I will be clumsy here – forgive me, please. It’s been a long time since I have formally put into practice some of the training I received in this field many decades ago. My diversity and inclusion trainer persona has been expressed in course writing and development and public speaking as well as working in small groups with youth and adults, not in writing ever before. It’s hard to be vulnerable even when you have been vulnerable for most of your life for one reason or another…
If you don’t know me (and let that be yet! I love getting to know new people – weird for an introvert but true) let me start out by clearly saying if I am offered social justice training opportunities I grab them. I have done this since university when I realized what a privileged world I was likely going to be living in.
So I can talk about poverty, feminism, ableism, racism, LGBTQ+ and more with nearly anybody, I am willing to be uncomfortable and pause and think. That might be the singularly most important piece of my training I work to share with others. It’s ok to not have the answers. It’s important to open your heart and listen and learn.
But you know what? I don’t have those conversations very often anymore with anybody over about 16 except my mum and husband. Why? Because they are difficult for white people and the opportunity doesn’t come up often. And my world got a lot whiter when we moved to rural Ontario which was the only sad part of the move for me honestly.
This week, in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, I have been having this conversation often. In many ways with people from many circles in my life. I am so grateful to the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) white, LGBTQ+ and others for being so open and honest with me. You lift me. You teach me. You inspire me.
My training and personality (self-help rant anyone?) have reminded me of the ways anti-racist work (and more broadly social justice work) is like the learning that happens through dog training and working with horses. I am focusing on anti-racism in terms of social injustice right now because the systemic oppression of Black people needs to stop. Yes, I hear those of you reminding me about indigenous people and women and all the other issues. They matter too. Today Black Lives Matter is my focus. Please feel free to look at this through whatever lens will help you understand it best though.
So many analogies to training come to my mind.
It’s not comparative. Where I am on the path to understanding racism is not where you are. That’s expected. And OK. When you started dog training or horseback riding you didn’t have all the answers but you wanted to learn and grow and stretch yourself. Don’t be afraid to learn about systemic racism too.
It’s a journey. Understanding positive training doesn’t come all at once. We learn a little, apply it, test it, get comfortable and then take on the next step. If the ideas being expressed this week to you are new – take your time with them and understand your role in this. Finding the space and people to ask your honest questions is challenging – but just like with dog training it’s not fair to ask experts to help you for free. You wouldn’t ask a trainer you respect to send you a course they teach for free right? Antiracism work is heavy and we all need to do the emotional work involved. For example asking someone who isn’t white to explain white privilege is unfair as it’s likely to make you defensive, and perhaps angry. You can do your emotional work with other white people, I promise. Lots of us are busy processing too.
It’s important to celebrate forward movement along the spectrum. We don’t decide to explore obedience and get a UDX the next day. We don’t think eventing looks like a great test of riding and ever ride at a five-star event. Like in tracking – you may not hit all the flags when you start. You may not ever hit all the flags. But hitting some flags is better than hitting no flags. Be fair to yourself, small success is still a success. Successive approximations work. We know that. Let’s use that knowledge.
It takes a conscious effort to get better at both. We have to make a commitment to learning. To look in the mirror and find our own weaknesses and gaps. It’s a frustrating process. But it’s a human process. It’s enlightening and frightening at the same time. But work does make for deeper understanding and improvement. And that’s awesome.
The more you care the harder it feels. I wrote in the header here about worrying about being clumsy. If I didn’t care I wouldn’t worry. When I moved from more traditional training to more positive training I worried too. Could I be successful without force and punishment?
You can plan for success. In fact, I would say a plan is important to be a better trainer and to figure out what lane you want to work in for anti-racism work too. Ally? Accomplice? Activist? Educator? Personal growth? All are OK. We cannot all occupy all lanes at once. Figuring out your focus will help your training be the best it can be and it will help you focus on developing the tools you need to embrace justice principles.
No one has all the answers. If we did George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and so many others would NOT be dead. The world would be a kinder, safer place.
Want to know, or explore more? Check the links I’ve embedded through this blog and please if you do nothing else read the first link below!
If you read this all. Thank you. This was hard to write and I know it’s hard to read and think about. We don’t think about justice in our happy places nearly often enough. I will do better going forward. Thank you for helping me see the need to do so.