Be an ally

Two people standing on railway tracks next to each other. The tracks travel into the distance. Sky is gray and trees have lost their leaves.
Make the journey as an ally of those who have to fight harder than you to get through each day. (Image by Jonathan Pendleton)
I am making the effort to engage people who make racist, sexist or other bigoted comments within my social sphere.

A few months ago, I joined an online babwearing group, which has conversations about social justice and racism as part of babywearing.

Although I have a deep education in sustainability, it is more than fair to say that I come at it from an environmental and economic background. Social justice is the last part of the ‘triple bottom line’ for me to actively engage with.

It’s been a terrifyingly steep learning curve, grappling with (in the order of my self-education):

  1. Tone policing — No, We Won’t Calm Down – Tone Policing Is Just Another Way to Protect Privilege
  2. Cultural appropriation — What’s Wrong With Cultural Appropriation? These 9 Answers Reveal Its Harm
  3. Privilege — The day I checked my privilege
  4. Racism — Walking While Black and I, Racist
  5. Roots of racism in the US — I used to lead tours at a plantation. You won’t believe the questions I got about slavery.
  6. Being an ally for marginalised people — Allyship

Most of the articles I’ve linked here are beautifully written (or drawn) and I encourage you to read them (particularly number 3 and 6).

My eyes are open to injustice now. The news is full of the leaders oblivious to the advantages they’ve had through life. All the models at the optometry shop are white. All the babies in parenting magazines are white. Friends of friends on Facebook are making, ‘I’m not racist, but…’ comments.

It’s Facebook comments that I’m tackling first. I’m not an activist by nature so it takes me a lot of energy to engage in difficult conversations.

Damjan asked me, ‘Is it worth spending your energy on this?’ What I realised was that I have the privilege of answering that question with ‘No,’ and walking away. If I were Aboriginal, Muslim, disabled, transgender, suffering a mental health illness or fat, I would be forced to face in the worst of human nature on the internet and in the real world every day. Bigotry and barriers would come looking for me.

It is unfair that the people targeted with hostility are the ones who have to fight it.

As we tell our children in anti-bullying programs, ‘Don’t be a bystander. Be an upstander. So I’m starting to do my bit in my little corner of the internet.’ I’m getting ready to do it in real life too, as my maternity leave is ending and I leave my home bubble.

Here’s what I particularly need to be conscious of as I try to be a better ally.

  • Create space for the people who don’t normally get to speak so that they can be heard — I talk a lot in all settings and I need to shut up and use my influence to allow marginalised voices in. Amplify their messages by repeating them word-for-word or pointing to those voices. Resist the urge to ‘improve’ the story.
  • Give weight to people’s experiences — Science and law is the language of debate in my household and workplace. But marginalised people have experiences that are real, important, and not codified in formal systems. I have to listen to these perspectives with an open mind.
  • Accept negative emotions as part of the message — Anger and frustration is central to the experiences of marginalised people. Listen to these emotions without asking that people strip their messages into the neutral technical language I’m used to.
  • Look for and accept criticism — I participate unconsciously in systematic discrimination every day. I need to be able to accept criticism without feeling defensive.

Mia learns empathy

On Mia’s tablet screen, Ben and Holly are inside a sandcastle.
They have lost track of time.
The tide is rising.
The castle is surrounded by water.
Ben and Holly are trapped without a magic wand or a flying friend.
The soundtrack becomes frantic and Mia looks at me with stricken eyes.
‘Mummy!’ she cries, ‘I want to watch Peppa Pig!’

A large sand castle on the beach. It is dusk. There are many birds on the horizon.
Sandcastle fit for a fairy princess and her best elf friend. Image by Michael Baird (Sandcastle at Sunset on Morro Strand State Beach, Morro Bay, CA)
P.S. For those of you who aren’t parents, Peppa Pig and Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom come from the same British producer. Peppa Pig episodes are 5 minutes and Peppa is 4 years old. Ben & Holly episodes are 10 minutes and the title characters are 8 years old.

