Rachel Grossman is an ADA 2.0 mentor, artist and engagement strategist and wants us to grow comfortably outwards from our points of privilege when it comes to being inclusive in the arts.
When I started working closely with artists and audiences who were Deaf, I was confronted head-on with my identity as Hearing. I also was confronted with a world that is auditory-centered. I then realised I carried a boat-load of prejudices, misunderstandings, or simply lies about people who audiologically speaking do not hear.
Like anyone who comes face-to-face with a privilege they have, but were previously unaware of possessing, I could:
A. Retreat back slowly into the comfort of not-knowing.
B. Stammer around awkwardly—knowing but doing nothing.
C. Move forward graciously knowing I needed to do some significant growing
I chose “C.”
Three years later, I stammer awkwardly with great frequency and on a few extreme occasions I’ve longed to retreat into my hearing privilege. And yet: choosing “C” early and often is what’s helped identify me as a hearing person who acts with good intentions and acknowledges impact.
So how does this story support the work of the ADA Fellows and anyone else interested diversifying their audiences?
What I heard from ADA 1.0 and 2.0 Fellows was worry, doubt, and outright fear that when they first interacted with members of their identified “diverse” audience group—whether youth, the elderly, a specific racial or ethnic group, or people with disabilities—they would Do Something Wrong.
Super valid. Doing Something Wrong can be a paralyzing feeling. It is the feeling of discomfort, sometimes to an extreme degree. It is a feeling that’s so powerful it prevents people from even truly attempting to diversify. Because “comfort” is the place where we know and recognize everything, and “discomfort” is the place where learning occurs. Discomfort is where we change and grow.
Anyone in a position of privilege is used to feeling comfortable. Like me, being Hearing in a world that’s auditory-centered. I am super-duper comfortable in this world because it is tailor made for people who have the sense of hearing.
Get me around a person who is Deaf, and I’m out of my element. They are not of my world. I don’t know what it’s like to be like that. What will they want? How can I possibly relate to them? And now, I’m not comfortable. And now, a host of unhelpful feelings and thoughts bubble up that compels me to choose “B” or “A” as a course of direction.
I don’t know what it’s like to live in an auditory-centered world as a person who is Deaf, but you know who does? People who are Deaf! They’re experts. And they know what I don’t know already, even before I’ve realized it myself. Which means they’re aware of the high likelihood of me Doing Something Wrong. Which means I don’t need to worry about it happening, it’s going to happen. So what can we learn from those experiences that assist us in expanding our worldview and making our audience and organization a slightly more diverse and inclusive place.
In the United States and Britain, this feeling of comfort is true for a number of social identities (for instance people who are White, Male, cisgender, non-disabled, heterosexual, to name a few). That’s why it’s important to remember we all inhabit the same world. Instead of entering diversity and inclusion work with a worry about Doing Something Wrong, let’s enter with a interest in Doing Some Growing.