Talking About Diversity and Sitting in that Fire

I was deeply offended by the views of another person yesterday and responded by offending the person right back. According to the offender, this is just something I do and a position I frequently cast myself in. My initial internal response was, ‘that’s nonsense’, as I carried on verbalising my viewpoint (with some considerable vigour). 

Now, I could pass this off as the kind of Christmas family argument that happens with one’s partner when you’ve spent too much time in a car together, reading a torn map and circumnavigating French cities in the fog. I could put it down to the shared wits end we had reached with our toddler, who was intent on pouring orange juice over coats, duvets and the car seat, but I think it was more than that.

My partner and I were on the above ‘delightful’ and potentially scenic (hmmm, thanks fog) road trip home from our Christmas spent ‘en famille’. We got talking about what the likely experience of moving to an all-English village in the Dordogne might be. I snorted and sneeringly gave forth my opinion of how utterly ridiculous the suggestion of that idea was. Clearly moving to a village ‘like that’ with people ‘ like that’ would be an absolute no.

He gave a more measured, ‘Can we just talk about what the experience of moving to an all-English village in the Dordogne might be?’ I explained that anyone who would even conceive of moving to a village ‘colonized’ by the English was clearly off their rocker. As is often the case with discussions like this, he stood on the North Pole and I on the South. I looked at him like I had never met him before and he looked right back with a similar un-knowing. How could someone I know harbour such a ridiculous fantasy that living in an English only (colonized) village in France would be in any way acceptable?

Somewhat wounded by my vitriol, he wouldn’t let the emotion behind the force of my argument go. We ended up in a painful (for me) but fascinating discussion, in which we explored my bias about the 'kinds of people’ who live in ‘places like that'.  We touched on why it is that I believe I know exactly what ‘kinds of people’ they are. I heard myself making the sort of sweeping generalisations that I would consider utterly offensive if made in the direction of other (more marginalised) groups. I was forced to pause for a moment, and take in the fog obscured landscape, while I tried to work out what was going on with me.

As I have been exploring in a post I am yet to share, I have hidden all sorts of past injuries and affronts in my life, in an effort to ensure that the ugly face of discrimination never knocked my confidence. This monumental effort to ignore certain behaviours, certain biases cast in my direction, has meant passing off all sorts of unacceptable behaviours and attitudes on the part of others. I have been a person that rarely ‘speaks up’ for fear that taking that position will marginalise me further. I have opted instead for a blending in and for a moderated version of myself. I have never, therefore given calm, considered and straightforward voice to the ugliness I have seen and to my views on this.

The stuffing down of how it feels to be discriminated against and of ones true self in an effort to blend in, occasionally leads to some quite ugly behaviour on my part. And, as is in the case of this English occupied village that I have never been to in France, I launch, quite emotively, into allsorts of assumptions and generalisations about groups of people. This is all quite unconscious and delivered from a position of pain that my former hurts at the hands of certain groups have never been acknowledged.

When we argue with our nearest and dearest, the change in our perception often happens when a deep knowing of our position and its roots takes place. The shift in our relations is made possible through an acknowledgement of what might be driving us. It sometimes feels that the online debates about diversity end up in some strangely polarised positions with each party staring at the other like they are complete strangers (well, technically they often are). A perfectly balanced exchange can begin to take place and then one notices that pain has kicked in for one of the participants. A hidden hurt, disappointment or fear has reared its head in the discussions and missiles, from a place of unconscious bias, start being launched.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could share our actual views with the calm, consideration of where these views might be rooted? It would be guaranteed to be uncomfortable, it would surely get very hot and because it would require us to de-censor ourselves, it will certainly be hard. But, I think we are forged anew in that difficult place, that ‘fire of transformation’, and that, crucially, we give ourselves more opportunities to emerge together from that fire completely different people.

I'm still not moving to an all-English village in France. I hate Cricket and I refuse to discuss it. Missile launched ;)