Breaking Down Discrimination

We’ve all been there at one point or another. We’ve either experienced it personally or seen it happen to others – being left out, being followed in a store, being disregarded, unnecessary escalations, micro-aggressions and so much more.

Diverse paperchain cutout against a blue sky

While we can never fully put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, you can practice empathy and advocacy. As Ellie Wiesel once said, “neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Being a bystander to injustice is the same as being an oppressor.

My point of view is not all encompassing, and I am by no means perfect – I practice being aware of and squashing my bias both conscious and unconscious each day. It’s tough as we must challenge decades of traditions, experiences, teachings and values – learning to slow down and shift our perspective to advocate for ourselves and others.

I’ve been mistaken as the help, called names that hurt (i.e., spic, wetback, trash, etc.) and told that I wouldn’t succeed. For a long time, I was mad and upset but I learned that to combat ignorance and hate you need mental toughness and courage to rise and chip away at it. Below are some strategies I’ve employed and developed over the years.

Seeing is believing
More than figures and metrics, shared personal experiences can shift someone’s mindset. It really takes engaging their mind, heart and values – knowing about the metrics, being exposed and making a meaningful connection to that community.

  • Understand why/where their belief comes from as well understand what they value – (family, money, recognition, faith, etc.)
  • Share key facts and figures to make your case using that value area, (ex. Did you know the pope was Argentinian or that the U.S. Latinx consumer is the fastest growing segment and is projected to top $1.9 trillion by 2023 according to a study by nielsen.
  • Connect them to others who share their values and have commonalities to with them. Start with a few before exposing them to a full community.
  • Reinforce encounters with continued engagement, facts and figures

While they might not become an advocate overnight, you’ll break their misconception and help them consciously become more open and non-discriminatory.

Challenging the exceptionalism
Being or having a diverse friend, colleague or family member doesn’t impede folks from being unjust or biased towards others. Yes, it does help with understanding, but many folks unconsciously (and some consciously) still exhibit bias towards others. A few examples:

  • The entertainment industry propagates type-casting – there are few Latin actors that break the mold of being the help or even make to a lead role. Those who make it are exceptions.
  • Diversity hiring at corporate organizations look at diverse slates but then make the mistake on not focusing on inclusion and culture to set folks up for success. Imagine being a top performer but being told you were hired because you’re diverse. It’s not only toxic but devalues all your contributions. This is a reason why across the board we see high attrition rates for diverse talent.
  • There are also diverse leaders/influencers who don’t lift others up – or a person who has been so traumatized from racism or entrenched in racist teachings that they ignore color/diversity all together. As Melody Hobson noted in her Ted Talk, they’re “color blind.” They fear no longer being accepted if they bring others up or genuinely believe that it is how the journey is and folks must figure it out just as they did.

Advocating for diversity and inclusion isn’t easy, it takes continuous, relentless focus and courage.

  • Understand their perspective – Ask them to clearly explain their belief/argument with genuine interest, do not react – just listen.
  • Replay their perspective – Without judgement, restate their perspective as a question to clarify that you understand their perspective. This helps build common ground.
  • Probe with open questions to uncover the root of their bias. Employ no judgement, keep questions open ended and ask genuinely. Example questions:
    • Have you always felt this way?
    • What caused you to feel that way?
    • What led you to that belief?
    • Can you share an example?
  • Challenge their assumptions with finesse – Rephrase contradictions, counterexamples, inconsistencies and exceptions as questions again without judgement.
  • At this point you can go a few different ways:
    • Dig deeper – If you don’t think the person has fully revealed the root or may be slightly agitated, slow down and restate your intent is to genuinely understand their views and repeat the steps above.
    • Solution together – talk through possible solutions and how you can help keep them accountable or come to a middle-ground balanced understanding of the reality.
    • Walk away – If they’re incredibly agitated, tell them you value their relationship and didn’t wish to fluster them, agree to disagree and give them space.

The most reasonable interpretation

When dealing directly with an aggressor, shifting one’s perspective can help change that person’s perspective over time. It isn’t fair in an ideal world but sometimes confrontation leads to deeper hate, resentment and unwarranted consequences/tragedies.

  • If someone mistakes you for a worker at an establishment where you don’t work:
    • Rephrase and replay their demand/ask/comment to them as a clarifying question without judgement.
    • Note you don’t work there but are happy to help them find someone who does to help them.
    • Wish them a good day and smile – they were in the wrong but now they’ve had a potentially humbling, humiliating and positive experience that challenges their believes and that is something to smile about.
  • Micro-aggression at work:
    • Confront them on the side starting with asking them why without judgement.
    • Rephrase their action based on their reasoning and ask them if they understand the impact, and how others truly interpreted/perceived the situation.
    • State you know that wasn’t their intention and work towards a sustainable solution together.
    • If the above doesn’t work, escalate the matter to their/your superior or report trail of repeated behavior to human resources anonymously.
  • With friends and family:
    • Pull them to the side and start by stating how much you value your relationship. Then, be direct about the action and ask them why without judgement.
    • Let them know you understand their side but share how it made you/others feel.
    • Reiterate you know that wasn’t their intention and offer to help keep them honest as you work towards a sustainable solution together.
    • Repeat these steps as necessary if the person is actively trying and truly remorseful. If they’re not trying and don’t care, consider limiting exposure by not engaging/inviting them to situations where this may arise. Or consider giving the relationship some space, especially if they’re intolerably toxic.

Teach kids the beauty of differences

We all have a role to play in investment on a culture that values paying it forward and accountability from all to build an inclusive environment. This starts as early as childhood like not filling kids with perceptions that brown is bad and curly hair is difficult – that there are any nouns that are ugly, bad or unacceptable. Yes, it starts with identifying and seeing the beauty in differences of all nouns.

As adults, we need to understand statements like this is a bad neighborhood, has long-lasting impacts on someone’s perceptions and interactions with others.

  • Don’t lie but share a balanced truth, such as:
    • It may not look nice but there are many hard-working people in this community, and you’ll get the best ceviche in that neighborhood.
  • Advocate that all colors, shapes, sizes, faiths and neighborhoods have their own unique beauty. Examples:
    • Brown is the also the color of trees, fertile soil, chocolate and brownies.
    • Black is actually a shade not a color, but it matches with everything and denotes some of the most elite credit cards. Blackberries for example, are delicious as well as high in vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.
    • When it is most dark, we get the best view of stars.

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