On Saturday, October 7, Israel was attacked by Hamas. Since then, many have been glued to every sort of media, watching the narratives unfold. Bombings, death, tears, outrage, protests–a conflict that is distantly familiar to some, while frighteningly close to others. And this is a conflict deeply felt and genuinely steeped in complexity. Some of us have strongly held viewpoints while others struggle to articulate or express their thoughts.
As for DeEtta Jones & Associates, we are facilitators. As individuals, we have opinions, and as a group, we stand on the side of humanity, believing deeply that in us is a path forward. It is this core belief that fuels us every day and over the past twenty years since our founding. We are unwavering in our commitment to be of service to those who need and want support, to have the knowledge, language, practices, and confidence to enter into difficult conversations across differing viewpoints, experiences, and oppressions.
This past week, I’ve had the usual coaching and training sessions planned each day. The sessions were designed to teach managers and leaders how to create space and navigate through difficult conversations in their organizations in an effort to grow our collective cultural competence. I guess I could have forged ahead–stayed within the lanes of our predetermined contract and delivered what they asked for. But I didn’t. And neither should you.
Showing up with prepared talking points during a time of moral and cultural crisis is not the real assignment.
The crisis in the Middle East is a perfect storm of peoples and cultures that have been deeply oppressed, displaced, wronged; the catastrophic way that people get diminished in systemic oppression. A longstanding and deeply present commitment to anti-oppression is the only solution. It’s a steady anchor in times when cultures shift, when blaming is rampant, and truth is impossible to universally own and understand.
Anti-oppression recognizes that multiple forms of oppression can occur simultaneously within micro-, mezzo-, and macro-levels that uniquely impact marginalized people and communities. The “who did what to whom first” and “who has been more victimized” debate is how oppression manifests itself. Always.
Anti-oppression is a conceptual model for understanding the multiplicity of oppression, privilege, and power dynamics at a structural level. Anti-oppressive practice begins with deep personal reflection and development of a “critical consciousness” while simultaneously working to eradicate oppressive structures within systems. Critical consciousness is the “process of continuously reflecting upon and examining how our own biases, assumptions and cultural worldview affect the way we perceive difference and power dynamics” (Sakamoto & Pitner).
If you are committed to ending oppression in the world–and to just giving a damn–times like these are when you step forward. Stepping forward can show itself in different ways.
- Anti-oppression does not require you to bash anyone on social media.
- Anti-oppression does not require you to pick a side and cancel anyone who doesn’t actively agree with you.
- Anti-oppression does require us to care about the emotional, psychological, and physical harm that is happening to people, whoever and wherever they are.
- Anti-oppression does acknowledge that we all are full of narratives that have been fed to us over the course of a lifetime–that’s what culture does.
- Anti-oppression does require that we are willing to critically reflect on our cultural narratives, willing to detangle “our truth” from “The Truths.”
- Anti-oppression does require that we unlearn, relearn.
- Anti-oppression does require us to tell the truth about our own privilege and biases and open doors for additional experiences.
Standing in your truth can–and often should be–incredibly internal work. Choosing a commitment to anti-oppression means that you have spent time before now and that you know to pause in moments of crisis to reflect on your beliefs, biases, and convictions.
- What informs your current opinion?
- What data is guiding you, and how are your biases filtering your interpretation of what you are ingesting about this particular situation?
- To what extent is your current level of care directly correlated with this issue involving “our people” or people who look like us, our neighbors, or friends from school?
- To what extent does proximity and familiarity impact your beliefs and willingness to speak out?
From this personal reflection, lay a foundation for your practice. Make a choice about how you will show up.
- How can you now, having done some of your own internal work, show up in spaces with others–able to genuinely listen, learn, and engage generously?
- How can you model what it means to be on a journey that will sometimes require us to be vulnerable with others yet safe to grow?
- How can you be resolute in your anti-oppression values while also showing humility for your lack of understanding of the nuance and history of a complex issue?
At a personal level, I don’t have a “right” answer. I am comfortable holding the tension between two things being true. I believe that oppression is oppression. All should be eradicated, and no good comes from comparing oppression. All forms are toxic. I know the difference between individual people and systems of oppression. I care about people and believe deeply in the power of cross-cultural relationships. My energy goes toward listening to, learning with, and from, and genuinely engaging with people while identifying systemic practices and policies that are built on and sustain oppression.
In my day-to-day practice, my commitment to ending oppression in the world often translates as working with the people who are the caregivers of others. I am–our team is–caregivers of the caregivers. This is a huge responsibility, and we navigate it with the acknowledgment of the emotional toll that this work takes on all of us. We also know that crisis response alone is a ridiculous way to convey one’s sense of values let alone a leadership philosophy. The real work is in doing your work ahead of time and on an ongoing basis so that when a crisis happens–and others surely will–you have the knowledge, language, confidence, and relationships in place to find a collective path through the tough times together. I hope we all know by now: there’s no going around, only through.
We feel deep sorrow for the pain and suffering being experienced by so many, ourselves included, in this moment of crisis, as well as all others who will be wrapped up in this rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis. On behalf of the DJA team, our love and prayers are for those who have lost their lives and have been harmed. We remain steadfast in our commitment to anti-oppression.