Have you ever considered that trying to be more inclusive can cause harm? Today, we share an excerpt from The Token: Common Sense Ideas for Increasing Diversity in Your Organization where Crystal Byrd Farmer explains how adding seemingly harmless practices to actions like introductions may cause problems within your organization.
Excerpt from the Book
The actual act of welcoming people can be inclusive or exclusionary. Do you sit in a circle or facing a lectern? Do you have space for wheelchair users or is everyone expected to squeeze through tight spaces? On the other hand, asking everyone to sit on the floor may mean the person with arthritis isn’t going to come back. Forcing all the newcomers to sit up front may extract any energy your introverts had for making friends.
Do you insist on hugging everyone who walks in the door? Do you ask for their name and then make a joke when it is foreign sounding or hard to pronounce? Do you try to pay extra special attention to the minority who just walked in and is still sizing up the place? All of these are ways that you can put people off from attending your event. Yes, it’s true: some people don’t like hugs.
The language you use when introducing people is important as well. Common practice in progressive communities is to invite people to say their name and their pronouns. For example, “I’m Crystal, and my pronouns are she/her/hers.” I don’t recommend doing this right away if it is not common practice in your group. If you insist on announcing pronouns during introductions, your gender nonconforming members may feel like they are being put on the spot. Your community may also react negatively to asking for pronouns. They may say, “I don’t care what you call me,” or “I’m obviously a he.” Make sure your community has done The Work around gender so they don’t harm people. Invite people to give their pronouns in a one-on-one setting if you are wondering about their gender identity. Once your community feels comfortable giving their pronouns one-on-one, implement the practice of introducing your pronouns with your name.
If you are going to start your meeting with any type of cultural action, please run it by several leaders and Tokens. I don’t care if your friend from a reservation taught you the song. Is it appropriate for the space, is it part of your heritage, and is it used with permission? White culture has just as many songs and traditions that you can borrow from without being problematic.
I was out of town at a conference where an uncomfortable number of people were waving at me as if they knew me. Finally one woman walked up very excited to show me her tattoo that said Namaste. Finally I understood: they were confusing me for another Black woman who had spoken earlier. Her name was Namaste. (Black people can also be guilty of cultural appropriation!) One unfortunate consequence of being a Token is getting confused with other Tokens. These situations are always ironic to me because I could honestly be mistaken for someone else—my twin sister, a scholar who attends a completely different set of conferences. Misidentifying someone is embarrassing, and the only way to avoid it is to train your members to recognize people for things other than their skin and hair. Make it a practice to wear name tags or do icebreakers where people talk about a unique trait or favorite activity. If you do trip up, own up to it quickly without self-flagellation.
Author Crystal Byrd Farmer
Crystal Byrd Farmer is an engineer turned educator, organizer, and speaker who focuses on cohousing, Black, and polyamorous communities. She serves on the Editorial Review Board of Communities Magazine and is passionate about encouraging people to change their perspectives on diversity, relationships, and the world. She lives in Gastonia, NC.