These are the social justice commitments I bring into my work and my life:
I commit to creating an environment of psychological safety for my coaching clients. This means, among other things:
- asking for permission before I challenge their thinking
- bringing an awareness of and gently inquiring into the ways systemic oppression may have impacted their lives
- respecting requests from clients during coaching sessions that will enhance their sense of safety with me.
- clearly communicating my boundaries to clients, and endeavouring to understand and respect a client’s own boundaries.
Walking the talk:
I do not use the word “ally” to refer to myself. This is a label that only others can ascribe to me. What I hope to be is an accomplice, a co-conspirator, and someone who walks their talk. Yes, Black Lives Matter. What am I doing to make that slogan meaningful in my life? What am I doing for Black lives?
I commit to speaking up when I see or hear an injustice. I commit to donating money to causes that advance justice for marginalized peoples. I commit to offering options for prospective coaching clients facing financial challenges, particularly if they are trans, Black, Indigenous, working class or disabled. I endeavour to quickly spot situations where I can use my privilege to benefit a colleague, friend or stranger.
I commit to continuous learning about the politics, history and lived experiences of queer, disabled, racialized, and otherwise marginalized people. I endeavour to learn about both the joy and oppression of oppressed communities by reading widely and being purposeful and choosy around what I watch and what I listen to.
Discarding perfection/showing up:
I commit to taking the risk of being vulnerable and getting it wrong. I commit to showing up and practicing what I know about how to use my white, able-bodied privilege to be as effective as possible in dismantling white supremacy. I commit to being accountable to the people I want to serve by creating spaces of dialogue if and when needed. I commit to not making my own comfort the priority.
I commit to engaging in business practices that are non-coercive. This means I don’t offer a discount when clients pay full price, or jack up the cost for people who need to use payment plans. It means I understand that consent can be revoked at any time, including right in the middle of a coaching session.
Diverse but appropriate representation:
I commit to using images in my blog posts and coaching materials that a wide range of people can see themselves in, and that uphold the dignity and worth of people. It also means I avoid engaging in “digital blackface,” i.e. using digital images of Black or Brown people that are meant to illustrate my own personal emotions as a white person.
A little about my own position in relation to systemic power and oppression:
I am a white, queer, middle-class, cisgender, able-bodied fat woman living in what we now call Toronto, but what is the traditional territories of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples. It is currently home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
I was raised in a biracial household by white parents. For the first couple decades of my life, I thought that my proximity to biracial people—my siblings—magically made me non-racist. Although I had a genuine interest in social justice movements from a very young age, my belief in my own non-racism made me arrogant, like I was better than the unenlightened white kids I went to school with. Sure, I grew up learning from my parents about the civil rights movement in the United States, but I learned very little about the genocidal policies of residential schools in Canada, or about other racist policies of the Canadian state.
I first started identifying as a feminist in my teen years. As an undergraduate student in the 1990s, fuelled by my passion for environmental causes, I learned and in turn helped teach young people some of the skills involved in direct action and other activist techniques. I majored in political science and women’s studies. I become a literal card-carrying member of the NDP (Canada’s left-wing political party). I organized and attended plenty of protests, created and signed petitions, wrote letters to my political representatives, and read and wrote about various social justice movements. I came out as bisexual, proudly wore my Pride rings and closely studied queer history and queer theory.
My political beliefs were, in many ways, a very typical of white, middle-class Canadians: I thought my good intentions meant more than the impact of my actions. Plus I had really good politics; it’s just that I wasn’t always prepared to act on them (there is a joke in there somewhere). I wasn’t really ready to actually be accountable to any communities I wasn’t a part of. I had no awareness of fat as a feminist issue, and a very dim understanding of what disability politics was and why I should care.
In graduate school, my feminist identity grew and evolved, becoming more intentionally intersectional. I got a better grip on Indigenous issues and Canada’s brutal history. I burnished my activist cred by getting teargassed in the anti-globalization riots in Quebec City. I studied and taught feminist political theory, and developed a slightly more sophisticated analysis of class and labour. These days, I still embrace feminist concepts, but my awareness of the ways in which feminist movements have excluded Black, Indigenous and women and non-binary folks of colour has made my identification with it uneasy.
Even with all my fancy education, it took a long time for true anti-racism—as opposed to non-racism—to begin to get real traction in my brain and my heart. My arrogance as to just how non-racist I was blocked me from going deep into the humility I required to really make all those anti-oppression workshops mean much to me. I just didn’t want to admit my complicity. I wanted, so very badly, to be one of the good ones.
I don’t know if it was time and aging that gave way to an ideological shift in me, or if learning about fatphobia/weight stigma was the clincher I needed for my intersectional political analysis to really come together. Or maybe it was becoming a parent, and knowing I needed to go deeper and do better to teach my kid all the lessons I was never taught. Or maybe it was working at an organization in which I learned more about Indigenous culture than I ever had before.
Maybe it was all of these events together that provided me an opportunity to strengthen my political analysis of the world. It pushed me into the humility I needed to value the work of anti-racism. So I’ve spent the past ten years or so getting really clear on my own invisible backpack of privilege. It’s a never-ending journey with no final destination.