Monday, February 20, 2017

“Mirror, mirror on the wall… Who’s the most diverse of all?”

“It ain’t you, my friend. You’re standing in this bathroom alone!”

It’s true… the only time you DON'T experience diversity is when you are standing alone in the bathroom looking in the mirror.

Heck, you don’t even have to look in the mirror. It’s true – with or without the mirror.

Diversity happens as soon as two people are together.

That’s because no two people are completely alike.

They’re like snowflakes. Or prisms. Or crayons.

Wait, crayons are mass produced….


Diversity is about difference. It’s what makes this journey on this planet so much fun.

Think about it…

….  If you were walking down the street and all you saw were people who looked exactly like you, wearing the same clothes you wear, driving the same car you drive…

It would be like high school all over again!

Seriously, diversity is really the elegance of this existence.

For me, if I’m sitting around giving my opinion, it is WAY more FUN if someone disagrees or at least adds a twist or a turn that I hadn’t considered. 

It’s the learning curve.

I LIKE IT when people disagree with me, when they have opinions that are different than mine – even if it is only a little different!

The only things I know are what I have experienced, thought about, learned about, or looked at closely. My blinders are painted in the colors I can see and only in the colors I can see. 

I need others to expand my colors, expand my experience, to give me a more diverse outlook, more things to think about differently.

Your experiences, thoughts, learnings, and considerations are different than mine. And if you’re culture, language, upbringing, experience of class or privilege or.. or… or…
Is different!!!!

THAT’S diversity.

Can you see why it’s such a celebration? Why there’s so much to learn?

There’s no way I can experience everything myself. Consequently, I want to meet as many people with as many different experiences as possible.

Please, tell me more about you, about that thing you considered over there or the learning you had right here or, what did you call that whatchamacallit?

Let’s ALL stand in front of the mirror, together…

“Mirror, mirror on the wall…  ain’t we so diverse and all?”

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

What if the open violence in the U.S. is really an open door?

Understanding the Opportunity!

I have watched as the climate of this country has increased in the expression of open bigotry, open hatred, and some resulting violence.

I know it isn’t new or sudden. It has been brewing for centuries. 

The fear mongering of the last decade has fed it, the political climate nurtured it. 

And... it is right on time in the Cycle of Prejudice

The upheaval of the last several years was predictable.

In the Cycle of Prejudice, prejudice starts as totally sanctioned; mainstream approved, acceptable, even expected. Think of slavery, for example (though it is not the only example).

Prejudice was the norm, accepted as a fact and created as a foundation within the infrastructure.

Then over time it became less acceptable to some….

…. Then it became less acceptable to more… 

then to many…  

soon there was a violent push for it to end (Civil War).

It became law that slavery be eliminated. The expectation was that the prejudice that accompanied slavery would also be eliminated. Laws went into place to require equality between blacks and whites in various forms, various settings.

…But you can’t mandate will.

The prejudice simply went underground.

While there, it festers and brews. Blame, stereotypes, anger; they all grow – deep and dark – until, suddenly they erupt.

During the era of mandated will when racism was not-so-politically-correct, words and acts of prejudice and violence increase; slowly, subtly at first becoming more brazen, to more blatant (consider the limelight of police brutality, of Black Lives Matter). 

The senses of the public become almost dulled to it, almost callous to the occurrences as they rise and increase and become the norm.
And then prejudice again becomes accepted. It is large and out loud; brash, vulgar, and sometimes violent.

That’s where we are again.

Prejudice is loud, large, above board, seemingly approved and accepted.

It is uncomfortable…. But what if this open hatred, open prejudice, open violence is actually an open door?

What if it is the BEGINNING of real respect and equity within our society?

Can you see the possibility?

When prejudice is underground, it is almost impossible to deal with. It is easily denied. It is often subversive, insidious, and hard to identify.

When it is “loud and proud”, that’s when the opportunity truly exists; 

…the opportunity for dialog.

The dialog isn’t about an expectation that people are transformed into singing Kumbaya in the streets, holding hands with a happy ending with Grinch-like transformations.

It isn’t about even changing people’s perspectives or how they think.

It’s about teaching and expecting and holding individuals and groups to the idea of simple respect.
I’m not talking about the type of respect that is earned. I’m talking about the type that is given; simply and civilly.

Such respect is about increasing individual and collective tool boxes. Learning to manage the self in conflict, in differing opinions, in the process of being offended, of not liking someone or something someone does.

Building tool boxes begins with dialog. 

Honest, difficult dialog that interrupts the Cycle.

It starts with “the choir,” those of us who are already ready, who already get it.

