Which version have you seen more often?
My first encounter with Peggy McIntosh‘s concept of “the invisible knapsack” was in 1999. I was 23 years old. I had just moved to Washington, DC a few months prior to work at Arena Stage in the education department (a two person plus an intern office at that time). We were to work closely with Living Stage Theatre Company, seek alignment between the “two organizations” (not really separate since Living Stage was a part of Arena but that’s another story). The entire staff at Living Stage and the education department went through an intensive, multi-day anti-racism/anti-oppression training with the great Rebecca Rice and Erika Thorne. I contextualize because it was a gift I thank the universe for every day.
It was the first time I became aware of the reality of systemic racism, White supremacy, and the backpack of privilege I carry with me everywhere.
W.E.B. Du Bois described the concept of “psychological wage”in his 1935 essay Black Reconstruction in America. It was a mindset, a status boost, that allowed White laborers to feel superior, to feel better-than Black ones in the workplace despite being on the same employment level. Du Bois would go on to identify the colonial activity of Europeans and subsequent “White supremacy” across the world. While the term “white-skin privilege” was used during the Civil Rights era by activities, it wasn’t until Peggy McIntosh, a Women’s Studies scholar at Wellesley, wrote her essay “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies” in 1988 that the term gained traction.
McIntosh, a White woman like me, was “taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.” But in methodically going through and identifying the daily, seemingly mundane effects of her White Privilege–her mind was blown.
My mind was also blown when my knapsack was pointed out in 1999… and I journeyed through a series of extremely typical responses people of privilege do when confronted for the first time (in this case White people confronted with White privilege and systemic racism):
- What?!? No!
- Sure, but not me? I’m not like that.
- All White people!?!?
- But I’ve had friends who are not White. I’ve dated non-Whites. I’ve….
- Does this mean [enter Black friend’s name] won’t be my friend anymore?
- Not me.
- Oh my, me? Me?
And this was not a five-minute journey. And there was crying. Because of course there was. There was a lot of guilt. There were long periods of knapsack removal and ignoring attempts. There was a long stretch of extreme over-compensation in which I was the most obnoxious “righteous not-listening person because ‘I am a person in-the-know’.”
At this point, I think I’m in a phase of perpetual “working on it.” But that’s a wobbly phase. The knapsack, it is invisible and therefore so easy to forget. There’s no ridding myself of it. There’s no emptying it. Somedays I am back in my “not-listening person” state and bless the patience of everyone around me as I swing my knapsack around and point screaming at all the knapsacks on everyone around me. [shudders at self with embarrassment, then gets over it]
The point: privilege is a knapsack society packed for us and slapped on our backs. The first step on the journey is acknowledging it’s there.
Is that your bag? Yup.
Not familiar with McIntosh’s article? Follow this link for a commonly excerpted version.
A privilege is an advantage, or right, or opportunity, or pleasure, or immunity granted to a particular person or group of people. “Privilege” is the holding of a set of advantages, rights, opportunities, pleasures, and/or immunities as a person or group of people. By definition it means there are others who do are disadvantaged, left out and behind, uncomfortable, pained. By definition it means there is imbalance and inequality (according to yesterday’s post, does it imply those who are “unlucky” according to “the system’s standards”).
Another definition of privilege I’ve encountered, from Facebook of all places, is this: “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it is not a problem to you personally.”
Phoenix Calida defined and broke-down “privilege” thusly:
Privilege simply means that under the exact same set of circumstances your in, life would be harder without your privilege.
Being poor is hard. Being poor and disabled is harder.
Being a woman is hard. Being a trans woman is harder.
Being a white woman is hard, being a woman of color is harder.
Being a black man is hard, being a gay black man is harder.
This does not mean that having privilege, unearned advantages, in any area automatically makes life “better.” But it does mean “all things being equal” doesn’t exist. The starting line will always be ahead. Less metaphorically, it means that anyone holding privilege is more likely to have power or being in positions of power. They are more likely to share this power with people “like them.” And power-sharing, whether it’s investment tips, a role in a play, or the benefit of the doubt when stopped by the police for a minor traffic violation, increases the “betterment” for only some.
Are there definitions of privilege you’ve found useful? Please share. In this case: sharing knowledge to all –> empowering all to affect positive change.
Challenging myself this month to more openly reach out to my White, non-disabled, Hearing colleague with my writing. Seeking to share my perspectives, as jumbled as they may be right now at the point in the journey I’m on, and encourage more dialogue about diversity, inclusion, access, and equity. A fool’s errand? An out for my ramblings? Possibly both. I hope you’ll humor me. I hope you’ll join me. – rg
Growing up with a sibling, the desire for equality burned in heart, I saw personal injustice everywhere, and the phrase “that’s not fair” lived on the tip of my tongue, ready to be unleashed on the adults around us.
