Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to be a part of a group doing some focused work around Equity Leadership. We studied the history of race, examined ourselves and some implicit biases that occur because of race, and we have had courageous conversations around race and equity. It’s an experience that has helped me grow in many ways and has helped me to focus more on listening to learn rather than inserting my thoughts at every given opportunity. Over the past year I thought I had grown; I looked at the world with a wider set of lenses and could apply my knowledge in other areas of my life outside of the group setting.
But, this week I was thrown back into a place that forced me to again acknowledge that I’m white and with that comes a set of norms that are so deeply engrained it is challenging to understand them all until they slap you in the face.
After our Equity Leadership training this week, a few of us were having a casual conversation about the Universoul Circus that was in town. I was asked by someone if I had ever been to that specific event. My response was “No, I hate the circus. I’ve only been to the real circus once.” My teammates immediately called to question my use of the word “real” in my response. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I had meant no harm, but because of my implicit bias, I minimized the worth of the Universoul circus to Ringling Brothers. It happened and it was real…and it hurt me to know those words had left my mouth.
I also am fortunate to be able to work with a group of students at a local university studying some of the same issues. I shared my experience with them and we discussed the implications of it. I shared the emotion around it with them and we discussed that if we are going to be true champions of equity, it means constantly reflecting on what we do, say, and how our race impacts our perception of the world.
My step backward on the cultural continuum was a tough pill to swallow. My writing this today is an effort to reflect upon the experience, move past the feelings of ignorance and shame that accompanied the experience to a place of growth.
I can’t promise I won’t make another equally ignorant mistake. I can promise another would never be intentional. Self examination and reflection will hopefully allow me to continue to press forward to being a truly culturally proficient white girl.