Lee Mun Wah Workshop on Racism 2012

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Lee Mun Wah is a master diversity trainer and documentary filmmaker, among many other things. On September 27, 2012 Mun Wah facilitated a session titled “Inclusive Organizations: How to Lead and Manage Challenging Conversations and Transform Your Workplace.” The workshop was one part of Mun Wah’s visit to Denver and was sponsored by The Denver Foundation Inclusiveness Project and The C.I.R.C.L.E. Conference. (Another part was a reception on September 28 with Mun Wah featuring the teacher’s edition of his latest documentary film If These Halls Could Talk, also sponsored by The Denver Foundation Inclusiveness Project and The C.I.R.C.L.E. Conference.)

The workshop session was indeed focused on challenging conversations. It engaged the twenty-five participants from the get-go by staging an experience that demonstrated a racist behavior toward one of the participants, a person representing a targeted group. The experience was debriefed with the person representing a targeted group, thereby giving everyone an opportunity to both see and hear about what that person was experiencing and thinking. It was a powerful and effective opening that Mun Wah built on through the following four hours. Mun Wah demonstrated sensitivity in facilitating breakthrough opportunities for participants who themselves have experienced racism and for all participants to hear what that looks like and feels like.

And experiential learning was the method throughout those four hours. There were handouts provided and several visual slides projected, but the substance of the session were the conversations between dyads and also among the entire large group. As Mun Wah said several times, “The answer is with the people you work with,” which this participant took to mean that we can learn about racism and inclusiveness through the conversations we have with one another that surface and process these issues.

When participants paired up initially, they were asked to make observations about one another, first by writing them down and also writing down assumptions that those observations triggered, and second by verbally sharing the observations and assumptions with each other. To this participant, it was an opportunity to really think about someone else and who they might be, someone I had never met before. Each participant listened to his or her partner’s observations and assumptions without judgment.

Staying with our partners, we then took turns answering the following questions about ourselves, while our partners listened:

 

  •           When others look at you, what do they see?
  •           When others look at you, what don’t they see? Why?
  •           When others look at you, what do you wish they would see? Why?
  •            If others wanted to see the “real you,” what do you need or want from them for that to happen?

 

Again, the exchange between partners was dynamic and surfaced many issues for both speaker and listener. It was practice in deep thinking and deep listening.

As part of the large group interaction, Mun Wah staged another interaction with an individual participant being victimized by another participant’s racist comment. (The participant who spoke the racist comment was doing so on request of Mun Wah and was reading off a list of such comments.) The rest of the group was then asked to consider the following questions:

 

  •          What are some good reflections on this interaction?
  •          What are some key issues going on here?
  •           What would be some good inquiries/statements that would open up the conversation?
  •           What would be some inquiries/statements that would discourage/close down the conversation?

 

Here are a couple of quotes that stood out for this participant:

·         When we see kids who are hurt, we right away ask them what’s wrong. Why don’t we do the same when we see adults who are hurt? Instead we brush over it, usually by ignoring, discounting, or hurrying to get past the moment of hurt.

·         It’s an art to ask a question based on the last thing a person said. Usually we step in with what we have to say on the matter instead of probing more deeply the other person’s words.

 

Handouts were reviewed only briefly, but provided participants good follow-up tools for working within their own organizations. Here are the titles of the handouts (which can be downloaded at Mun Wah’s website www.stirfryseminars.com):

·         The Art of Mindful Inquiry

·         9 Healthy Ways to Communicate

·         9 Ways to Begin a Diversity Conversation with Teachers and Staff

·         10 Ways to Begin a Diversity Conversation in the Classroom

·         What do you say/do when staff tells you …

·         What do you say/do when a student shares with you …

·         Becoming Culturally Competent Is a Journey

·         21 Ways to Stop a Conversation about Diversity

·         When Someone is Offered by Your Comments

·         21 Ways to Use Inclusion to Create Community

  

The outcome of this session for this participant was the feeling that I had been engaged in authentic dialogue with my partner, that it was not easy to do so, but that it is important to have such authentic dialogue with the people we are in relation with, the people we work with, and the people we connect to in other situations so that whenever a racist behavior or comment is present (or the perception of a racist behavior or comment is present), it can be handled, and handled constructively, and thereby reduce the likelihood of such happening in the future. These conversations also help build understanding and create inclusiveness. My take-away is to find opportunities to have these conversations as part of my own interactions with others, to not be afraid to have these conversations, and to encourage others to do likewise.