Words Matter, Relating To One Another — Diversity, Inclusion and Intersectionality

 my Boggle game came in handy for this one

my Boggle game came in handy for this one

When one works and speaks on Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging you tend to stir up emotions, deep-seeded fears, passion, and sometimes anger.

There are a pain and suffering in our world that comes with being held back, tamped down, passed over and abused because of race, religion, gender, sexual orientations, and for people with disabilities.

There is anger when someone gets called out for certain behavior, using certain words, and simply speaking from where they grew up, how they were raised, what was considered “okay” or “normal” or words that have been in our language for decades. The thing is, is that there is no normal. I don’t think so anyway.

There is shame in being called out for using a word or phrase that offends or troubles someone for the person being called out, and a lot of adrenaline and at times high emotion from the person who is doing the calling out. It’s a slippery slope.

With this, it is about also looking at doing harm and intent.

This passion from all sides is something I’ve now become accustomed to in this arena. And I’m learning all the time as I continue to write and speak about these subjects.

In this realm, you have to know that what you say, how you say it and the words you choose will be scrutinized and also at times given back to you.

There are words that are absolutely abhorrent and not to be spoken, there are words that have meant one thing, but then their true meaning, their true history or true place have become apparent and are being culled from our vernacular.

The widely acclaimed author and speaker Brené Brown (the foremost researcher on Shame in the world), addresses this and speaks about it globally.

I’ve read many of the letters where one word she said to describe something struck a nerve with someone, rubbed them the wrong way. This disconnect happens, and it is how you deal with it that is the important piece. Brené writes about this extensively in her books and blog, and I’ve seen many articles written to her and around her on this subject.

There is a now-famous quote from her book Braving The Wilderness, where she talks about using the word “gypped” and when a fan called her out on it. Brené responded that she didn’t know the racist background of the word and suggested that the fan who did the pointing out to her should have done so with more civility and less emotion. Brené noted the shame that she felt and that shaming on either side of any situation is harmful, which I appreciate.

In recently re-reading her book, I had decided to use the above story as an example of this. In doing a little more research on the subject, I found and appreciate this quote from a piece that entrepreneur, activist, speaker, coach and founder of AwakenMichelle Kim, wrote about the about the Brené Brown occurrence.

“When someone reacts to what you say or do with intense emotion, before asking them to please be respectful, try to understand where that emotion is coming from. Because the moment you ask for civility from someone you just harmed (albeit unintentionally), you’re putting the burden of emotional labor on the person you just harmed. You are asking them to put their raw emotional reaction aside to communicate in a way that makes you, the person who caused harm, want to listen. You are asking to have your dignity intact when you just stripped the other person’s. You are asking them to disregard their history of being treated without respect so you can listen better.”

The Latin phrase, Primum non nocere, First, do no harm, is a good one. Used in our Hippocratic oath, but applies to all humans. The thing is, is that sometimes you don’t realize that you are harming, even though you do. That is where intent comes in. But regardless of intent, we sometimes cause harm when we did not mean to do so. It’s all about the lens we look through and our experiences of the world. Michelle has a good point about about understanding harm and intent.

I’ve witnessed this pointing out and high emotions happening in the workplace, between friends and family and at events where we’re talking Diversity and Inclusion. And I’ve been on both sides of this where I have pointed something out and where someone has pointed something out to me.

There are times when someone can call me a girl and I don’t mind, other times I want to punch someone in the face.

There are times when someone calls me thick, curvy or a big girl and I’m fine with it, other times again I want to punch someone in the face.

I do find that when something strikes a nerve that it is better to be civil and loving when calling it out. But there are times when one is tired, is sick and tired, when someone is fed up and that moment has piled upon many moments of embarrassment, stress, years and decades of injustice that bubble up and over one’s proverbial filter. It happens, and those moments are unfortunate but also charged potentially with years and years of pain.

I think we are in a time of great revolution regarding how we speak to one another, what words we use to do it, understanding where the anger and passion come from and also finding the empathy in every situation.

Empathy is something that we all believe we inherently have. However, you can never truly know what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, what pain and suffering is behind their smiling eyes, and how certain subjects are difficult to talk about until you hear it, listen to it, comprehend it. And then decide to build it into your own DNA, your story, our story because this is our story, as I believe we are all connected. Yet truly understanding the unique, acute story of a person may simply be unknowable.

Intersectionality has become a word that I’m doing some deep learning around. This explanation from YW Boston is one I like:

“Intersectionality is a framework for conceptualizing a person, group of people, or social problem as affected by a number of discriminations and disadvantages. It takes into account people’s overlapping identities and experiences in order to understand the complexity of the prejudices they face.

In other words, the intersectional theory asserts that people are often disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression: their race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and other identity markers. Intersectionality recognizes that identity markers (e.g. “female” and “black”) do not exist independently of each other, and that each informs the others, often creating a complex convergence of oppression.

For instance, a black man and a white woman make $0.74 and $0.78 to a white man’s dollar, respectively. Black women, faced with multiple forms of oppression, only make $0.64. Understanding intersectionality is essential to combating the interwoven prejudices people face in their daily lives.”

I think that this lens, this directive, this theory is the one to understand in building diversity, inclusion and belonging programs, sessions, panels, meetups and conversations we have together around the dinner table, the water cooler and in private conversations with friends.

Who we are is not defined by one simple thing. We are defined by thousands of things, so that means our look into the world and how we maneuver through it has every color in the rainbow and each hue in that spectrum. We are complex and layered and tangled.

I believe this work to find our connective tissue is important, and it is work. And worth every minute of doing.

Words matter, people matter, pain matters and what matters most is love, the spreading of heap and heaps of it and remembering the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

As I move through the days of this life I have and get to live, I hope to keep this in mind more often than not, also keeping in mind the benefits of the doubt in some situations and understanding the pain that can underlie in the fascia of our world.

A caterpillar undergoes a complete metamorphosis before it becomes a butterfly. The human race is in another stage of its chrysalis, and I know there will be beauty coming out of it. That is one of my deepest hopes, anyway.

The Awaken Blog on Medium is also a great source around the subject of creating compassionate space for uncomfortable conversations.


Written by Head Maven & CEO, Heather (hedda) Newman, Creative Maven

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