Over the past week, I’ve sat through a lot of different education-wonk presentations. Some of them were interesting, some of there were snoozefests but I feigned interest, and some of them were on fire for all the wrong reasons. In most of the presentations, people talked about racial equity in some way. Some of the presenters really got it and dived deep into the topic, others were scared to talk about it but knew they had to and had talking points. The worst presenters, mostly by men, who tried to talk about equity clearly didn’t get it and refused to back down when asked questions and called on not knowing the answers.
The presenters fall into three categories:
- Peacocks: Look at me, I’m so proud and I know everything. Don’t you dare challenge me cause I’m pretty. I may not know anything about race or how racial equity is applied, but I am too proud to admit it. Let me puff my chest out and if you challenge me I’m going to squawk and yell over you.
- Hummingbirds: I am going to keep talking about race even though I don’t understand what I’m talking about, if I keep talking and using buzz words maybe I can get away with it.
- Chickens: The workers, they understand race and they are busy actually doing work that leads to equitable results. They are steady and often do the work without calling attention to themselves and are humble.
Peacocks – How they show up
Peacocks are the easiest to spot. They puff themselves up a lot and present with an air of arrogance, ‘don’t question my data,’ ‘I am a subject matter expert,’ talks over people or cuts them off. When someone asks them a question they can’t answer or in the wrong about they deflect from answering. They talk in circles or provide an answer that is threatening or shuts down the conversation.
Peacocks are dangerous to racial equity. They are often tasked with being the spokesperson for a project even though their racial equity fluency is sparse. When they speak they are arrogant and lack humility and an inability to build trust with the community. They often don’t want to hear genuine feedback. When they do take feedback, they don’t know how to use because their answers are always right.
How not to be this presenter: If you don’t want to be this presenter learn and practice humility. It is ok to admit you don’t have an answer – in fact, use this as a way to deepen your own understanding about race as it relates to the topic. No one can know everything about race, culture, language, etc. Admitting you don’t know and show you want to listen is a way to build trust. Stop puffing your chest out and fanning your feathers – for us to be in a just-relationship we need to rebalance knowledge and power.
Hummingbirds – Flitty and Buzzy when it comes to talking about Race
Hummingbirds are cute and appear non-threatening. Their presentations are well executed and often have slick slide decks. They can throw around some good racial equity sounding words and lingo. Yet when someone asks them to go deeper then their pre-planned talking points they can’t really answer the questions and will begin to throw the buzzwords around again.
Despite their flitty nature and tiny-size, hummingbirds can be dangerous to advancing racial equity work. They often don’t have substance or depth to their conversations. Buzzwords and jargon may win-over some people, but when it is time to have a substantive conversation they flop over with their tiny-bird feet in the air. When this happens conversations and projects stall because people won’t understand the work or it will be so watered down it won’t have an impact.
How not to be this presenter: Stop using buzzwords and learn about race. I recently listened to a presenter who was a content expert but couldn’t articulate anything helpful when it came to talking about racial equity. When people in the room asked questions he flitted around the question and kept throwing buzzwords around. What he should have done was understand how and why race are important and how it impacts the outcomes of his project.
If you need taking this step, pull up a racial equity toolkit or another tool and answer the questions. Once you do that take the work to another level and ask why the answers are the way they are, and then ask others to join you in this exercise. You’ll end up with a better and higher quality presentation.
Chickens – Be a Chicken
Be a chicken, it is ok to be a chicken. Chickens, hens in particular, are workers – they’ve done their pre-work on learning about race and it shows up in their presentations. They don’t call attention to themselves and they like to live and work in a flock of likeminded hens.
When you present like a chicken it is ok to say what you need to say and admit to not knowing something, it is ok to be vulnerable. Chickens also know that being part of a flock offers warmth and protection. There is no need to be loud and proud, it is good to do your part and then work with others to supplement and add to the collective knowledge sharing. Chickens are also smart and will often leave behind eggs to nourish others for the work ahead. Be like a chicken – feed and support others too.
Special thanks to my colleague MH for naming the peacock behavior.
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