Who Gives a Crap delivers toys

I used to be sad that the recycled toilet paper in the shops is terrible. I now buy Who Gives a Crap toilet paper (recycled paper) and tissues (bamboo / sugarcane). These are both strong and soft. Price-wise, they’re similar to other sustainable options in the shops.

I don’t usually give free advertising to companies but these people seriously solved my internal conflict between ethics and comfort.

Here’s Mia with our latest tissue delivery.

There is a colourful stack of tissue boxes. Behind the stack, there are two cardboard boxes. A toddler is sitting in one of them. Her face is not visible.
Mia carefully empties the box then announces, ‘Now I have a bath.’
A range of colourful toys sit on top of a row of colourful tissue boxes. There are two boxes in the background. A toddler's legs and feet are sticking out of one of the boxes.
Mia’s tissue box tower collapses and she says, ‘Hmm, better make a train.’
A toddler has a large box over her head. Only her legs and feet are visible. She is indoors.
Mia: ‘I have a costume.’
Me: ‘What are you dressed as?’
Mia: ‘A ghost.’

Brick, gold or green?

Joan, Chinese woman wearing yellow, is sitting on a table in front of an audience. Visible on the table are two white men, one wearing blue chequered shirt, the other in a dark suit.
I moderated a panel at Arup’s Shaping our City event in February 2015.

At a presentation in London, I heard someone from Futerra describe three types of environmentalists: the bricks, golds and greens.

These three types are environmental versions (extensions) of Dade’s three value modes: settler, prospector and pioneer. I made a booklet version of these ideas for an event I hosted at work. You can download it here (1.6 MB PDF):

The front page of a booklet entitled 'What drives your worldview?'. It includes two silhouetted heads talking to each other with colourful speech bubbles.
I wrote a short summary of Dade’s value modes to help people understand the different values that drive environmental behaviours.

Here is a screenshot of part of the short booklet.

Three columns headed by pictures of a brick, gold bar and a grassy patch. The image includes information on how the proportion of people in each category for the US, Australia and UK. For the text, download the booklet PDF in the link above.
This is an image from the booklet and describes the values behind the environmental behaviours of bricks, golds and greens.

The introduction of the booklet says:

The following three ‘value modes’ are one handy way of understanding a people’s worldviews. They are based on surveys of thousands of people around the world on what values drive their behaviours and opinions. I often ask people to sort themselves into these groups as workshop icebreaker…

These value modes help us pitch messages that resonate with the different audiences in our organisations and communities, which is vital when we are looking for behaviour change.

Even more importantly, we recognise that people might make the same sustainable decisions for entirely different – and legitimate – reasons. Personally, I find it inspiring that there are lots of different ways of thinking about sustainability.

I wish that the booklet included a link and credit to the original authors but this information got lost between my draft and the graphic design publication. For far more detail, you can dive in at Culture Dynamics. Hat tip again to Futerra.

The right wing of the Greens

Joan, Asian woman, is standing in a crowd holding a large poster saying 'Tony Abbot: Climate action is on MY agenda'
It may not surprise you that my political views are closest to the Greens (although my economics are a bit more liberal).

This podcast from ABC’s Background Briefing show is fascinating: No love lost in the Greens. The blurb features a bit of clickbait (earbait?): ‘You might not know it, but the Greens have a right wing.’

This is how the program characterises the ‘left’ and ‘right’ of the Greens (my interpretation).

  • Left: Activist, principle-driven, pressure group, uncompromising, change politics, revolution
  • Right: Get things done, offer a candidate to the mainstream, win political influence, change from within

This division goes back to the earliest days of the party. The ‘left’ side of the Greens resisted the national organisation, the trappings of respectability as a political party. Instead, their focus has been on grassroots activism and direct action (so haha, now that the Coalition Government has co-opted this term).

The ‘right’, championed by former Greens leader Bob Brown, focuses on making inroads into mainstream politics. With the selection of Victorian Senator Richard di Natale as national Greens leader, the pragmatic side of the Greens is once again determining the party’s vision and strategy.

