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  • benjaminnewman01

Mod. 6 - Shifting Our Gaze (To our Broken Institutions)

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

An experience occurring in many broken institutions right now could be framed within the following equation:

Egocentric President/Leader + New/Hot Button Topic = Allocation of insufficient resources to address topic, performative grandstanding and self-congratulatory statements to the Board of "We did it. Now can we move on?"

One of the largest areas of brokenness I see in the Performing Arts sector is the separation of one's self from one's work. The sector is rife with leaders who use their work to avoid and ignore what it means to be human on the basis that "it's not their job to be human." As a result, they create environments in which people cannot represent themselves authentically and constantly dance on eggshells to avoid doing or saying something that would be received as "not work related" or "that's not what we do here" causing them to be othered by their fellow coworkers who remain silent in order to survive.

I recall working within an organization that was attempting to improve some of their inclusion practices in their grant making by adopting the term "ALAANA" (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, Native American). At the time, I remember speaking up and saying the new term didn't include people such as indigenous Hawaiians or other non-white native people groups and also excluded people of Middle Eastern or Western Asian heritage who are not Arab such as Kurds, Chaldeans, Copts, Azeris, Iranians, Armenians, Tajiks, Uzbeks, etc. Not only that, not a single non-white person was asked if the term was inclusive. My coworkers were silent, my critiques were ignored, the term was adopted and what followed was a series of confused people taking up valuable staff time trying to understand if they were eligible to apply for the grant. Two years later the term was thrown out and replaced with BIPOC.

My voice held no weight because my critiques were deemed as "personal" and not "professional". No one stood up for those people except for me because of fear of rejection or worse. This was the moment that came to mind during Orientation to establish shared agreements around the value of "being open to others representing your truth." In this case, there was no one else in the room to represent these people or their unique heritage, culture and identities. I didn't need to be Iranian to imagine that some Iranians might find it offensive when they are labeled as either Arab or White. My personal experience informed my comments in the workplace, but because they were perceived as obtuse and/or untrue, they were rejected.

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