Hello fellow Texas Master Naturalists! Caroline here, to continue our series on what our revitalized Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee is working through right now.
Our December committee meeting continued inspecting our reflections on the Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture, with a focus on Individualism. I chose this topic because I know that rugged individualism is a thread I’ve always associated with naturalists, and has informed how I show up to outdoor spaces: I wanted to climb to the very top of every rock! To find special, beautiful places that no one else knew about! To earn the most volunteer hours with CAMN so I could get those sweet, sweet pins to show off my dedication!
Yeah, it’s a little ridiculous. I see that now.
I’ll admit, though, the topic of individualism probably wasn’t the best topic for our budding anti-racist group. CAMN itself is a pretty cooperative organization, one that prioritizes transparent access to Board members, Board member rotation so things don’t get too stale, mentorship, group projects, connecting with fellow members-in-training, and connecting with nature through field trips, Advanced Training, and chapter meetings. So our conversation felt a little forced at times, perhaps a little too intellectual for where we, as a group, were at the moment. This doesn’t mean that CAMN doesn’t have work to do in this area, but with our still-early analysis, it was hard to find the patterns of individualism within the organization. That being said, I’m proud of the group for giving our most to the conversation.
Here was our agenda, for folks following along at home:
- Introductions – everyone got to share the story of how they came to be a Texas Master Naturalist
- Reading of a Land Acknowledgement (borrowed from UWSA until CAMN can establish our own)
- Grounding Exercise
- Group Discussions (no break-out rooms this time) on the following questions:
- What are some examples of ways individualism shows up in CAMN? How might it show up in your own conservation work? Your enjoyment of the outdoors?
- How might a norm of Individualism limit the audiences that CAMN serves? How might it serve to exclude some community members who do not benefit from white privilege?
- How does a norm of individualism (and white supremacy culture) affect our relationships and the strength of the CAMN community?
- Grounding Exercise
- Close Out – everyone got to share something they’re taking away from the discussion
Really, the power of these three committee meeting since our revitalization in the Fall, has been in our building community and trust among one another. We are practicing talking about race, which is no small feat for folks who may have been brought up to believe that speaking about racism *was* racism, or that talking about race was counter-productive, or that racism was “over now”. We’re building the muscles required to be okay sitting in discomfort. We’re building up a racial analysis, and learning what it means and feels like to be anti-racist. We are practicing slowing down. Feeling full feelings that we’re used to pushing away. We’re confronting long held beliefs and unlearning those that no longer serve us.
We’re also, critically, learning to re-engage with the parts of our humanity that we lost when we decided, probably as young people, to embrace our white privilege and stop feeling deep empathy in response to racial harm.
Really, what I call the revitalization of our committee… it’s a hard pivot away from intellectual discussions and analysis and attempted action, toward heart work. I now believe this is a critical step that too many DEI teams miss out on, who may instead stay laser-focused on “outcomes” and “measurable impacts” and “just doing something already”. Notice how these tactics lean on the white supremacy characteristics of A Sense of Urgency, Quantity over Quality, Progress is Bigger/More, and perhaps Perfectionism. Oftentimes Paternalism.
This pivot away from the head and toward the heart means regaining our humanity. When we close ourselves off to feeling someone else’s pain, we’re protecting ourselves. And in the case of white privilege, we’re protecting our elevated position in society, which we did not earn. By not challenging white supremacy culture, we’re also protecting the systems that continually harm our friends who do not benefit from white privilege. And the truth is that everyone is harmed by white supremacy culture. Not just people of color. Take a look at the reading linked above and identify which of those norms and beliefs have hurt you in your life. For me, perfectionism stands out high above the rest.
By inspecting our own self-protective stance and allowing ourselves to feel all the feelings associated with looking at racial harm, it can hurt. It can hurt a lot. And yet, what a gift to ourselves and our peers, to feel it fully and to share that vulnerability. And what a deep privilege to have the *choice* to allow ourselves to feel those uncomfortable feelings, as opposed to being subjected to them day in and day out. To live into adulthood without having to feel them if we did not want to. Do you see how the Right to Comfort, explained in the link above may, be showing up in your life?
In my mind, becoming anti-racist is a bit like therapy. We can’t “learn” or “think” or “analyze” our way into healing, personal or societal. We’ve got to say out loud deeply held (sometimes unconscious) beliefs. We’ve got to look at them, and consider whether they match up with our personal values. We’ve got to feel the emotions they bring up. Fully. We’ve got to be in community with people who will not judge us for the heinous things we’ve found out we believe. Who will hold us in deep regard because we had the bravery and wisdom to name them. Who will help us hold ourselves accountable to making the necessary adjustments to our beliefs and behavior.
We’ve got to build our own wisdom and knowing, our own racial analysis. Again, just learning about racial justice, it’s not going to get us to a place of anti-racism. We’ve got to feel and reckon.
I’m no expert. But I can tell you that I am in this place. This birth canal of feeling and vulnerability and building deep wisdom. It can be really uncomfortable and, frankly, it’s exhausting and sometimes isolating. AND it’s been deeply healing for me personally. It’s meant I now have a path to build deeper, more meaningful connections to all the people I love in my life. And it’s given me the push I needed to help bend my communities toward equity and inclusion.
I know that we’re all capable of walking this path and caring for one another as we do so. This is lifelong work that we’ll never truly finish. But we all deserve a world that is more equitable, just, and inclusive. The little steps we take today will make a big impact wherever we are.
Won’t you join us? Feel free to each out to the committee at firstname.lastname@example.org or me directly at email@example.com to join the committee or to learn more about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.