Whose Man Is This?

If you spend any time engaging in diversity and equity group discussions, you are probably familiar with community agreements. These are the guidelines the group decides to follow in order to keep the conversation respectful to all participants. For instance, there's, "take space, make space", which means that you state your point and then make room for others to share their perspective. There's "one mic, one voice" meaning only one person talks at a time. Or, "critique ideas, not people", which is fairly self-explanatory, but not as fun. 

I want to tell you about my favorite community agreement, which came from my wife's graduate school cohort. It's called, "Whose man?" and is based on calling someone out for doing something in public that is absurd, silly, or over the top. (An example by Urban Dictionary: In a snapchat of a random kid playing with his toy cars on the floor of a packed subway train... Whose mans is this?)

But in the context of a group discussion, Whose Man can be deployed when a speaker either needs to stop taking up airtime or needs a course correction in their thinking. The elegance of Whose Man is that it keeps group members accountable to each other while keeping the discussion moving. Here's how it works.

Let's say Jamie is sharing a story about how his uncle is a retired police officer and all the "Black Lives Matter stuff" is really bothering him. Another group member, Mayra, notices that others are starting to squirm or roll their eyes at his comments. Jamie goes on to say that cops put their lives on the line for public safety every day and we should show them some respect. Mayra calmly puts her thumb out in Jamie's direction. Mayra has called "Whose man?"

Someone else in the group should now "claim" Jamie, meaning that they commit to helping Jamie explore the impact of his statements separate from the group. This person is typically someone who knows Jamie well and is willing to share what they observed, let's call him Frank. To "claim" Jamie, Frank will point discreetly at him while making eye contact with Mayra. The broader group discussion can pick back up from there. 

The truth is, Jamie might hear feedback on this topic better from someone he is close with. Someone that can explain how Black Lives Matter does not mean being anti-cop. In this way, Whose Man keeps a check on our implicit biases without placing the burden on marginalized communities to always be educating about the impact of those biases. For an added element of fun, the person who "claims" the speaker could make a key fob clicking motion and go "boop boop", like they are about to approach their Jetta. Jamie, consider yourself CLAIMED.

Community agreements are on my mind because some folks are getting together for a series of conversations on the topic of whiteness in my town. Which, in a predominantly white area, I was shocked to discover would be a priority. Imagine what might be resolved if all the Secretaries of State said, "Welcome to the Midwest, here's your fishing license and a code to take an online course about breaking the cycle of systemic oppression. Have a nice day!"

We're gonna just see how this goes. I'll report back.