Have you ever considered that the language of segregation used by those in power is the same used across all minority groups of people? Whether its race, gender, age, or ability — the “powers that be” have always had the same excuses as to why something couldn’t be done or someone couldn’t be included. Here are some real life examples:
· In 1967 Katherine Switzer was the first female runner to enter the Boston Marathon; she did so by simply not indicating her first name. When the head organizer of the race saw her, he was prevented from reaching her to remove her from the race by Katherine’s boyfriend. In those days, the “powers that be” said that it would not be good for a woman’s health to run 26+ miles. Women were officially admitted to the race five years later.
· My friend Carl wanted to live on his own with a dog and enjoy an occasional beer. He could cook and travel quite independently on any form of public transportation, and he also worked as a grounds keeper. He had many friends and his needlework skills were about the same as mine (pretty darn good)! He was kept from his goal of independence for many years. The “powers that be” said that it wasn’t safe for a person with an intellectual disability to live on their own, and who wants those people next door anyway? I’m glad that a few folks got together and help push past that language.
· In 1963, Vivian Malone and James Hood wanted to begin their education at the University of Alabama. Imagine what it must have been like to know that a US Marshall would need to assist you just to get the door? The “powers that be,” including the Governor at the time — George Wallace — did not want those people attending the college; states, he said, had rights to decided who could and couldn’t attend. Vivian graduated in 1965, and years later Governor Wallace realized he was wrong.
All of these are stories of exclusion, each a testament of someone or “some ones” who had to overcome unreasonable and unacceptable marginalization. In each instance the validations included some language of safety, some language of power, and quite a bit of misuse of authority. Many would like to think that these are all stories of the past, but exclusion continues in our world today. Anytime someone says “separate,” it is rarely equal. Every time someone says it is for your own good, it is cause for question. If we dig into the data, we will find that segregation has had lasting impacts on all marginalized groups, and more.
No one can really walk in someone else’s shoes; but you can listen and you can seek out opportunities to truly understand their pain, frustration, and the determination it takes to press on when someone tries to hold you down or hold you back. In my own life, at times, I have felt it, and I have surely seen it.
When we witness exclusion, we have a responsibility to acknowledge it, correct it, advocate for those around us; and do are part to champion for inclusion no matter someone’s age, race, gender, or ability — especially here in our own communities. I ask that all of us to accept nothing less than inclusion in our work lives, both for our colleagues and those that we support. It is a part of the good that we do, it is a part of our “WHY,” and may we never lose sight of it.