But, looking back on this behavior, I am embarrassed. I know despite any challenges we may have faced how “lucky” we were to have been raised in a two-parent household, to never go hungry, to always have a roof over our heads, to have access to high quality medical care, to have been able to attend college, for her to be able to attend graduate school. This “luck” is a result of the privilege we inherited from our ancestors, who happened to be White non-disabled U.S. citizens. Yes, my father’s parents are Jewish and, yes, my sister and I are both cis-gender female. This does afford us less privilege than, say, a Christian Anglo-American cis-gender male United States citizen. And yet, we are doing just fine by comparison. Consider a handful of stats:
- Young black boys/men, ages 15-19, are 21 times more likely to be to be shot and killed by the police than young white boys/men
- In April 2015, the unemployment rate for White U.S. Citizens was around 4.7%. At that time, ABC News reported that the unemployment rate for Black citizens had landed at a “seven year low of 9.6%.”
- Repeated studies have been released over the past few years demonstrating managers’ preferencing job candidates with names who sounded “more White” than “more Black.” Managers have also expressed less preference for a candidate with the exact same qualifications when the candidate was identified as female rather than male.
As I continue to educate myself, and hopefully in the process broaden my perspective, develop a deeper understanding of what “fairness” actually means in this world, I continue to revisit the many privileges I possess. And, I humbly hope, position myself to advocate for greater equity. Because right now, things sure as hell aren’t fair.
Last Wednesday, I had the honor of conducting an “Audience Engagement Boot Camp” in Columbus, OH for arts administrators and artists from across the state on behalf of National Arts Marketing Project as a guest of Columbus Arts Marketing Association (CAMA).
From the M words in both of my host’s names, safe bet the attendees would be predominantly marketers. The registration list and a rapid-fire round of live introductions confirmed that a good 70% of the attendees worked in a marketing-related area.
However: in planning calls CAMA’s committee set out goals for the workshop…
- address the shift in participation culture in the U.S.
- question whether arts organizations are embracing or fighting this shift
- establish foundation of understanding for audience engagement
- provide methods for inclusive planning
- share tools and resources
- inspire action
This is the PDF of my slides for that day. If you’ve taken an audience engagement workshop with me before, they probably don’t look radically different. And yet, CAMA’s agenda shifted something inside me. Their titling the workshop a “boot camp” and cheekily calling me a “drill sergeant” in the description allowed that shift to manifest. What good was I doing providing all this information without laying out the hardline truths in the process?
Hardline Truths about Engagement of Audiences in the Arts:
- We are not caring for the spines of our organizations—the audience, the patrons.
- We continue to confuse marketing (selling) with engaging (involving).
- We are not making the audience’s experience with our organization (around the artwork) meaningful, resonant, or relevant.
- We make or uphold so many rules of conduct, that it prevents creative experimentation and forward progress.
- We perpetuate status quo (e.g. interpretive collateral materials have to maintain consistent size, shape, layout to “maintain brand identity”) and look at people who challenge it as renegades.
Companies like Nike and Dunkin spend thousands–no, millions–of dollars engaging consumers around their products, and their products are shoes and donuts. We, artists, make products that are themselves high impact experiences. We are experts in making meaningful experiences, and yet we shroud our products, our works of art, in austere identities and formulaic experiences. Our most common excuse is that we don’t have the resources (e.g. money) to try something new. But it should be that we don’t try, or we don’t think we can try.
If I learned anything from my time in Columbus, it was this: now is the time to make a change. Now. People drove from across the state to attend my workshop. They were hungry. They had lots of new ideas. They were pumped. They just needed permission to break rules. They needed to know you could think big first, and then look at how to essentialize your idea to scale. They simply needed to recalibrate. They needed to remember we love the audience. Artist + Art + Audience = Amazing
I was so inspired by conversations I had in Columbus, I came up with these ideas. Take and use ‘em as you wish:
- Take the dollars you were going to spend on an advertisement and spend it on something like paying 10 local artists to sit in a crowded coffee shop with tshirts and talk amongst each other in pairs about the plays of the season. People can over hear. The artists should have coasters or stickers which they can casually hand to interested parties. At least you know you are having person-to-person contact.
- Don’t pay for a printed program–put it all online. Email it to ticket buyers. Take that money and invest in postcards with pre-paid postage. If people liked the show ask them to take a postcard, write a quick message about the show, and send it to someone local. If that friend calls or orders tickets online, the original audience member gets a personal thank you note and the ticket buyer gets a personal welcome and a free drink. (The postcard should be branded, obviously!)
