But…. where are you really from?
As part of this month’s focus on International Women’s day, and a broader view of the DEI landscape, we’re reviewing one of the most helpful books we’ve come across on the subject. Subtle Acts of Exclusion by Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran offers a practical toolkit to having conversations around those awkward things people say and do, that leave some of us feeling excluded.
And incredibly powerful is the fact that this is about “calling people in” to a conversation, not “calling out” or “cancel culture” that we’re accustomed to seeing in the media.
We are all human, we all need to do better at understanding each other, understanding the impact of the things we say and do, and inviting people into a conversation about that is going to be critical to our success and learning.
The authors begin by introducing us to the term “subtle acts of exclusion” replacing the term “microaggressions”. It’s a subtle but important change, because experience has certainly taught us that the term “aggression” can be incredibly triggering for some. But also because they feel the “micro” part of the word diminishes the impact these behaviours can cause to others.
The book offers a whole range of different things being communicated by subtle acts of exclusion. Things like you don’t belong, you are a curiosity, you are invisible, you are a threat etc. “Where are you really from?” At first glance, it might seem like the questioner is just being curious, however implicitly under the surface they are communicating “You are not normal” or “You are a curiosity” as “You don’t look like you’re from around here.”
The book is a genuine and gentle attempt to help and make change. It is an easy and accessible read and we would certainly recommend it. And what really sold us on the book? The authors have proven themselves to be incredibly self-aware and humble, even admitting to their own mistakes during an interview in late 2020…
Q: (Have) you accidentally excluded someone else? Could you give us an example?
Jana: The first time I brought one of my children to a diversity training gig, she was 12 years old. The client was a park. So, during one of the breaks I saw what appeared to be another child wearing a park shirt. I was ecstatic so I exclaimed “Oh look! It’s the tiniest little park employee!” A few minutes later I realized what I had done. Why would a child have on the facility uniform? I had just insulted an adult! I was primed by having my child at work all day and made a wrong assumption.
Q: How did you react?
Jana: I attempted to make it right and, upon closer inspection, the person still looked all of 12, so I asked, “Are you a grown-up?” I doubled down on the insult even as I attempted to explain that I had my child with me and I was not paying close enough attention. I apologized profusely. She was gracious and said it happened all the time. Her colleagues, however, were giving me the stink eye. And the worst part is that I was there to lead diversity training for some of their colleagues!
This is why I insist that we all have grace for ourselves and grace for others when we are trying to expand our cultural fluency.
Remember, if a diversity expert can fail so epically, anyone can. Don’t beat yourself up and try to be kind when others fumble around you.
How to Understand, Identify, and Stop Microaggressions” by Dr. Tiffany Jana and Dr. Michael Baran