Tuesday, November 17, 2015

I am: White pale male 50

For the past the past several months I have found myself frequently using the term "white pale male 50+"  (WPM50).  I usually get pulled in to a dialog on the topic somewhere around where I live, my small village out in West St. Louis County.  In most cases, it comes up when describing the lack of/or varying degree of diversity and equity among the local community leadership. I feel the need to promote equity in community and, since it is an important part of my work, I try to be authentic. I am conditioned to see the occasional missed opportunity here and there, and it bothers me.

But let's expand outside of my bubble, way out where I live in Chesterfield.  Let's travel out to the rest of the region and look down on things a bit.  Think St. Charles County, South County. Let's also head down highway 70 to the rest of the state.  How about my "ole" hometown of Columbia, MO? Just off their own "do we have your attention yet" exercise on matters pertaining to equity.  Did this really just happen?  Hell yes it just happened, and we better grow from it.

I am: white pale male 50+ .
My question is this:  Do we the WPM50--now sometimes referred to as the "white and privileged" by minorities and millennials alike--consider the fact that we are boxed up, labeled and institutionalized in a way that is not all that complementary? Do we not care about the progressive community, so present and energetic in other thriving peer cities.  Do we find it acceptable that others think we live in a vacuum?  And by living in that vacuum we are actually responsible for negating the chances of resolving the regions most complicated problem? We are relevant, after all.  It is shocking how we perpetuated our own personification; reluctant and apathetic.  Why do we settle for this? It's our brand, we are relevant and we should be present.

Let's say that we wanted to improve things; improve the WPM50 brand. What if we were to personify with new words; inclined and interested.  Prior to that maybe we should do a quick deep dive and tally up all the things that keep us from embracing things like:  diversity, acceptance, equity and the understanding that it is our responsibility to enter the space relating to helping solve problems.  We might as well put it on the table now, the reason why we haven't yet participated; fear.

But lets do educate people on the WPM50.  It is prudent.  The fact is, we don't really understand what is being sought from us. I mean, we kind of get it.  People are angry, we have been labeled, we are in defense mode for a reason. We are on our heals and we don't really think that we did anything wrong. If we come to the table, will things be of civil or better said, our interpretation of civil?  What is it that we need to grasp at the conclusion of our meeting? Will it be centered on protest and conflict and drive a wedge, or will there be an agenda? Will it be collaborative or will it have demands?  What rules might best describe how the process is managed, what measurements can be put in place and what dividends might we expect? Shouldn't we, at the very least, agree to a plan together and then execute it...together? This is how we think, we the WPM50.

I take ownership of my demographic and encourage others like me to do so.  Since I am WPM50 I am a stakeholder and what I think matters. And I really do think the we could use a little help understanding exactly what people want from us, given the fact that our values have been handed to us no different from how anyone else has been handed theirs, regardless of personal experience or adversity. I am thinking this latest round of events got the attention of the WPM50. It was encouraging seeing the comments in various media. I think this was a bit of an awakening.  I also think that we should be present at the table, and are the ones most likely to help solve the problem.

The events that led up to Ferguson and what now sits front and center on the desks of Mizzou administrators should teach us how dangerous it is sweeping issues beneath the carpet.  It perpetuates cultural mistrust, and it is always destined to boil over.  Equity is best described as full participation by all in the political and cultural life of community--a concept that cannot be maintained for a few at the expense of the many.  Successful, progressive and vibrant communities are learning this each and every day.

I had the pleasure of working in the historic JeffVanderLou neighborhood recently.  Do take the time to click on the link and learn a little about it.  Fascinating stuff.

We had a demonstration to calm traffic in a neighborhood that has many problems.  In this case it was to promote road safety in consideration of children attending school nearby.  It was a comprehensive effort; setting up temporary roundabouts, curb bump outs, all sorts of things illustrating how slowing traffic enhances a communities confidence.  There were lots of people representing many ethnic backgrounds working together.

I looked around to see how well the WPM50 was represented.  It was basically the Mayor and I. Mayor Slay shaking hands and tending to the media.  Me doing my best not to look awkward and trying to fit in. And I did!

I remember thinking how enriching it was to be around such a diverse group of people sharing stories on the rich cultural significance of the area. It occurred to me that I was in their home and they were excited that I was there.

 Later in the day my staff and I got an email from one of the residents.  It pretty much says it all.  

..."I wish I could bottle and share with the world, the collaboration, spirit and friendship we felt yesterday, during the demonstration!  Getting teary thinking about al the goodness in my neighborhood.  The folks who cleared the sidewalk...omg.  Thanks for all the hard work you do.  Tears...I really needed that life affirming experience, it's weary fighting for peace, justice and equality.  This is how we (as my pastor says) do life together!..."

#ifyouknowhatimtalkinbout #theralphaccount #WPM50


Anonymous said...

Very insightful piece from a honest WMP50.

Keith Clinton said...

Very insightful piece from a honest WPM50.