In the 1990s I worked as an anti-bias facilitator. Sounds like a very “PC” approach to differences and to some degree it was.
But it was also an opportunity to look at our biases – we all have them – figure out how and why we respond as we do. Then think about how we might respond. It was a day filled with activities and reflection.
It was a chance to get to look at bias, discrimination, and prejudice, as core responses that to all sorts of “isms”. Racism, certainly, but also thinking about folks based on age orientation, physical or mental ability, level of education.
One exercise we used was the “Prominent Five”. Participants were given a spread sheet and were informed that they would be given directions as to how they should fill in the blank cells.
Participants were asked to name five prominent Americans. Then they were asked to name 5 male Americans, 5 prominent female Americans and so on, moving on through a variety of categories – black, Latino, LGBT, Americans over the age of 65, and so on.
Inevitably folks came up with the names of White Americans, often presidents, for the first answer. As the activity progressed there usually were more and more blank cells. Our papers, our movies, our televisions tend to skew in a particular direction when it comes to the faces we see. The point of the exercise was to be mindful of this – lots of other things stem from this. “Prominent 5” usually made for some healthy discussion.
When I was asked to lead a session relating to diversity for Leadership Pasadena, I modified the activity slightly, being sure to insert prominent Pasadenans in lieu of prominent Americans. We were after all discussing our local community.
I was happy with my cleverness in this. Some days it takes very little to make me happy.
The activity was effective in ways I might have predicted. It also produced a result that surprised me.
It was pointed out that I had forgotten to add Armenians as a category. I quickly went from feeling rather full of myself to felling somewhat embarrassed. Lesson learned. Facilitator reminded of her own foibles.
Looking back I’ve decided that part of the reason for my leaving that group out was because at the time they kept more among themselves and interacted in certain political circles. I wasn’t a part of either of those circles so like many other folks didn’t automatically think about them as a distinct community.
Happy to say that times have changed and that we can learn more about this community by attending the Armenian Identity Festival in East Pasadena.
I’m reminded as I look at this flyer that like almost every other community in town the Armenian community has a wide span or place of origin, political inclination, and religious affiliation. There is the diversity that exists between us as well as that diversity that exists among us.
But that’s food for thought for another post. Right now I’m looking forward to tasting the food and enjoying the music that will be offered next week.