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Tools for Allies: From “microagression” to “microresistance”

Wanted to share this incredible resource from Inside Higher Education, offered up by Kerry Ann Rockquemore, president of the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity.

How do we show up when a hurtful situation so often lends itself to freezing? So much emerges: the feeling of the offense, the desire to say “the right” thing, the fear of relational or social fallout.

Not only is it hard to observe a microaggression– it is also hard to figure out how to respond in ways that both honor the target of the aggression and “call in” the aggressor into right relationship. This is difficult to do effectively without the conversation (1) forcing the target of the aggression to “teach” or “take on” the work of fixing the situation or (2) centering the group’s attention on the hurt feelings or defensiveness of the aggressor.

In light of that, I found this article and these materials (including a video of a panel on microaggressions and microresistance!) helpful. 

Some highlights from their post:

“Try Moving From Reacting to Resistance”

Learning about microaggressions has allowed you to see previously unrecognized hostility in your department’s environment. Right now, the way you understand your role in these interactions is “reacting to microaggressions.”

What would happen if you reframed your role? Instead of defensively reacting, what if you saw yourself as engaging in “microresistance”? In other words, instead of reacting to an individual’s bad behavior, what if you proactively worked toward an equitable environment for everyone in your department?

I don’t know how this sits with you, but I love this reframing of my own behavior. When I understand myself as actively engaging in microresistance, it has a different energy than reacting to microaggressions. It keeps me focused on the structural nature of the problem.

In other words, it’s not just one person acting like an asshole; what’s occurring in everyday interactions is a continual manifestation of privilege. As such, my words and actions matter to the higher-level goals of equity and inclusion. Microresistance empowers me and makes me feel that my daily choices contribute to the overall climate in which I’m embedded.

“Practice “Opening the Front Door””

Ganote, Cheung and Souza taught us a technique called “opening the front door” (OTFD) as a first step to engage in microresistance in the kinds of contexts you’ve described (such as faculty meetings, hallway conversations and informal gatherings). It’s quite simple:

  • Observe: Describe clearly and succinctly what you see happening.

  • Think: State what you think about it.

  • Feel: Express your feelings about the situation.

  • Desire: Assert what you would like to happen.

What actually happened at the McCallum Theatre with Graham Nash

I was actually at the McCallum theatre when “Graham Nash exchanged words with audience members” (quote from My Desert news).

My mother had excitedly bought a ticket for herself (in the front row!) and invited my husband and I along—we sat up in the nose bleed seats with the commitment to drag my mom off Nash if flirting began (a long-standing joke between my Da, Mom, husband and I). All in all, my mom is still married to my Da.

But, more importantly, what actually happened at the McCallum Theatre with Graham Nash?

Two words: cognitive dissonance.

Nash opened up the concert with a 1,000+ audience of folks predominantly in the age bracket of 40- to 60-years-old. These are the folks who jammed to his music during the Vietnam War, knew exactly what he was talking about when he begged folks to come to Chicago for the Democratic National Convention and understood why we should be concerned about college students being shot in Ohio. They remember and they knew what was going on—possibly active, at least concerned, in the politics of their generation.

Now, here is Nash of 2013: he isn’t going to sing about the Vietnam War. He isn’t only going to sing about Ohio or Chicago—he is going to sing about the politics of the day: from fieldworker human rights to protections for whistle blowers to the self-immolation of Tibetan Buddhists in China. What raised the greatest stir (and resulted in people openly walking out) was his frank response to the trial of Bradley Manning as a result of his providing Wikileaks information about the realities of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Upon singing a song that called for protection for whistleblowers, the audience member who “exchanged words” yelled: “HE SHOULD BE HANGED!”

At which point, Nash calmly replied, guitar in hand: “What if he was your son?”

And then, as some audience members walked out and others cheered amidst the “boos” Nash calmly smiled, “Come on now, it’s only a song.”

This is cognitive dissonance: when an audience member buys a ticket to a Graham Nash concert because they “like the music—but not the politics”, and they forget it was always a critique against war and unjust politics (which included a remark about Obama’s presidency), and they sit there, in their seats, not understanding why Nash can’t just sing the “good old music” they used to agree with… or did they?

Cognitive dissonance is when you thought you were a hip guy who lived out in the desert, understood “struggle,” listened to the great classic and folk rock artists of your generation’s turmoil… but can’t hang with the turmoil of the present day. Its when you thought music was neutral and purely for your entertainment, and realized it was charged, pointed and possibly prophetic– demanding that you do something as a result of hearing it. I mean, really, the audacity of the artist!

More responses from the online audience– two from religious higher education: 

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Yes, please, “grow up” and stop with this political change and activism crap. I mean, the message of 70’s (and Jesus) was great and all, but haven’t you been socialized to obey the media and the government by now? Jeeze. Get a real job, Nash, and plan for your retirement. Who needs your human rights message anyways.

So, in honor of Nash:  I was worried for you in the beginning of the show, wondering aloud to my husband, “Does he know what city, hell, what county, he is in?” and left grateful for an example of authentic music-making that stayed relevant and didn’t fear the few that will always walk out when something doesn’t line up with their reality.  That is what music does at it’s best.

Many of us who live in this community– and who are spiritual, religious and everything else– attended your show and were grateful for it.

A Manifesto (For the Manifesting)

A Manifesto (To Manifest, Change, Adapt, Challenge, Question and Engage)

For those who do not believe volunteers and staff should (always) sacrifice their lives for “the cause.” For those who want to upset the belief that activism is external. For those who want to upset the belief that “Gandhi” and “MLK” and “Dorothy Day” should be our go-to pinnacles of activism. Who ache to overturn the idea that activism comes from altruism. Who want to acknowledge the woundedness activists bring to the work and perpetuate in their organizations and on each other. Who want to upset the belief that time spent in reflection, gratitude or care detracts from the urgency of “the work.” Who want to argue that reflection, gratitude and care are the work and what sustains the work. Who want to upset models of change that fall back on fear and adversarial politics to rouse “support” and “energy” and who want to piss off those who profess to practice activism from within the isolation of privilege.

Who want to connect people who hunger for an activism of wholeness. Who want to ask the deeper questions about why they are activated that go beyond models of sacrifice, perfection/redemption and obligation. Who want to connect people who operate out of their gifts and not out of their (un)conscious wounds. Who want to connect to activists that are wounded and asking questions about it—and how we perpetuate it. Who want to connect with other people who are practicing the world they are activists for, naming the mishaps, sharing the flaws and dialoguing about what is and is not keeping us alive as human beings who live in communities and in families and in relationships. The practitioners. The seekers. The lovers.

This is a site for those who want to co-lead and co-convene. Who want to lead and be led by people who unfold into knowing who they are as they become, who strive to know their wounds, who strive to know their gifts and who help others by practicing wholeness themselves.Who want to lead with other leaders who speak in an authentic voice, knowing the differences between them and not pretending to have the same experience but who carry a common belief—it matters what we’ve experienced, it matters how we’ve been wounded, it matters what our gifts are and it matters how we live and organize in the world.

This is the work. This is a space to practice self-reflection and curiousity. To seek out models of living and working that sustain and generate more life (rather than burn out).

It is possible for our organizations to leave us more alive than when we entered.