No Shame in Equity
by Regina Armour
Everyone has been the last at something. The last to be picked up from school. The last to hear about the new song everyone already knows the words to. The last one on the bus. And everyone’s fav — the last to be picked for dodgeball. The important thing here, though: Do you remember that feeling? If not, here are some descriptors to jog your memory from it being a funny childhood moment to the painful experience it actually was:
-being the butt of the joke
-being one of the “uncool” kids
Maybe we felt one or more of these emotions. Maybe we felt all of them at once, and then some. Maybe we shrugged them off because whatever we were feeling on this list we had felt before…too many times before.
Some kiss these feelings off to “growing up”, and they’re right. However, why should growing up be so painful? What happens to those bullies and non-friends that caused these feelings to come up inside of us? They became the back-stabbers and sycophants in our workplaces, social groups, places of worship, and spots where we eat out and shop. They learned to hurt before being hurt; marginalize before being marginalized; and that life is a zero-sum game with winners and losers.
BUT…we live in a strongly held status quo which is built on the marginalization of others; a competitive, almost gladiator-like work environment featuring an unabashed patriarchy, and most currently, a return to cultural separatism and global isolationism. Even in Silicon Valley, where all is supposed to be cutting edge and innovative…nap rooms and flexible working spaces serve as examples. Just ask an engineer of color or a woman IT designer about their experience, and they will tell you these “cutting edge” places are the new good ole boys club with a fraternity-like atmosphere.
And now on to the big one on our list above: SHAME. Mike mentioned it in his blogpost about his connection to “hillbilly-ism”. We all live in a shame-based culture that dogs our every footstep. Shame is accumulated through most religious experiences, schooling, and socialization from our individual communities. And we are taught to think….”Well, at least I am not ___________.” And we are taught to feel shame if we are. This topic is really a whole other blog post, but I will give you an example of an attempt at equity….kinda….but maybe cloaked in shame.
I watch Insecure on HBO and SUITS on USA. I also actually noticed this phenomenon on Downton Abbey during its last two seasons. The main female leads on Insecure and Suits, Issa Rae and Gina Torres respectively, went through a remarkable change as their shows increased in popularity. These wonderful African American actresses, with their wonderful African- American features and body-types that are our DNA, became slimmer with each sequential season.
At first I kind of cocked my head to one side while viewing an episode and said to myself…hmmmmm. But with each passing viewing, it became not only more explicit to me, but also more uncomfortable as my body shaming switch got flipped. I, as another African American woman (or woman, period), liked seeing a somewhat filled out, or dare I say, voluptuous woman on screen. Why the thinning-out process then? They looked dynamite in forward fashions walking with stride and pride on full hips, with full breasts and shapely thighs. Even on Downton Abbey, all of the women seemed to have dropped 1–3 sizes by the final season….even Maggie Smith’s character was thinner, for crying out loud! She has got to be in her mid-80s!
Why do we finally celebrate women in lead roles, carrying a series storyline, hopefully leading to more equity in the movie industry, only to see them relegated back to the status quo version of beauty? It’s bad enough for women as a whole, and just plain devastating for Black women and other women of color. (Maybe it was done for personal reasons by the actresses and not connected to the marketplace, but it was reported Issa Rae lost 50 lbs to go from a size 8 to a size 0! When did a size 8 = FAT? I WISH I could be a size 8!!!)
Why the implied shame in these women’s natural bodies? Why did they have to change in order to meet the “mainstream” view of beauty? Why can’t we celebrate who we really are without a sense that we’re not enough?
Equity is possible.
What if we could up-end these feelings of shame and embarrassment about our cultural heritage and who we really are? We could learn a lesson from this example of shaming from pop culture about what NOT to do and transfer it to the context we currently inhabit. Equity is possible. By having pride in our natural heritage, we could grow children in our schools who are academically strong and loving. We could parent in a more intentional way that practically guarantees kind, compassionate adults. We could feel happy going to a workplace that really values us as professionals and leaves us fulfilled with our contributions. Right now we are just stressed out, freaked out, worn out, and medicated into numbness by one route or another: food, TV, cell phones, work, alcohol, drugs (prescription or otherwise), risk-taking behavior…the list goes on.
Equity is possible. We can, and if we have the necessary commitment, we WILL! Here is an example of what I think it could look like ( — -with the necessary judgement and common sense!) across work, home, schools, and out in the world at-large… We could call this the “Equity Starter Kit”. This list of suggestions is only the beginning!
