The latter is especially true when it comes to cultural events. Specifically, this means any event that discusses diversity as it specifically pertains to race, gender, and sexual orientation. While the content of these events continues to change and develop — whether it be about movements for equality, history, or a celebration of culture — what seems to stay the same are the characters that attend said events.
Challenge yourself to see if you can think of a person for each of these personalities!
1. The Denier.
This is the person in the room who stubbornly refuses to see any truth in the struggles of others. These are often people from a group that does not face the same societal oppressions and aggressions as the event’s focused group. They are not open to other viewpoints and often believe that we live in a post-racial, post-sexist, and a post-gay society.
They also seem to have a large chip on their shoulder, and get more and more indignant throughout the duration of the event. This person made up his or her mind before it even started, so it’s a wonder why they decided to attend in the first place.
2. The Prisoner.
This person did not choose to be at the event, and they’ll be sure to let you know it…about 100 times. They were probably required to attend for a class, or for some sort of leadership development. Regardless, they don’t plan on learning anything.
No, they’d rather play the role of the “cool kid” who doesn’t care about anything. The best solution is to just ignore them completely. Don’t feed into it, because they just want attention.
3. The Affected Community.
These are the people for which the event really hits home. If the event is about black history (note: not all black people are African-American) or the oppression of black people, the affected community would be black students. If the event is about gay history or the oppression of gay people, the affected community would be gay students. You get the point.
They are the ones who are highly engaged and often use these events as a safe space to express things they may not typically be able to, or don’t feel comfortable expressing in other places on campus. Unfortunately, the affected community and other affected communities, generally, are the dominant majority at these events. This keeps diversity education a priority only for those that are oppressed or affected by societal/institutional prejudice in this country.
4. The Silencer.
This person might genuinely mean well, but they are the one who makes a crowd-silencing comment or asks a poorly-phrased question. It’s important to try not to judge this person, because their head might be in the right place. Making mistakes is part of learning, and they should get some credit for at least participating and trying.
Be sure to answer their question, or address their comment (if you can), because you don’t want to discourage them from continuing their diversity education. However, it’s also helpful to be a good friend and give them a small dose of honesty. Let them know how people might be offended by their question or comment.
5. The Explorer.
These are students outside of the affected community that are legitimately curious to learn more about a culture that is different than their own. They don’t expect a reward for being interested in diversity, nor do they humble brag in yuppie settings about any newfound knowledge.
Explorers are very important, because they can turn into allies for the affected communities.
6. The Know-It-All.
Allies are certainly crucial in any fight for equality in this country, because they show that equal rights are important not only to those that don’t have them, but also to those that do (or those that are at least much closer to it).
However, allies can walk a fine-line too. Passionate allies can — whether accidentally or intentionally — adopt the struggles of those people who they’re fighting for, as if they completely understand how it all feels. Allies need to understand that their support is crucial, but that they can’t understand, because they’re not in that group. A straight person can’t truly understand what it feels like to be judged for being gay. Can they empathize? Absolutely. But empathizing and understanding are two very different things, and allies need to remember that.