Personal / Social Justice

Thoughts Had During A Presentation on Diversity and Privilege in the Workplace

“But how are women marginalized?”

That’s the question asked by the young woman sitting near me. We have been given printouts with wheels, each end marked “Privileged” and “Marginalized/Minoritized”. The woman gestures to her wheel, face screwed up in confusion. Only one person separates me from her. I swung my head in her direction when our presenter, a loud, boisterous woman whose best friend I really want to be, made her way over to check people’s progress. The presenter is still here, looking down at the other woman’s unmarked wheel. I’m pretty sure we realize at the same time: this woman genuinely doesn’t get it.

How are women marginalized, she wonders? Where to even begin? With slowly dawning horror, and I look up to see our presenter having the same revelation. In my head I’m screaming: “OhmyGodOhmyGodOhmyGod” and finally “I need to go home”. That’s been the opinion since I left my house at 7:15 AM for this dreaded workshop (it’s a work thing), but it’s feeling especially important that I leave now. There are definitely better things to do. Reading a book, fighting through my writer’s block to post something, resuming my Xena marathon. I think I used to be good at hiding my feelings, but I must have lost that ability somewhere down the line. I can feel my face contorting into horror, my eyes widening comically. This all happens to a chorus of dissent that’s been rising since these sheets were passed out mere minutes ago. No one is pleased to have received them, and the frustration at not understanding them has shifted ever so slightly to irritation at even having received them. Our presenter, quietly absorbing the woman’s questions, nods her head slowly and looks down at the table. I imagine her going through the same stages as me, as denial and disbelief intermingle and form a jumbled amalgam of WTF. “I see what the problem is,” she says before turning back to the front of the room.

While she launches into a very nice, and very good explanation for how to proceed with this very controversial concept I sit there, having something close to an out-of-body experience. I see myself through the lens of a sitcom. I’m the quirky main character having a really bad day, and this is the part where I look into the camera, a disturbed look on my face. If this were the 90’s there would even be a laugh track. My racing mind even conjures a vision of me letting my head simply fall into the tabletop. Perhaps I’ll knock myself into a coma for the rest of this day and no longer have to experience it.

I know this will only get worse. I’ve enjoyed this presentation once before, surrounded by people my age who were either young enough to have their thoughts turned more toward progression or aware enough not to voice their ridiculousness in a group forum. That’s not the case today where the bulk of people in this room are older (some by several decades) than me and at least the ones I know aren’t as interested in being decent as I wish they were. It doesn’t help that I’m at this workshops sans truly friendly faces or like minds. My fingers twitch toward my bag and my phone inside it, my only mode of communicating this tortuous experience to someone else who would understand. But the entire group, like 21st century second graders, have already been scolded for our overeager texting fingers so I just grip my pen and doodle in the margins of my page, struggling not to write something akin to IN THE LAND OF INSENSITIVE IDIOTS SOMEONE HELP.

My wheel has already been completed. The people sitting around me look down at mine in confusion, unsure of what it all means. To be fair, I did see this presentation once already and even before then I was well versed in terms like privilege and microagression and wasn’t afraid of using them. They’re probably daunting terms to those who are unfamiliar, and the word privilege has people (usually the privileged) But oh my God, Jesus take the wheel because I can’t live like this. The guy sitting next to me (who’s already worked my nerves today) leans over and tells me he doesn’t understand. I explain as best I can through my annoyance and still persistent dread. As our presenter explains how one’s religion could count as either a privileged or marginalized identity, he says, his voice streaked with indignation, “Did she say Christianity is privileged?” I turn away and sigh while someone else takes that question. I don’t know what their answer was. My mental screams drowned it out.

“This woman is a saint,” I think. Or an angel or some other super person/deity that allows her to rise above the rapidly growing bullshit quotient. I’m ready to fit her for a halo myself when one woman raises her hand and snaps, “Who is this important to?” As other people laugh, casually turning over and sweeping to the side their unattempted wheels,  I just about fall out of my chair, wishing I’d put more effort into disconnecting from the surrounding world and disappearing into my own personal fantasy land. I swore I’d get that down to avoid these very feelings of annoyance. Instead they linger, and I’m stuck in my chair watching this lovely presenter explain the importance of understanding the different ways people’s life experiences are shaped by their myriad of identities and how it would define our experiences in the workplace.

It’s relevant and important, but of course there will always be those who don’t care. It’s an all around miserable day and just slightly worse than I’d anticipated. There are a few glimmers of hope from the back of the room, where people ask thoughtful questions and contribute stories to the conversation. I try to hold onto those but I can’t stop thinking about the ones who don’t care and laugh away what actually is a more than decent explanation of privilege, bias and its intricacies. But in the end it’s not the information’s difficult reception but the final moments of this long, long day. The organizers of this ridiculous day decided to quiz us on all we’d learned and while we were questioned on dull matters like preventative maintenance and superfoods, no one asked a thing about the most important, and even the most time-consuming presentation, we had. It just highlights what I already know: no one cares.

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