We at ConSpirita Consulting Network are committed to improving leadership, especially ecclesial leadership. These times of a global pandemic and a global awakening about racism cry out for courageous and humble leaders. This series of blogs invite you to come along with us as we humbly, courageously, and consistently undertake the work of self-education about racism in the United States, in the Catholic Church and in our own white, privileged lives.
This is the first of two blogs that will talk about Intersectional Identity and Privilege
Today we introduce you to someone we haven’t written about before, author, speaker, entrepreneur, and Diversity Inclusion expert, Jennifer Brown. I listened to her webinar presentation titled “How to be an Inclusive Leader,” sponsored by “Leadership for a Changing World Online Summit” two weeks ago. This is how her website describes Jennifer and her company: She is the author of a best-selling book, Inclusion: Diversity, The New Workplace and The Will to Change that “creates the case for leaders to embrace the opportunity that diversity represents, for their own growth and for the success of their organizations. Jennifer Brown Consulting (JBC) believes in unleashing the power of human potential, embracing diversity, and helping people—and organizations—to thrive.” i
Ms. Brown started her talk by saying that most of us come to work leaving most of our diversity at home. We only bring the tip of the iceberg of who we are to work, and while at work, we may “cover” who we are to some extent. By “cover” she means downplaying a known stigmatized identity. We all have identities and social groups we affiliate with. An identity can be Black, Latinx, LGBTQ, or Black and gay, Biracial… To “fit in” those covering will do any or all of the following:
- Modify appearance
- Avoid being affiliated with a stigmatized group
- Stay silent in the face of racial behavior or talk for fear of penalization for speaking out
- Not wanting to be seen with stigmatized groups
If you ask me, this is a terrible way to live your life. Always investing time and money in altering appearance and wondering if it’s enough, having to distance yourself from what others see are the negative characteristics of your group by practicing silent agreement, or silent disagreement, stifling the hurt that comes from those comments, and the rage that comes from the generalizations and the certainty of truth with which these statements are made and having to be careful not to be seen congregating with other people in your group while at work, lest you incur the judgment and more. It’s these things that must be done all day, every day…the relentlessness of each of these things drains lifeblood.
The moderator of the webinar asked Ms. Brown about privilege and she defined it as such:
Cultural, legal, social, or institutional rights/advantages that select people have access to solely because of their social group membership. Almost everyone has some form of privilege that can be leveraged to support those without it due to the intersectional nature of identity-based power.
“Intersectional identity” may be a term unfamiliar to you. It is a term coined by professor Kimberle’ Crenshaw, a professor at Columbia Law School, to describe how race, class, gender and other individual characteristics “intersect” with one another and overlap. Here’s what Dictionary.com says it is: “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” Wikipedia explains it this way: Intersectionality is a theoretical framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities (e.g., gender, sex, race, class, sexuality, religion, disability, physical appearance, height, etc.) combine to create unique modes of discrimination and privilege. ii
Jesus was the epitome of an inclusive leader. He gathered in all stigmatized groups in His ministry: women, prostitutes, tax collectors, the disabled, the poor. Ecclesial leaders are challenged to put on the mind of Christ, to work toward being the kind of inclusive Jesus was: to flatten hierarchies of power and privilege, to create the beloved community that functions on everyone leading out of their charisms, knowing that everyone is critical to the coming of the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. That means ecclesial leaders need to look around and see who is not among their flock, their staffs…who is not being served by their ministries of justice and peace, and to move toward Jesus’ inclusive practices. And they need to expect and be prepared for Jesus’ experiences of threat, denial, betrayal and even death. Inclusivity is a threat to established power. Jesus knew it and did it anyway, and entrusts the same pattern to ecclesial leaders. .
I https://jenniferbrownconsulting.com/team/jennifer-brown/ accessed 9/28/20
ii https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersectionality accessed 9/28/20