- Put a call out to street artists and buskers in your city. Invite them to experience a preview of your latest exhibit; feed them; engage them in conversation with one another about the work. Ask them if they would, for a small fee, perform something inspired by this exhibit when they are next out. Give them a piece or two of collateral to have on hand. Raise awareness about art on the streets in your city to your audience.
This is where my brain always starts.
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations. One of the seminal philosophical underpinnings of this country. There’s a singular “pie” of resources. It’s finite. We can all only have a single slice of the pie. Only if we work to grow the size of the pie can we get a bigger slice, or if I give some of my slice to you, or if I take yours, etc. In Wealth of Nations Smith is discussing economics, labor, and government…capitalism. So money, yes, but essentially power.
So when considering the struggles around power sharing in an ensemble-based arts organization, my brain always starts with Adam Smith: power tends to be viewed as a pie, we either all have equal slices or … wait a second!!!–your slice is bigger than mine and THAT SUCKS END OF STORY. ARRRGGGHHH!!!!
Which, of course, underscores 1) why the Wealth of Nations comparison is not the best analogy; and 2) why the equality mindset is such an unproductive approach to power sharing.
Power sharing is not about equality¹. We are not all equal. If we were, we would not see how differently White and Black suspects are treated when in police custody. If we were, we would not need the Supreme Court to grant Same-Sex marriage rights.
We are not all equal in an arts organization. If we were, my resume and your resume would look exactly the same.
But someone having more power does not mean someone else has her power taken away. Power is not shared like pie. It’s not a zero-sum game.
Power sharing is not about placing everyone on the exact same level. It is about acknowledging the experience and expertise each individual has, including oneself, and bringing the fullness of that “power” to the group. Sharing that power.
“Equal” means “same size slice.” But “equal” is not “fair.” It falsely promises ownership, isn’t just or appropriate, and neither propels us forward nor makes us “better.”
Power sharing is as much about taking agency as much as it is making space for agency to be taken. Invitations made, invitations accepted—both ways. Responsibility is viewed for the collective more than for oneself. This doesn’t erase personal identity, it expands it and allows it to be expanded and affected. In this sense, one is never “solely responsible.”
But it must be shared. When space isn’t made for others, it’s the responsibility of the group to course correct. When agency isn’t taken, it is the responsibility of the group to course correct. Both situations are just as problematic, as they will result in reverting to a size-of-pie mindset and ensuing conflicts.
Does this rid us of job descriptions, to-do lists, systems of accountability, and the like? No, of course not, and please come out of the weeds. :)
Instead, let’s look at some of a memo Tony Hsieh, CEO for Zappos, wrote to the company in March 2015 regarding their transition to a holacracy management structure:
The right question is not: how can everyone have equal power? It is rather: how can everyone be powerful? ….
Here we stumble upon a beautiful paradox: people can hold different levels of power, and yet everyone can be powerful. If I’m a machine operator―if my background, education, interests, and talents predispose me for such work―my scope of concern will be more limited than yours, if your roles involve coordinating the design of a whole new factory. And yet, if within what matters to me, I can take all necessary actions using the advice process, I have all the power I need.
This paradox cannot be understood with the unspoken metaphor we hold today of organizations as machines. In a machine, a small turn of the big cog at the top can send lots of little cogs spinning. The reverse isn’t true―the little cog at the bottom can try as hard as it pleases, but it has little power to move the bigger cog. The metaphor of nature as a complex, self-organizing system can much better accommodate this paradox. In an ecosystem, interconnected organisms thrive without one holding power over another. A fern or a mushroom can express its full selfhood without ever reaching out as far into the sky as the tree next to which it grows. Through a complex collaboration involving exchanges of nutrients, moisture, and shade, the mushroom, fern, and tree don’t compete but cooperate to grow into the biggest and healthiest version of themselves.
…the point is not to make everyone equal; it is to allow all employees to grow into the strongest, healthiest version of themselves. Gone is the dominator hierarchy (the structure where bosses hold power over their subordinates). And precisely for that reason, lots of natural, evolving, overlapping hierarchies can emerge―hierarchies of development, skill, talent, expertise, and recognition…
(emphasis above is mine)
Power sharing in this manner is not what we’re accustomed to in organizations or in American culture at large. Patriarchal hierarchy is deeply ingrained. Working against it leaves us feeling, at first, unbalanced, then uncomfortable, and possibly distressed. It is work that you have to commit to; that you have to believe in.
