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 called Sacred Conversations: Confronting Our Whiteness. 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.
UPDATE: Attended 4 sessions of Sacred Conversations last winter, facilitated by Rev. Jody Betten of New Waves Church here in Traverse City. Jodi did a fantastic job adapting the resources to a secular group (read: we didn’t “Pray for the Spirit’s guidance” or talk about God’s love, but kept it humanist and compassionate)
If you’re curious, check out the guide here. It meets people at all levels of confronting their own whiteness and acknowledging the impacts of white supremacy. One of the best lessons for me was when the group shared how they confront racism when they see it.
As an example, a fellow participant had a college friend who was posting some All Lives Matter stuff and instead of berating her friend about it, she reminded her about the feminist studies course they took together in college and asked how she'd feel if someone said, "women's rights? how about everyone's rights? we are all important!" It helped her friend reflect on her own experience and understand something she never had before.
The toughest part in my aspirations to be a better human is battling my aversion to conflict, so it was helpful to hear real life examples of speaking to people close to you about their behavior, words, impact (whether they intend it or not) and to invite others to keep you in check, also.
There’s another training in Lansing in Fall 2019 called Doing Our Own Work: An Anti-Racism Seminar for White People that I’m thinking of getting grant funding to attend. Holler if you’ll be there!