We start by exploring our own behavior, beliefs, implicit and explicit biases; challenging them in one another, owning our sh*t.

It starts by recognizing our privilege (virtually everyone experiences some level of privilege) and stepping into the power and responsibility of that privilege.

In this way, we are at the beginning of a great opportunity to interrupt the Cycle of Prejudice; as individuals and as a society.

Not by punishing the hatred (different than accountability).

Not by futilely attempting to mandate will (that hasn't gone well yet).

But by checking ourselves first – checking our bias, our privilege, our blind spots, our painful spots.

And talking about it.

It starts with you.

And remember, that’s something you have control over.

YOU can start, continue, and expand the dialog.

Baby steps.

I look forward to anyone who wants to engage in that conversation. 

Tweet @LeahKyaio #letstalkaboutthehate

Email me.

Comment below.

Do your part – start the conversations.

With Respect,

Leah R. Kyaio

Photo by Markku Solopuro

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Privilege - A New Perspective

Privilege is a word that seems to raise quite a bit of defensiveness and is wielded as almost a weapon. Yet it is something many struggle to understand; particularly those who experience it.

To be clear, people have no more control over whether they are born into a group of privilege then they do of being born in a target group.

The trick is, however, it’s much harder to see, feel, or understand from inside privilege. 

I am of white-passing privilege. I understand my white privilege from a unique perspective that you can read more about here.

As a result of that experience, I have thought A LOT about that experience and my responsibility as a person who experiences white privilege.

I have come to understand privilege as a lack of contrast

Let me give you a very visual explanation of what I mean.

It is as if we are all born with a blue sheet of paper. This is our birthright – pure potential, unadulterated by social conditioning, constructs, or their prejudice and discrimination. 

The more blue, the more there is an experience of easy access, ample opportunity, inherent safety, and a general positive life experience. Who you are, what your name is, how you look, how you talk, how you walk, who you love, how you define the World...  All of these things are accepted as typical when all of those things reside in the blue.

As life unfolds, however, certain contrasts arise. They come in the form of differences, things that stand out from what is accepted as "normal." They become oppressions - things that limit access to pure potential.

These differences begin to compromise the blue sheet; create a different appearance, a different experience. The blue sheet doesn't change, mind you. The differences are overlays. The blue sheet remains intact behind the differences.

Perhaps you were born into our country as a person of color.

Where's the blue now? It is still behind that yellow triangle. But what happened to the experience of that yellow? What happened to the privilege?

It got smaller. Being born a person of color in our country removes privilege; the experience changes that corner from one of blue to one of yellow. It is now different. It is changed in appearance and experience.

Those who aren't of color don't notice. Their privlege isn't impacted. Their blue sheet still looks like this.

They have no experience of the yellow. White people don't feel it, can't see the yellow contrast. White people are literally, in this example, colored blind to that yellow.

Consider a person born into poverty.

Again, the blue is reduced; the privilege is compromised.

What happens if you experience both; you arrive as a person of color who experiences poverty.

Pretty intense, right? There's even less blue, even less privilege.

Now consider many of the other target classes.

Maybe you’re a woman or identify as something other than male.

Or are non-Christian.


Do you see how the access to the blue has changed? How it has grown smaller?  The access to privilege has decreased.

But the blue sheet is unchanged. It's sitting behind all the yellow, orange, red and green. Because it is behind it all, experiencing none of the color, it remains clueless! It's not unlike standing behind speakers - you can't hear what's being projected.

Remember, that blue sheet is privilege. And now it is smaller! And it got smaller by adding more and more colors, more and more contrast, more and more difference, more and more diversity!

Imagine if the things within our culture that are identified as “less than," those people who experience oppression, were all in one person’s experience; those things based on age, ability, appearance, birth status, family of origin, first language, continent of citizenship…
It could look like this.

 Or this. 

Where is the blue now?

Remember, it's still there. Privilege doesn't go away. It's just that not all people have access to it.

And those who have access to more (or all) don't even notice. They can't. They are color-blind. They have to actively walk in front of the picture to see it; they have to engage with those who experience the differences.

When they do, they need to remember they are blind to the contrast. They need to stand ready to hear, even when it's hard. We must do it without discounting the experience; without trying to understand it through the blue sheet.

Because we can't.

We are blind to the experience of oppressions we do not ourselves experience.

Ironically, if the diversity of all these differences were embraced, it would look more like this:

This represents the integration of diversity, equal access and recognition - from the blue across the spectrum.

Give you something to think about? I hope so.

Privilege as contrast.

No shame.

No blame.

But certainly responsibility......        I will leave that for another day, however.

Look forward to your thoughts.

With Respect,
Leah R. Kyaio