Treading Water in the Fakequity Pool

Hi, Last week we wrote about tacos and listening to diverse voices. We’re not alone in sharing that message. After you read this week’s post by CiKeithia, go check out Sheri Brady’s Building Many Stories into Collective Impact at the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog. She shares a similar message, but without a taco analogy. -erin

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Pool-and-DrinksIt’s ironic that I would use the example of treading water because anyone one who knows me knows my feelings about swimming.  It’s not what you’re thinking, insert stereotype of black people and water here; I find pleasure sipping a drink in a cute glass poolside with an occasional dip of my toes in the water.

I’ve worked with children, and in support of children and families, for over ten years. I’ve learned many things from working with families, and it is my ongoing work in communities where I continue to learn. Lately, I’ve become overwhelmed by the idea that those of us doing this work think we know it all when it comes to community. I feel like I’m treading water in a fakequity pool.

Community Engagement the Fad
Community engagement is the new fad, like the return of the flare leg jeans. You’ve seen the announcements: “We want to hear from you,” take this online survey, flyers inviting you to see the new space, and my all-time favorite “Join us for a community conversation!”

Where do these ideas come from? I’ll award a few points for trying, but there’s more to understand. What good is the survey if it’s only available online? You’re only reaching people with access to computers and the internet. Are you planning on sharing the results?

What good is the flyer if it’s only shared in easily accessible communities and not accompanied by a personal invitation? Would you attend an event if you didn’t know anyone? Maybe if the food is really good or the speaker is outstanding, but a personal invitation makes you want to engage more.9063547_big

Finally, a community conversation is absolute nonsense. In order for it to be a conversation then both sides get to be heard, otherwise it is a presentation. And don’t collect feedback through collected index cards, the community doesn’t know what happens with that feedback.

Believing in Community Engagement, Here’s What to do

We need to create space for voices that are normally excluded to be heard. It’s tough to examine our current practices and turn the lens on ourselves. No one wants to have their positive intentions questioned, but it’s required if we want to get better. If you can’t receive the tough criticism you are most likely perpetuating fakequity.

I feel like I’m treading water because it’s the online surveys, flyers, and one-way community conversations that have me trying to keep my head above water. Truth is there is no single way to engage the community, but rather a variety of ways and if you are truly are invested in community you’ll do the hard work. Showing up and building relationships will get you better results than an online survey or a one-time conversation.

Working Towards Equity

Next time there’s a survey challenge the unintended results of only hearing from those who are loudest. Don’t just make a flyer, make personal connections beyond your usual networks, and finally stop with the community conversations if it only serves your agency’s purpose of checking the box that you offered it and now you can move on with the work.

My feeling of treading water will never completely go away. The frustration of trying to keep my head above water however will be eased when there are others around me who ask hard questions, listen, and challenge the status quo. After all I look much better sitting poolside sipping a cute drink rather than struggling to stay afloat.

posted by CiKeithia