I now understand why people think the Greens are a single issue party. In the past, and perhaps today in New South Wales, the Greens haven’t presented as a viable party of Government. It was/is a ‘protest party’.

One of my university lecturers once said that there is a role for all kinds of change agents: the ones that work from within the establishment and the ones that put pressure from the outside.

Rather than fight each other, these people can help each other. The people within a group arguing for change can find their efforts boosted by external activists. Activists can find change happening suddenly when they apply pressure to a platform spring loaded by an internal ally.

I am not activist by nature: my instincts are to teach, to empathise and to help. I might have the same values as an activist, but I can’t sustain the passion (fury) to fight. So my toolkit looks completely different, in all likelihood more similar to a pragmatic Greens member or even the progressive sides of Labor and the Liberal party, than the ‘left’ wing Greens.

Let’s nip those biases in the bud

We were at a restaurant and Mia was distracted by a flickering light on the ceiling.

‘Light flashing!’ she said.

‘Yes, Mia.’

‘Light still flashing!’ insisted Mia. She thought for a second. ‘Man fix?’

‘Good idea, Mia,’ I said. ‘Maybe a woman might fix it?’

‘Oh, yes.’ Mia nodded sagely. ‘Woman. Woman with ladder.’

Postie has keys to our mailbox

Sometimes we open our mailbox and there is a parcel in there. There is no way the postie could have shoved the parcel through the slot, which is about the size of the one in the photo below.

A wall of mailboxes in an apartment building.
Our mailbox is similar to these.

One day, Damjan asked a postman how they managed to get large items into our mailbox. He said:

‘Twenty years ago, when this area was being developed, a building manager gave Australia Post a master key to the mailboxes in his apartment building. We noticed that a lot of the new buildings had similar-looking mailboxes, so one day, a postie tried the master key in another building. And it worked.’

So it looks like Australia Post has a key to our mailbox. And our neighbour’s mailbox.

I thought about whether or not this is a privacy or security risk. Posties already have access to our mail. As long as no one loses or copies the key, which I guess is a big risk…

Oh well. It’s convenient that I don’t need to trek to the post office whenever I miss a small parcel delivery.

A massive bite for Mother’s Day

I was struggling to get pyjamas on an overexcited Mia when she took a massive bite of my arm. I screeched and slapped her.

Damjan came running into the room holding Lana, who he was trying to put to bed.

Consequences were swift. Damjan took over Mia’s bed time routine and I took Lana.

Mia cried as her beloved mummy disappeared. ‘Mummy! Mummy! Mummy…’

Later that night, Damjan said that he asked Mia, ‘Do you know what happened? Why did mummy go away?’ Mia didn’t say anything for a while but eventually admitted, ‘Mia ate mummy.’

Damjan said Mia will apologise to me tomorrow.

A story about poo

Having had her nappy changed for the evening, my toddler Mia was watching as we put 5-day old Lana on the change table.

The action started when I took off the newborn nappy. Having not poo’ed for two days, the liquid brownish yellow volcano erupted. Spurt! Spurt! Spurt!

‘Oh!’ I said, as the soup poured onto the change table mat. ‘It’s poo!’

Mia looked on in horrified fascination. ‘Poo! Poo!’ Then Mia started crying.

My resourceful husband stepped in. ‘Yes, Mia, that’s where poo comes from, remember your body book? You eat the pear, it goes down your throat, into your tummy, then comes out as poo?’

He whipped out the book from the book shelf and tried to distract an increasingly hysterical toddler while I struggled to contain the mess.

‘She’s vomiting,’ I exclaimed, as yellow curds tumble out of Lana’s mouth. ‘She’s throwing up!’

Damjan managed to taken an overtired Mia away and sit her down with her bedtime books. ‘Can you manage?’ he asked. ‘Sorry that my hands are tied.’

‘I think I can,’ I mumbled. ‘AARGH! Wee! Wee!’

Lana looked oblivious as poo, wee and vomit come out every hole. At least she wasn’t crying.