity or in this case equity. Dr. Bruce explained this concept using the illustration of three different people, one tall, one short, and one in a wheel chair,all trying to see over a fence to watch a game. Equality says give them all the same crate to stand on—which is fair but still does not enable everyone to
see over the fence. Equity considers their differences and gives them what they need to achieve the same goal. One person (the tall one) needs nothing, the other (the short one) needs double crates and the third one (in the wheel chair) needs something totally different. This reminds me of what parents do when they have more than one child. Each child is different and so, understanding this, they may employ different methods to raise a healthy, happy, successful adult. Equity is giving everyone what theyneed to be successful and understanding that it may not look the same for all.
- “If you are not intentionally including, you are unintentionally excluding.”This was kind of my “aha” moment. He proved his point by engaging us in an exercise where we listed our top ten “ride or die” friends (your “go to” homies that know you best). Then asked us to note which ones matched us in characteristics such as, gender, race, age, social class, and sexual orientation. Not surprisingly, for most, our friends looked very much like us. Dr. Bruce let us know this was not a negative, it just highlighted the fact that people are naturally drawn to other people who are like them. Because of this, we may find ourselves within an exclusive community—unintentional, but exclusive all the same. So, since it is not our natural inclination to engage with those who are different, in order to achieve diversity and inclusion, we have to intentionally step out of our comfort zone and seek out those that are different.
- Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own consciousawareness. Racial prejudice is pretty straight forward and needs no definition. Implicit or unconscious biases, not so much. Biases are those generalities we apply to whole groups of people even though we have only experienced it with a few. They are those unconscious feelings we have that influence our judgement of certain people and how we may treat or react to them. These biases can be determined by a number of things; lifestyle, media, environment, experiences, or how we were raised. For example, the media constantly bombards us with the stereotype that fat/overweight people are lazy, ugly, and unhealthy. And while you may not purposely be mean to people like that, you may find yourself judging their eating habits, changing yours, and vowing to lose weight so you never find yourself in their place. Your conscious mind says you would never treat a fluffyperson differently, but your reaction to them is different than your reaction to a slender person would be.
So what does love got to do with this? Dr. Bruce ended his presentation with the concept of empathy (which is a key component of love). “When it comes to the inability to practice empathy/love, lack of exposure to or an understanding of other people or cultures is the primary culprit.” We are called to love one another in the way Jesus loved us—with unmerited grace, mercy, and without boundaries or conditions. To do this, we must intentionally step outside of our own likenesses and like-minded communities. We must be authenticand seek to understand our own identities—what are our triggers and fears. We must practice active listening, turning off our inner voices and focusing on the other person. We must get curious, assume a learning mindset and find out what has shaped the other person’s life. We must respect and connectby being more open and respectful of one another. Doing all this leads to empathy and understanding of the world around us. Only then will we be able to say we truly love people as we have been called to do.
Yeah, that’s what lovegot’sto do with it.
Sonya A. Finley has been living the single life for 24 years. In that time she has raised four awesome young men (James – 26, Kevin – 23, Joshua and Johnathan – 18), graduated from college with a BFA, and began a huge step in her professional career. She is on the verge of a new season in her single life that now focuses on a journey not centered around child-rearing. She has made many mis-steps, learned quite a few bits of wisdom along the way and is happy to share with women who find themselves in the same place.