The “pay-off” I might refer to as the “wealth of ensemble,” and I believe it is worth it in the end.
¹Treading carefully. I don’t want anyone to mistake me: I know there is tremendous inequity and injustice that must be addressed directly and transparently within professional and personal spheres.
I’ve been in a major U.S. city the past four days running auditions for a dog & pony dc show produced by another company. The auditions consisted of three 2-hour open-call “workshops.” After the first two audition/workshops I expressed mild concern over the diversity in the pool thus far (three people of color, everyone was able bodied) despite our stress that the roles were only specific in terms of an age range and gender (and even those could be negotiated a bit). I inquired if my dog & pony dc colleague and I could take some action, maybe go through casting files and call in actors of color at an added audition? We would make ourselves available for whatever it would take.
Long story short: the answer was no. The theatre would tap some people in the area to see if they could nudge communities but we would not be engaging in any acts of “discrimination” in the manner I suggested.
In the meantime, back home in our nation’s capitol, dog & pony dc continues to openly wrestle with (among many other topics) diversity and inclusion. And on day four of my stay in the major U.S. city, after the casting was complete, I had a meeting with a subgroup of ensemble members to work on our homework. The question was raised by one of my colleagues, which has been raised by others before at different times explicitly and in not so many words: “What do we want? Why are ‘we’ having these conversations?”
We discussed some answers, revisiting some ground that had been covered and also going deeper with some of us individually.
But the point of all this…
I awoke just after 3:00 this morning having dreamt of fighting collusion and supremacy in two different languages and battling not only with my enemies, but also with my partners and myself.
“Why” are we having these conversations is no longer a useful question as far as I’m concerned. It’s an evasive one. It’s an excuse.
Because Freddie Gray.
Because Trayvon Martin.
Because Carl Dupree.
Because Matthew Shepard.
Because Adam Sandler’s Ridiculous Six.
Because Catalina Sandino Moreno in Medeas.
Because Daniel Handler at the 2014 National Book Awards.
Because unpaid internships.
Because complicated grant applications.
Because reckless imagining.
Because change and building shit is hard
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it, and we sure as hell shouldn’t do it alone.
I don’t “blame” the theatre for not doing more. I “blame” myself for not remembering that I needed to take action months ago with them and without them in order to ensure we had done our thorough due diligence to meet, educate, and welcome. And “we” are having the conversation because “I” am not an independent artist I am an ensemble artist. So I also “blame” the ensemble for not reminding me that we needed to take action months ago with them and without them to meet, educate, and welcome.
I know for sure that we will continue our process of meeting and educating in this major U.S. city, and then, hopefully, allowing the art to ultimately serve as a facilitation for some of these conversations as part of the performance. Because we need to have them.
In Lois Lowry’s The Giver, members of a dystopian future society enact an apology ritual around even the slightest error. The wrongdoer states “I apologize for [__brief description of wrong doing__].” The wronged respond, “I accept your apology.” The apology ritual is performed between two individuals, an individual and her family, and even an individual and the entire community.
I listened to the audio book and watched the movie of The Giver within a few months of each other last year, ironically after spending considerable time deprogramming myself from continually saying “sorry.” (Unlike the characters in The Giver however, I was actually taking emotional responsibility for all the little things I was apologizing for—yikes!) My personal distancing from the “s” word and the repeat exposure to The Giver heightened my awareness to the number of colleagues constantly apologizing, directly or indirectly.
My amazingly talented colleague Ivania Stack (yup, another amazing person you should check out) and I adopted the ritual from The Giver in order to playful help all of us recognize we were either dropping the “s” word gratuitously or unnecessarily taking responsibility via an apology: we, and others, now immediately respond back with “I accept your apology.” It gets laughs and knowing nods… and I would like to think it helps. But let’s touch on the flip side: actually allowing your community to care for you by accepting your apologies. Last night in rehearsal, a question about whether I liked an idea the group was bandying about caught me off guard. Low on sleep, high on stress, amused by the idea but trying to think through how it would manifest in the show, my response was a strange defensive explosion of “why would you think I didn’t like it of course I do come on why are we singling me out what could I possibly be doing that would make you think otherwise!?!?!” I apologized. We moved on. At the break, I apologized directly to the question-asker again and with true sincerity she responded “I accept your apology.”
I SO NEEDED THAT. I needed her to accept my apology. I needed for her to recognize I made a mistake, and acknowledge she could forgive my actions and move past them. And she needed me to deal promptly, honestly, and directly with the exchange. In fact: the entire group present needed it, all fifteen of us.