“Equity Starter Kit”
*Intentionally carve out time for family as a group, and also allow all family members to have “me” time (It builds relationships amongst the family, but also provides respectful space for each one as an individual.)
*Once a year take a family vacation. We all need to find the time to disconnect from our own worlds and truly connect with each other and experience something together. Take turns selecting the destination. (It further bonds and helps us to truly understand those closest to us — their dreams, disappointments, hopes, and fears.)
*Get the family (and YOU!) involved in a cause or initiative that reaches out to a community not like your own. Not just collecting money or clothes, etc. and handing everything over to an agency. Have everyone experience those worlds!
Check out my personal fav — We Day!
Innovative and awesome ways to involve your kids in local and global causes!
(These things — while tough to fit into family schedules — can be very helpful toward raising kind and compassionate kids. They need to see that their actions can actually change a life.)
*Create time throughout your work week to check in with your work-mates — those you hang out with, of course, but also those you don’t work with specifically. Just find out how they’re doing without asking for anything in return (This builds a positive work culture.)
*Bring flowers to work! They don’t make everyone fat like cakes and cookies, AND they are just beautiful! It will just light up the place!
*Try to have meeting norms or rules of engagement that promote equity. The reason being, it guarantees equal voices around the table when decisions are being made and puts limits on loud voices with an unhealthy balance of power.
*Break bread together… Often! Have office outings on selected Friday afternoons during so-called work hours so everyone can participate without missing their train…like BBQs or bowling. Many venues fully support businesses and big groups. It promotes social interaction and personal story-telling. (What really happens on a Friday after 1:30 or 2:00pm anyway?)
*How about something different, like group skydiving!!!
*Create a culture that welcomes differences and creates excitement around them! Start the year with personal bridge-building experiences with your kids (not a real bridge, but a metaphorical one!)
Spend the first TWO WEEKS building this culture with care. It will pay off in deuces as the year progresses!
*Conduct a few home visits or call parents at the beginning of the year. What better way to start a relationship! This way, your first interaction won’t be about discipline or their child in a negative scenario.
*Create flexible seating in your classroom (whether it is elementary or a high school!) to accommodate many more learning styles. Think about how fun kindergarten was because you had sooooo many choices on where to work and play!
*Have a community or class meeting at least once per month to keep the lines of communication open and students can feel free to air their views and concerns and celebrate each other’s successes!
*Speaking of successes, celebrate often! Everyone wants and needs to be acknowledged. It’s a human thing!
Out There in the World:
*Speak to fellow pedestrians you see on the street. Make eye contact! When you smile and they smile back, you both feel good. (NOTE: Black folks used to do this all of the time back in the day…some still do… because we were mostly always outnumbered in hostile worlds: corporate america, downtown in big cities, colleges and universities, etc…. Even though we didn’t know each other per se, we would always acknowledge each other as a way of connecting through our common ancestry and struggle…)
*When giving to the homeless or others who ask for spare change, don’t waste time judging their circumstances. Actually look at them if and when you give, and tell them to “take care” or wish them well. Just think how much it takes to beg…even if you are scamming, it can still be/feel shaming…
*Every now and then, call your family members and friends on an afternoon over the weekend. Reach out just to see how they are doing. That’s all. It keeps you connected beyond the holidays, and it feels better when you really need them for something.
*Say a genuine thank you to the busboys and “busgirls” at restaurants you patronize when they bring you water and an extra napkin. Your server gets a tip as a thank you, but they usually just get ignored.
These are not THE answers, just a few possible ones. The bottom line is to just be mindful that we are all humans and we are hardwired to connect. Practicing kindness on a regular basis will make more of a difference than you know…
Mike embraced his “hillbilly-ism”, he says in short, because of the ways his ancestors used to take care and look out for each other. Well, as much as we are different, we are alike! Blacks in the rural South, just like Whites in the hills, did the same. We had “play aunties and uncles” and “play brothers and sisters” and Big Mama’s. We looked after our own children and our neighbors’ children. The practice of giving money and bringing food to a family that has just experienced a death still happens today ACROSS cultures. We may not call it “hillbilly’ism”; we do call it “being old school”. Whatever it is called in your cultural world, more of it is necessary and very much needed right about now. Shame notwithstanding, we all need to connect with each other.