Reconciliation at Work

Kim and I met for coffee. We put our heads together. She wanted to sell her product within minority communities; I wanted to learn how to communicate my service. Her product helps adults learn how to get out of debt and manage money and offers churches and schools a curriculum for youth. She didn’t know how to reach people other than those of her own white middle class background. As she spoke, I was affirming about the product she offered and the enthusiasm she expressed.

I then asked, “While you know this product is a proven solution for people within your own circles, do you know for sure if it’s effective with minority folks?” She wasn’t sure. I pointed out until we ask, we won’t know. She asked how that might work.

I suggested she might, for example, reach out to a church secretary in a community near her home. Kim could ask if he or she has 15 minutes to hear about a program that might be helpful to church members. I told Kim she could point out that she is white, not of the community, and needs to learn whether or not the program is a good fit.

Kim was shocked, “I can say I’m white?” I told her we whites are usually the only ones that hesitate to point out our race. Folks of color have to think and talk about race every day so they typically aren’t shocked and may even be grateful.

I explained one of the characteristics of majority white culture in the U.S. is a problem-and-solution orientation. We perceive a problem and want to offer a solution. The intention is good; however, the impact can actually hurt.

It hurts when folks of majority white culture offer a solution and haven’t taken the time to listen. It feels like an imposition, rather than a help. And then if the solution doesn’t work, it’s disappointing for everyone. So if a person really wants to “help,” he or she needs to take the position of learner, rather than teacher. To build trust across ethnic lines, it works best if a person of majority culture is willing to listen and learn, to follow the lead of the established leadership.

Kim pointed out she’s not good at listening. I suggested she may not good at listening yet. Like me, she can learn. I told her that Pastor Sims and I are teaching skills for reconciliation, like Active Listening, at our monthly events called Courageous Conversations, and she’d be welcome to join us.

Satisfied she knew her next step, Kim changed the subject. Together we realized what I had just showed her is what I do as an Inclusion consultant, I come alongside and empower people with the skills and heart to reach a broader market, to overcome barriers and build effective relationships. We’re all learning together. -AN

What Matters Most?

A friend invited me to talk with her Bible Study group. This group of white women wanted to unpack concepts humility and meekness in the light of recent racial tension. One participant asked, “Why not ‘All Lives Matter’ instead of Black Lives Matter?” As she asked her question, I recalled that reconciliation between people is not head-work but heart-work. Facts and figures may answer a question but they don’t help us discover empathy and understanding. 

I said, “I bet that there are others with that same question.” She thought so. I asked, “Do you think your question reflects the idea that we all want to matter?” She nodded. I said, “The Black Lives Matter movement can make us wonder if ‘others’ might become more important than us.” She said, “Yeah, that’s it.” Then it occurred to me then to write three words on the white board:

Assimilation    Celebration   Integration 

I pointed out that these words are a way to visualize a developmental trajectory of our society. I explained that after World War II and until the 1960’s, our culture was based on Assimilation. Individuals and groups adopted the ways of the larger or dominant culture. After the Civil Rights Movement, our society began to recognize or Celebrate the contributions of minority cultures. And since the tragedies of Ferguson and the like, we are headed toward an integrated multi-cultural society. In an Integrated society, all types of people work together as a unit, sharing resources and power. 

In light of those definitions, I suggested she consider the history of American-born African Americans whose families have been here for generations, how they were brought to the U.S. and have been treated for the past 400 years. I said, “Perhaps Black Lives Matter is about a people who just want to matter, really for the first time in American history. We don’t necessarily have to agree with what the Movement is doing, but can we empathize with the desire to matter? Can our hearts be broken open enough that we can see such a tragic history and the pain it has caused?” She wondered aloud, “Perhaps they just want to matter as much as the rest of us?” Then she changed the subject and I knew it was resolved in her mind… for now. -ASN