The blind spot of good intentions
Welcome to guest blogger, Anna Giraldo-Kerr!
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As the mother of a mixed-race child, the issue of equity and education is part of my life.
Racial reckoning… antiracism… inclusion… belonging…equity… these are words that have become part of our daily discourse as parents and community members who are looking to be part of the solution.
In our attempt to not be part of the problem, some of us have stumbled through the process of becoming aware of our privilege footprint and identifying specific actions to make an impact in the right direction. Some folks have donated to causes, attended vigils, while others have become more involved in their immediate community in the hopes of helping those in need.
And this is where the blind spot resides: In how we approach helping the children and families whom we perceive need assistance. In the past year or so I have witnessed many a situation where good intentions in the name of inclusion and equity have crash-landed. Here are the two ways parents and community members have fallen into traps in an attempt to be helpful.
According the to the Oxford Dictionary, “other” as a verb means to treat a person or group of people as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself.” How do well-intended parents “other” (using it as a verb) families and communities they are looking to help? By their use of language. In a recent meeting, I heard a parent, who is a community leader, refer to a group of diverse students and families as “those kids, those families.”
The word “those” in this context is an adjective. It describes a certain group (kids, families). And the underlying message is: They are not part of our community. What might be a more inclusive way to address the group? How about: the kids from district A, or the families from City B? This label helps equalize the descriptor as everyone, including you and me, belong to a certain district, city, or town. If you are still in doubt, see how it feels if someone refers to you, your kids, or your community as “those people.”
A parent in a community meeting asked the following: “I have tons of bags of clothes that I want to get rid of. Are there any families in need that might want them?” You may be asking: What is wrong with the statement? To start, what is the goal? To help families in need or to get rid of the bags? Somehow “getting rid of clothes” and “helping families in need” don’t seem to coalesce. The statement centers the needs of the potential giver instead of focusing on the needs of the families the parent is looking to help. A more dignifying way to accomplish both goals might be to ask: How can we help the families? If there is a specific need for clothing, I might be able to help as I have size 10 girl winter clothing, etc.”
Language plays a key role in how we express our commitment and actions to foster equity. Having good intentions is equally important as it is our thoughts and intent that will guide our actions.
Just watch out for blind spots along the way.
Anna is the founder and CEO of Shades of Success, Inc. a learning and development organization. In this capacity, Anna and her team help clients explore and understand individual, interpersonal, and organizational mindsets, biases, and dynamics. Anna was recently named one of the 50 Most Influential Business People of Color by the Newton/Needham Chamber of Commerce. Follow her on Instagram at @annagiraldokerr