This is how healthy communities are created and maintained, be they workplaces, families, or dystopian future societies: open lines of communication, personal responsibility, authenticity of voice, transparency of process. Adopting and enacting ritualistic actions, whether consciously or unconsciously, does not connect us with one another when they are devoid of meaning. Endowing actions with intension, allowing them to carry the appropriate weight, and sharing support with your colleagues—forms powerful bonds between individuals and continually reinforces them over time.
I looked around the interwebs for more on women in particular and over-apologizing. Thought I would share a few of my findings here: Sorry, Not Sorry--Why Women Need to Stop Apologizing for Everything I'm Sorry But I'm Not Going to Stop Apologizing When "I'm Sorry" Is Too Much
Blog schedules be darned! This big eyed fish explored a new bowl and so the editorial staff has done a switcheroo.
Who out there noticed?
Ok, maybe this is my way of telling you 1) we plan 2) there’s a “we” 3) this post has a lot going on and it’s possible the dots are not all connected.
This weekend, I was slapped across the face. Literally. In front of my dog & pony dc co-ensemble members and a collection of artistic collaborators. By a man who we invited into our ensemble as part of a training. There are many other details I could share, but let’s open with this simple telling of the story.
Being an ensemble member is hard.
“Team membership” brings with it immense power and responsibility. My guess is many few of us outside of the military and professional/life-practice team athletics truly knows this. In my world we tend to call it “ensemble member” or “ensembleship.” The variation between military or athletics, and ensemble, for us at least, is: the agency we endow individuals within the group; the equity with which we seek to operate and realize; the responsibility we share in manifesting shared vision and values; the trust we place and hold in the collective.
The thing about run-of-the-mill colleagues is that in most situations, they can easily avoid making choices, they can kick-back within hierarchy, they can maintain a narrow focus of impact, and everyone’s actions to superiors are either gestures of obedience, pledges of loyalty, or both.
The thing about run-of-the-mill leaders is that in most situations, they can give and take the semblance of power, they can tip over scales, they can give/ take/ reward/ punish/ spotlight/ ignore behaviors, and everyone else needs to have their trust earned by you.
But in our ensemble at least:
Every member of the company has an impact on the work and processes of every other member.
Membership in the company is a constant exercise in awareness, both of one’s own “orbit” within the company, and awareness of all the others. It requires personal flexibility to balance the work of the whole.
- Agency can be taken or ignored.
- Equity can balance despite variance, or it can remain disturbed and partisan.
- Responsibility can be embraced or shrugged off.
- Trust can be given and accepted, or withheld.
Reverse to #1 to launch into #3
So I was slapped across the face. Literally. In front of my co-ensemble members and a collection of collaborating artists. By a man who we invited into our ensemble as part of a company training.
Everyone physically remained in the room. I made a joke shortly afterward; transmitting a coded message to the ensemble (which turned out to be too coded). We processed through the moment, whether to engage in the exercise or not. I told everyone I was totally fine, and not to worry, transmitting another coded message to the ensemble members. (A number of them received it!) For the rest of the afternoon, many of the ensemble members were keenly aware of one another and the other collaborators in the room. Afterward there was informal processing in all sorts of small, private groups. There was some individual processing with me.
What stinks is that as a leader of an ensemble I’m keenly aware of how I must strive to epitomize our values and, sometimes, suck it up and ignore both ensembleship and me. However: I am still 1) an ensemble member and 2) an individual person. These three identities—Ring Leader, dog & pony dc ensemble member, Rachel—are a shifting triangle. When I add to that being female, white, young-ish, small statured, a loud talker, et cetera, the identity intersections I’m navigating at any given moment are mindboggling.
(What’s even more !KA-POW! is: everyone else is also navigating their own identity intersections. But, I’ve digressed. The point is…)
Back in company training this weekend, after the slap, I wasn’t fine. I’m not fine now. All the “processing” I engaged in didn’t take away the fact that I was slapped across the face in front of my co-ensemble members, because my leader-ensemble member-individual triangle held tight with “leader” at the apex for 36-hours. Should it have? Should I have re-triangulated within the group because ensemble? (aka “trust in the system”) Should the ensemble have recalibrated in such a way that encouraged or even forced that to occur? What does “leadership” actually mean within ensemble?
My initial simple telling of the story was inadequate. It was a moment bursting with complications that continue to spill out and spread across the floor. This writing is a necessary step in my clean up process. I’ve returned safe and sound to my bowl, and now am attempting to discern what I learned. And so, I leave these questions with you
What roles do agency, equity, responsibility, and trust play in your communities?
How can we all lead and follow by example?
How do you negotiate triangulating within a tetrahedron?