Written by PA Tajuana Lordeus
No, as a person of color, I did not volunteer. I convinced myself that surely, I am participating in enough ‘things’ at the moment. However, unbeknownst to me, my supervisor nominated me to serve on this particular committee. In the fall of 2020, my employer requested volunteers to serve on a new committee – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council. In light of the escalating racial chaos going on in our country that was constantly highlighted in the news, my employer followed the lead of other companies in our country by forming a committee dedicated to providing education and an opportunity for dialogue about our unique experiences and differences in culture, race, background, and ideals.
At first, I was a tad bit skeptical and a bit intimidated to serve in such a capacity because I had never done any of this type of work previously. However, during our first meeting, I learned I was to serve on the arm of the committee that discusses trauma informed care, cultural competency, and cultural humility. The professional and personal experiences of each individual serving on the committee was varied, no one exuded that pretentious persona of being an expert on this topic.
My research and participation on this committee in recent weeks as I engage in a focus work group to build content on awareness of cultural differences and our inherent biases, has made me aware of things of which I never pondered beyond a superficial level. Assumptions we make based on our point of reference and exposure became more noticeable as I read articles and watched videos on these topics.
I think two points thus far in my broadening understanding are most poignant about relating to others. The first point is that we each have biases of which we may be ignorant, and this is a constant area in need of continued learning and becoming more self-aware. Remember the definition of biases? Google defines it as ‘to feel or show inclination or prejudice for or against someone or something’. This tendency can come from your childhood rearing, the friendships you honor, the stereotypes perpetuated in books or movies, or from just a simple lack of knowledge or interaction with a topic or group of people. The quote by Socrates is most fitting at this point – “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom”. Let’s understand that Socrates clearly did not say the ‘end of wisdom’ but the beginning.
The second point is also quite substantial and helps to cohesively bind the art of learning about personal biases and becoming more self-aware. As this awareness of self grows, one is able to see how they personally fit in the world around them. An individual is also able to see more astutely how interactions between two persons flow. It is easier to identify areas in need of strengthening as it relates to valuing what others bring to the table regardless of how that package is wrapped. When meeting people, if we can keep in the back of our minds that we are each created equal, we each have things from which someone else can learn, we will remain curious and open as we engage with one another. Meeting someone dressed in unfamiliar but gorgeous clothing and speaking with a beautiful accent should not diminish the importance of what they may have to share. The differences of socioeconomic class, race, ethnicity, and culture should not create walls but should cause a curiosity that encourages deeper engagement to understand one another. This epitomizes cultural humility. It is not finite, it is a continuous learning trajectory.
In conclusion, I am writing this on the Sunday of Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. Tomorrow we will have activities around the country that commemorate MLK and his legacy. This week we will have the inauguration of the first Black female Vice President. So much is changing in our fabric of life at a very quick pace as we endure the COVID pandemic. Just as MLK dreamed of his four daughters not being ‘judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character’; so it is a dream we each should strive to bring into action by how we interact intimately and casually with others who cross our paths. Think upon the sentiments of Mahatma Gandhi who has been credited with saying ‘Be the change’ but what he actually said was ‘If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change’. One by one, I invite each of you to make a concerted effort to dispel myths and preconceived notions about others. Take time to just sit still and be mindful, embracing all that is being offered from an encounter with another human being.