Tuesday, 26 June 2012

on being shut out

every now and then i get a very real and direct reminder that i don't belong.  it can be a little thing or a big thing, but still really alienating.  but it's definitely worse when i get that reminder from an organisation that i'd previously thought was a safe place, one that was welcoming of difference and one that actively promotes diversity.  amongst such a group, i guess i expect more.

it turns out that one such organisation is organising an event at a pub - well, in a private function room above the bar, but in my mind it's still being held at a pub and i'm not interested in being there.  while that might be fine with a majority of nz'ers, it's not a place that feels accessible to everyone.  i've written about this before, and what i said then seems just as relevant now:

i know there will be many people who'll say "suck it up, this our culture & you're in our country so you'll just have to adjust". to which i say "this is my country & i have as much right to determine what our culture will be & how it will develop as you do". but more than that, we know we have a problem with the drinking culture, we know the social & economic harm that is being caused by excess alcohol consumption. the reason we have strong (but often misguided) advertising campaigns in an attempt to change that culture is because we know it's destructive.

so i'm just throwing another factor in the mix. that factor being that when you organise your social or business events around drinking & alcohol, you are going to exclude some people. and it's not just us "touchy, fussy" muslim people, but many other types of people as well. a lot of these people won't be able to speak out against it, because the peer pressure is very strong & they find it hard to fight against. i find it easier because most people already think i'm weird or very different anyway, and i've gone past caring what other people think.

there are plenty of circumstances where i wouldn't care that a particular event was being held in a pub.  i just wouldn't go.  i'd perhaps feel like i was missing out but i wouldn't be upset about it.  but in this case, as i've said, the event is being held by an organisation that has, as one of it's major objectives, the empowering of minorities by giving them a voice.  it's hardly consistent then to organise your event so that it's not accessible to a whole group of people.

what's even harder is to complain about it.  to a board that is predominantly made up of white men, in which i'm the only person of colour.  to be put once again in the position of whining minority that causes so much trouble and can't just do what the rest of "us" do.  to be put again in a position that highlights just how much i don't belong and don't matter.  it's a trigger for so many similar (and sometimes nasty) reminders of how wrong it is for me to be different.

it's like being a vegetarian and being invited to a party where only meat is served.  why would you do it?  if you were intending to be inclusive, then why would you insult your guest by not providing for them.  either say you clearly don't intend to be inclusive (and stop taking funding for being inclusive), or think carefully when planning your event, consult widely before making any final decisions, and make it so that all those who you've invited feel welcome.

i'm trying to figure out why i feel so particularly hurt about this particular event.  i guess it's because the people involved have known me for quite some time; they know my beliefs; they know my objections around this stuff.  and they didn't even think about it.  but it's more than just me - they didn't think about a whole range of other people that are likely to be excluded.  people who are often excluded in our society already, something which this organisation is trying to remedy.

right now, i'm so tempted to walk away.  it's so much easier to stick with people who are like me, where i wouldn't even have to worry about such things let alone be hurt by them.  so much easier to shut them out to save myself from being shut out by them.  even though i know it's not the answer, and i know it's so important to fight for spaces that are inclusive.  maybe a good night's sleep will help me feel more able to take on that fight.


Deborah said...

I'm not quite sure that the vegetarian at an all-meat meal analogy works: pubs do serve non-alcoholic drinks too.

However I see your point. The organisation needs to think automatically about inclusion / exclusion every time it orgfanises a meeting or an event. And trivially, would it really be so difficult for this organisation to find a different venue?

stargazer said...

yes, probably the better analogy which i had in my head is the one where people tell you to just take the ham out of a sandwich & eat it, because then there's no meat in it. just doesn't work that way.

and as for alternative venues, i can think of plenty. but the easiest is the city council reception chamber which is available at minimum cost for not-for-profits, is central and definitely large enough.

Blues Traveler said...

"yes, probably the better analogy which i had in my head is the one where people tell you to just take the ham out of a sandwich & eat it"

I think the best analogy is one where a vegetarian is invited to a party where meat is served.

stargazer said...

no, blues traveller, that analogy misses out the environment in which the meat is being served. if we used yours, the event would have to be at an abbatoir, where meat was being served. or on the first floor, when the abbatoir was on the ground floor. it's not just the fact that the meat (or in this case the alcohol) was being served, but also the venue of the event.