Wednesday, May 21, 2014

That moment when wondering if you were a bad ally means that you probably actually are...

One way to make me truly annoyed is to make me lose sleep over something....I'm so tired on a regular basis that I ususally sleep the sleep of the dead.  However, after playing Clickomania on my phone for the past hour, I'm declaring a loss in this battle and just getting up for the day.  I foresee alot of coffee and/or eating alot of mini-meals to keep me awake in my immediate is going to be interesting tonight.

I digress...

What am I losing sleep over?

Last night we began a new 40-Hour Rape and Sexual Assault Advocacy Training at work.  The co-host agency we work with demanded that they do a half hour exercise before the training because they think we aren't doing enough emotional check-ins with the participants.  We've allowed them to do this because as an agency we are open to critiques on how we do things.  After this however, I'm gonna raise some major objections at the next recap meeting.

Normally when we start a 40-hour we do brief introductions and then jump into an overview of rape and sexual assault.  My co-worker indulges me and lets me do the opening for the majority of the trainings.  I hope this means that I am half-way decent and engaging....rather than my co-worker feeling pressured into letting me do it.  I'm trying to not be as tied emotionally to the presentations I do and my performance with them....but the operative word there is "trying".  Because I really do pride myself on being a good presenter, being able to actively engage an audience, and on being able to set an upbeat tone for the rest of the training.  If you have agreed to do 40 hours of training on this topic, you already know that it is going to be difficult.  Honestly, we don't need to make it any harder than it already is.  We do want people to stay and work in the field after all.  Ugh....I'm digressing again....

Last night, we let the representative from the co-host agency do this half hour exercise before the training.  They gave out slips of paper in which everyone had to write down their fears and anxieties about taking the training.  Then they were to talk about them after everyone taped them to the wall at the front of the room.  Even though they had the full half hour they wanted to do the exercise, they didn't finish fully talking about it.  Also, the slips of paper were left up on the wall so others can look at them.  The idea was that this was supposed to create a camaraderie among everyone there.  The reality was that people were triggered, not completely heard, and then the rest of the presenters had to present their information with everyone's fears and anxieties symbolically taking up the wall behind them.


My presentation went ok....but it wasn't up to my usual standards.  I felt like I wasn't really connecting with the group.

When my co-worker went on after me, she got called out on something in her presentation.  She was covering rape myths and discussing the myth that handsome men don't need to rape.  She had a photo of that NFL guy who has been in the news recently for having a victim in pretty much every place he's played.  This man is black.  And the women of color in the room were rightfully upset that the first image that we see of a perpetrator was of a black man.  My co-worker acknowledged that she didn't think of that when adding the photo, acknowledged that it was her privilege that blinded her to the fact it could have been upsetting, and promised that she would remove and/or change the photo.  It was a tense moment, and I think that she handled it well.  While it was unfortunate that the conversation had to be had, it was a good thing that the group felt comfortable enough to bring it up with her.

Shortly after this, I headed home for the evening.  I checked in with my co-worker and things seem to be ok.  The evaluations will be interesting to read. 

While I was attempting to sleep, my brain could not stop noodling over the unease I felt about my presentation.  Why didn't I connect with people more?  And the epiphany moment I had (also the reason why I can't get back to sleep) is that I connected perfectly all the white people in the room.  Before I even started speaking I felt a barrier....which is very unusual for me.  My general nature is easy-going and amiable and I use it to my advantage.  I rarely face hostility in a room (even if I am working with cops- not that cops are hostile- but my subject matter makes them gear up for a possible fight).  The times where I have faced any hostility...the presenter before had had an issue with the audience.

So I began to review that half hour exercise.  The presenter let a white survivor talk for several minutes about how she was worried that her voice wasn't going to be heard, that people would judge her, etc.   An important discussion to have to be sure.  However, when a woman of color raised her hand and said that she was afraid that her race and issues affecting victims of her race where not going to be heard in the training, she was answered with "ah huh, that's a concern too.  Other thoughts?"  She dismissed her completely.  That woman and the other women of color in the room who had nodded in acknowledgement were the people in the audience that I felt I couldn't connect to.  The co-host representative ended with a series of questions that anyone could ask themselves if they were having problems with the content: what? so what? and now what?  The idea being that you identify what is bothering you with the first question.  Look deeper into all that surrounds that issue for you.  And then figuring out what you do with that bit of information to move onwards.  These sound great and all...but just like that half hour exercise, you can't just unload those items and not discuss them fully.  I should also note, that after she completed this exercise....she left for the evening and will not see the group until their Saturday session.

I would like to use her question system to further flesh out my problem-

What?  I witnessed someone actively oppress a group of people and did not react immediately to it or recognize that is what I saw until several hours after the fact.

So what? My awareness counts for shit. 

Now what?  This is where I need help.  Badly.  What can I do about it?  I'm going to raise the issue for sure in our wrap-up meeting.  I will be taking down those little notes when I get into the office today and I'll contact the amazing woman we have presenting on cultural competency to ask her advice and let her know what happened.  But doesn't matter how much I tried to be open and honest in MY presentation, it doesn't make up for the fact that I failed to act when I should have.  Do I apologize for my inaction to those women? Or would that be rubbing salt into a wound?

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