Soooo …. I made someone cry. Bringing someone to tears is not normally something I would post as a “ray of light”, so stay with me here for a moment, while I explain. I was in Baltimore at a training session, to be certified as an administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). The IDI is a powerful tool that helps individuals and groups better understand how they view the world as it relates to understanding other cultures.
I have been involved in this important diversity and inclusion work for over 23 years. With all that is going on in our society and our global society around misunderstanding of different cultures, I jumped at the chance to become certified in IDI and learn new, research-based ways to help people along on their individual diversity and inclusion journeys.
Today was my chance to practice coaching and provide feedback using the IDI instrument with an assigned partner in my cohort. It was a powerful conversation that ended with her crying. To give some context, my partner lives in Brazil. She went to a US university for her master’s program. While at this university, she had a VERY negative experience with her African-American and Hispanic classmates. They belittled her experiences and quite frankly, bullied her with their perceptions of how she “should be” and how she “should be acting” as a person of color.
As I listened to her recount of this experience, I became concerned and saddened that it was so traumatizing for her. I was horrified that the professor leading the discussion allowed one group to badger her. You see, my new friend was an international student and had no concept of our US-based hang-ups about race. I know, from doing this work for so long, that diversity takes on different forms depending on the country. People from outside of the US look at us like we are crazy for focusing on race. For those outside of the US, diversity focuses on things like religion, nationality and gender.
I sat, listened, and coached my new, Brazilian friend. I offered her concrete suggestions on how she can immerse herself in other cultures to learn more. She shared that there was only one African-American woman from Atlanta who came to her defense at the university and urged the group to listen to her perspective.
As the tears rolled down her cheeks, she said, “Thank you. You are only the second African-American who has made me feel welcomed in the US and was open to accepting and learning other cultures. I am so happy that I met you and we had this conversation.” I got up and hugged her. I told her that she just had a bad experience and to please not think that all African-Americans are closed minded. Then I handed her some tissue and told her to stop crying.
As I reflected back on this experience, I was reminded that oftentimes, in this work, the oppressed becomes the oppressor, because hurt people hurt people. Let’s all keep in mind that there are conversations and understandings that need to happen on both sides of any diversity issue. The only way we can be instruments of change is to be open to others’ perspectives, listen and act from a place of love, not hate.
Cassandra D. Caldwell, Ph.D.
President and Chief Engagement Officer
The Kaleidoscope Group