September 12, 2018
After attending an overnight field trip to study the Oregon Trail, a group of fourth grade girls worked with a parent to share their thoughts on the program via YouTube. They wondered why the stories of Native Americans and African Americans were left out of the discussion, and why, when they took part in an activity in which they could “stake their land,” the map they were given failed to indicate what land was occupied by Native Americans. The video inspired other parents to take action. They’ve reached out to local organizations for support and asked the school’s PTA to stop funding the program until it’s made to be more inclusive. So far, the program has agreed to make some changes and “look at other people who lived there before pioneers and how those numbers were reduced by impacts made, whether it was disease or other things.” With that said, the parents and community leaders behind the push for inclusion aren’t satisfied with the changes so far. Black activist and community organizer Donna Maxey wrote, “We’ll have to see…how much truth they want to tell of what went down over time, but it’s a start.”
Jaya Saxena is white, Indian, and multiracial. She says that each of these identities is whole, and that she doesn’t present as one more than the others, though ever since she was a child, people have had questions about her appearance. They thought her white mother was her Irish nanny, they spoke to her in Hebrew when they were convinced she must be Jewish, and they turned her identity into a philosophical discussion when she just wanted to share her interests and hobbies. She explains that it somehow becomes her burden to apologize for making people think she is something she isn’t. She’s learned to always explain her identities to people when she meets them, so as not to seem “misleading.” At the same time, she recognizes that there is a certain privilege in being able to announce one’s identity, rather than being “immediately tied to it.” When people talk about racism, Jaya listens as a white person who needs to do better, as an Indian person who needs white people to speak up in their positions of power, and as a multiracial person who “reminds everyone that the racial structures some imagine to be rigid quickly break down under the slightest scrutiny.”
The taboo against discussing one’s disability—both visible and invisible—in the workplace can have harmful effects on employees with disabilities and their colleagues alike. Some employees with disabilities describe their silence as “feeling like their true self has been hijacked and replaced, at least during working hours.” The silence also means their workplace misses out on the opportunity to build trust and empathy between colleagues. To break down the stigma of disability, Charles Lattarulo of Healthy Minds at American Express recommends not only offering disability programming at work, but also asking “key players inside the company” to promote and communicate the value of these programs. Another way to create a workplace dialogue about disabilities is by sharing personal experiences and offering immersive trainings to employees, so that they feel better equipped to support their colleagues. It can also be helpful to reframe the narrative around disability: rather than disabilities being a barrier to success in the workplace, they serve as a strength.