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The art of offensive networking

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There’s this moment(s) I think all human beings experience in there lives when shit hits the fan either mentally, spiritually, or physically. It’s that moment when your conscious awakens because your brain has been triggered and is warning you that a reaction to something is in your immediate future. As I sit here early this morning typing on my keyboard the words that come to mind for me are as follows: anger, guilt, shame, frustration, embarrassment, excitement and disappointment. As the reader, I am sure you are thinking this list could go on and on. I am writing because this morning my heart tells me that someone is experiencing these emotions heavily and my message to you is to “just breathe.”

I am not offering it as a solution, more like a practice that says gather your thoughts before you react. Take a deep breathe, gather yourself and then make a decision. Working in diversity, equity, and inclusion is no easy task.

On a daily basis I see people at their worst, experiencing the worst, and reacting and being punished for being mistreated. In training one of the first things I offer is before you take a number of steps to confront the issue, just breathe. If this last sentence doesn’t make sense to you, let me give you some examples (apply them as necessary, remember we all do not fit into one box, we have multiple identities that will register across these examples):

  • There’s the black woman, whose hair you feel you don’t have to ask to touch, and even if you do, you don’t understand her frustration that is building up because she doesn’t want to be objectified by your curiosity. She experiences microaggressions daily, such as: you are so articulate and you’d be much prettier if you were light skinned. She’s tired of you pathologizing her behavior by telling her to “calm down” and cover her authentic reaction in order to make other comfortable. Just to name a few.
  • There’s the person who speaks with an accent (by the way, everyone has an accent to someone) who is tired of you pathologizing their language and always mentioning that they speak different from you and should try to learn better English. When you do not realize this is you enforcing your language norm and inferiorizing how this person speaks, because it’s different.
  • Then there’s the woman who experiences sexual harassment, whose voice is constantly cut off in conversations by men who consciously or unconsciously stop listening to what she has to say, and who doesn’t see any or multiple diversity dimensions (race, class, gender identity, ethnicity etc) of herself represented in leadership in her company due to bias. Who can’t get the promotion she deserves, is already underpaid, or can’t get put on larger projects at work, or can’t even get past the gotdamn interview because she is always told by a hiring person or her direct manager that it’s not the right time, she’s not the right fit, etc. She suffers from imposter syndrome.
  • Then there’s the person who is undergoing a gender identity transformation, whether trans or non binary, that is treated differently at work. Facing a possible demotion, may no longer qualify for health insurance, is hesitant to walk into the bathroom that matches their authentic gender identity because there is some judgemental asshole on the other side of the door that is waiting to mistreat them.

My message to anyone experiencing the above scenarios, whether you are the victim or the person who is in desperate need of a reality check about your prejudices, before you react just breathe. To the victim(s)/recipient(s)of discrimination and ignorance: Breathe so deep that you release the fear and find courage to stand up and stand out in the moment.

To the offenders: Breathe so deep that you find an empathetic mindset to understand that you have done something to offend someone when they call you out, that you have made a mistake and it’s the first step to you asking for forgiveness or forgiving yourself for what you have done. Or to contemplate why you think the way that you do, why ignorance or hate are your default and create such blinders that you can’t see your own demise flourishing due to your inability to challenge your norms and privileges.

After you inhale, make sure that you exhale just as deeply.

Again, I offer this practice, not as a solution. I am a firm believer that discrimination and oppression is wrong. It stems from ignorance and hate, and it is impacting all of us.  Just remember to take a second to breathe and release before you react, it might help to make a difference in the outcome. 

Be well and take care of yourself and others.


Cheryl Ingram

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