Why Inclusion Matters
These are remarkable times. If there is one thing we know now it’s that there’s nothing like a pandemic to shake things up. It seems as though a powerful force is pulling us, collectively, onto a path of reconciliation of every belief, system, and tradition that we’ve been using for generations to govern and guide our lives, forcing us to question every assumption that lies therein.
Are you feeling that?
Even as we Religious Scientists know our Oneness with God and all, even as we claim for ourselves “I Am that I Am” from the teachings of Jesus, we have to acknowledge, accept and move through this evolutionary time with eyes wide open, with willingness and with candor.
What comes up for me as I write is an experience I had creating a marketing piece for a women’s retreat with a photo I’d chosen that I thought would evoke the sense of community in sisterhood that is a foundational tenet of the annual gathering. It was a beautiful image of a full moon rising just beyond the sea, casting a silhouette of a line of women in pretty, flowing white dresses, as their long, smooth hair hung loose, below the shoulders of their slender bodies. Their hands were raised hands in solidarity, as they faced the gentle ocean waves lapping at the shore. To me, it looked like “sisterhood.”
Sharing my design with a fellow committee member, Lynn (not her real name), I found myself taken aback when she said to me, with furrowed brow and a look that suggested a very different impression, “that image just looks really white to me.” Not that Lynn is black….she isn’t. Lynn is a white lesbian woman who marched for social justice issues in the 60’s as an active participant in consciousness-raising groups. Now in her 70’s, she’s still an activist, participating in marches and peaceful protests whenever there is a call to action. Suffice to say, she has a keen awareness of the issues.
I love Lynn but at that time, a couple of years ago, these conversations were rare, at least in my world. I was put off by her pointing out the fact that I’d overlooked the lack of diversity. The truth is I was embarrassed to be so oblivious of it. In fact, so put off was I that I sought out the opinion of others, looking for assurance that my way of seeing the world was still “safe” because, you see, I just didn’t get it. Nor did I realize I was acting out of unconscious patterns of behavior and responses that were built-in. Ultimately, I yielded to Lynn’s request for a more diverse image, but it wasn’t until very recently that I came to know – she was right. The photo was, indeed, very white.
That experience was pivotal for me as it marks the point at which I began to question my lack of awareness. Why didn’t I have that same sensitivity as Lynn? Why did I not see the image as something that had the power to stir up feelings of separation, exclusivity, and selectiveness in people of color? How could I not know that? What am I NOT wanting to see, pay attention to, take responsibility for? Where am I – a deeply spiritual woman – hiding out behind, or being blind to the privilege that my white skin entitles me to?
Those are the questions working themselves in my consciousness now, as I awaken to the truth of how my white skin, and the privilege that accompanies it, have kept me safely sequestered from the reality of what my brown and black-skinned sisters and brothers have endured for generations.
With requisite self-compassion and care, I am allowing myself to consider how I could be so naïve. I acknowledge, first and foremost, that this journey of life is uniquely my own, so comparing myself to anyone else is pointless, and an act of self-sabotage. I know that I my life is a tapestry, woven together with people, things and experiences that helped to shape who I am – and who I am becoming. I was born into my middle-class, white American family, grew up in middle-class white-bread suburbia, and learned from that middle-class, white environment the American ideals that would provide the structure around which I would conform, establishing preferences unquestioningly, from a collective consciousness about which I was completely unaware. Until now.
What I’m waking up to today is that my middle-class whiteness has unknowingly shown up in ways that can cause people who look different than me to feel invisible, unseen, unrecognized – as if they don’t exist. By leaving out of my marketing piece, the variety of skin colors, hair types and body sizes that truly represent the variety of human beings in the world, I was unconsciously sending a message that said: “white women only.”
Was that my intention? Of course not. But the fact is, this is how marketing works, and it’s exclusionary. We IDENTIFY WITH the person in the ad, and if I’m a black, Latina or Asian woman, and no one in the ad looks like me, then that thing you’re selling, this retreat you’re promoting?…it’s not for me or anyone that looks like me. I am excluded. Not valued. Not important.
That’s what unconscious bias looks like, and…it’s not limited to marketing. The impact of our collective, unconscious bias is everywhere, in every part of our society, at every level of government, in every sector of our economy. And it is in each and every one of us, white people, whether or not we choose to believe it.
And so, the work of INCLUSION begins here. As we grow in our awareness and come to understand the function of our hidden, unconscious biases, we learn to recognize our automatic tendency to leave out the people and groups that are different from us. We avoid what is uncomfortable, and instead find ways to retain the structure that’s been working for us, empowered whites, throughout our entire lives. It’s scary to think that something so enduring, that’s held true for so very long, is no longer viable. And yet, that is the big work in front of us today.
With conscious intent, we can choose to BE INCLUSIVE. We can be a welcome place where people of color, different sexual orientation, physical disability, and those who’s gender identity is fluid, all feel welcome, safe and included. We can act from the Knower within to demonstrate our belief in Oneness. Because if that’s what we truly believe, then INCLUSIVITY is critical to our evolving consciousness as Religious Scientists, and as human beings who are truly dedicated to creating a world that works for everyone. It’s important now, today, right this minute.
Ernest Holmes said “I give as I wish to receive. It is not enough that I profess to love people. I must really love people, more dearly than I have ever loved before, because all men are my brothers.”
Inclusion is belonging. Inclusive people, cultures and organizations make all people feel respected and valued for who they are, as individuals or a group. When we are included, we feel valued. When we feel valued, we show up in our fullness, and give freely of our gifts, and all the world is blessed. There can be no other way than to open the door for all to enter in.
May we know only Love as we heal the human experience of separation, demonstrating the Truth of ourselves as One Human Family.
Love is not a fuse that is lit, but a garden that is grown. Ta-Nehisi Coates
To learn about unconscious bias, the Harvard Implicit Bias Test is recommended: