Speaking Up

I’m proud of myself tonight. For a while I was nervous. Wondering if I owed someone an apology. But now I am proud.

Today, I was part of a Q&A discussion via zoom with the university photographer association I am a member of and on the board for. The topic was our Best Practices for Inclusive and Diverse Photography. We watched a brief video that talked about how the paper was written, how we researched it, how it came to be, etc. Then the floor was open to discussion.

The conversation was interesting and lots of great points were brought up. Mostly by men (a blog entry for another time).

Alongside the conversation there were questions coming up in the chat section, which is where people can type, rather than trying to talk. One member asked a few questions and used the word “master” in his statements in a way that wasn’t blatantly offensive but was problematic.

Along my process of learning about systemic racism and how to be more antiracist, I have learned that reading books and watching movies does not make you antiracist. Speaking up makes you antiracist. Actually doing something makes you antiracist. I did not want to embarrass this member. I knew he meant no ill-will. I could have sent a private chat to him, but I also knew there were forty to sixty people here who could learn from this moment. I am, literally, the Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Chair on the board (I don’t deserve it but I’m trying to earn it), so I should be the one saying stuff.

So the next thought, coming at me very fast, was How do I address this in the most effective, least dramatic way?

My insides started to shift with my nervousness. I spoke up when there was a (very small) break in the conversation. Fortunately there was meat to his questions and need for clarification, “So and So, I see your question in the chat and I just wanted to double-back to it because I’m not sure if it’s rhetorical for if you wanted to talk about it. Could you elaborate on it and also, maybe, and I’m so sorry because I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but maybe consider your wording a bit next time. Master is a bit problematic”

To my relief, this was not a fragile, unthoughtful man. He responded with “You’re absolutely right. Thank you for calling me out on that. I didn’t think about it an I should have that was my mistake”

Cool. Great. Not too awkward. Moving on.

Then another member chimed in, “But Master is in the Bible”

At which point I made it awkward by quickly responding “It’s racist” in a way that also said This conversation is over.

S and So continued on with his question and the discussion continued. Which impressed me because after the interaction, I personally heard none of his words or the discussion that followed as my insides were shaking uncontrollably in reaction to me speaking out in front of so many people.

I’m so glad we moved on because I likely would have dug my heels in had the debate continued. I can now reflect on how to handle a situation if it goes differently in the future. I don’t want to dig my heels in just for the sake of doing so and it’s possible I may have. I also don’t want to end with “Well, let’s agree to disagree”

I also private messaged that member and, I realize now, unnecessarily apologized to him, just for the awkwardness. He kindly responded with “not at all! Thank you!”

I texted a fellow board member later and asked “Was that insanely awkward?” I realize now that I wanted her to tell me I did a good job, but she responded with something even better. “It was awkward. But growth is awkward”

Indeed it is.

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