Second wave feminism told us that the personal is political – what happens in the home is reflective of what is going on in society as a whole. It reminds us that the domestic arrangements that we have always taken for granted are in fact a political statement of how current thinking says that things ought to be.
The political is also personal.
We internalise the messages that we receive from outside to such an extent that we don’t realise how much we recreate the very systems that we, on the surface, challenge with every fibre of our being.
Once in a webinar where the panellists were all people of colour who practise Nonviolent Communication (poc4nvc.org), a woman of African descent said that she remembered a time where she had her hand up in class and when two white people then put their hands up, she put hers down. Noticing herself doing it was the first time she realised just how much the systemic racism in the culture where she lived had colonised her actions.
I felt really moved and sad when I heard that as I started to imagine the journey that she must have taken from being that young girl in the classroom, into the woman at peace in her own power that I witness now. In his book Natives , Akala tells of his experience of being a boy racialised as black who kept his hand up, and the abuse he subsequently received from his teachers. I can understand the motivation to play the role that is expected, to keep your hand down, for your own peace and safety.
Have you ever noticed on quiz shows where if there is a team of both men and women and neither of them know the answer, how often the woman says, “Oh I don’t know, you choose”? I am aware whenever I park an articulated lorry, I am carrying with me generations of voices that tell me that women have no spatial awareness and that I should not be able to do this task. There have been days when I wanted to agree with them, when I have had enough of the mental fight and I just want to settle into the ease of conforming to stereotype.
This is where my work lies – in the intersection of the political and the personal. My passion is to tell the truth about the messages which underlie our behaviour, to make the unconscious conscious, so that we can shine a light onto it and change it for the better.
Central to this is kindness.
As soon as the word ‘diversity’ is mentioned, those in positions of structural privilege – white people, men, people with degrees – instantly feel on their guard, fearful that they are going to make a faux pas, show their underlying privilege or -ism, or simply that they, that we, are going to lose something, our access to jobs or resources. Before all that, before we think about what it might look like in practice to shift society, we simply have to listen with kindness to the voices of those who are marginalised, and hold ourselves with kindness as we notice our reaction. Then we can hear each other from a place of connection.