Month: May 2019

Amplifying Voices – Victoria Rodriguez: How to Step Up for Women of Color

I call out white women a fair amount on this site. There are reasons for this. First, I am a white woman, so I know a great deal about being at the intersection of white privilege and gender oppression. And second, as a white woman, I have no patience for other white women who continue to support supremacist policies at the expense of their own gender. I have no patience with white women who support inadequate white men in power just because they share a skin color. I especially have no patience for white women who claim to be allies while also engaging in supremacist behavior, and who are unwilling to acknowledge their own flaws or roles in racist systems.

I believe that white women have an obligation to do the work. And let’s be clear, you won’t ever finish the work. Confronting your own bias and working towards equitable systems is a life long process. But if you really want to be an ally, you need to start.

This article by Victoria Rodriguez is a great outline of things that white women can do to make a difference. Link here.

Countering Workplace Dysfunction

We’ve spent a couple of weeks talking about the ways dysfunctional or toxic behavior can get normalized within the workplace. Sometimes it’s done intentionally, sometimes not. However if we want to break this behavior, we absolutely need to be intentional.

Now, I can’t tell you any of this is easy. There may be some workplaces where it could even be unsafe to push back, depending on how far the toxicity has gone. In the end, you have to decide the best path for yourself. Just be mindful – often those of us with privilege only worry about the consequences for ourselves, and don’t really consider the difference we could make for others. If you are white and are nervous to act, imagine how your co-workers and employees of color must feel. If you are a man and hesitate to speak up, think of how it must be for your associates who are women. Be wise, but don’t use your fear as an excuse.

Oof, what did they do to this place?

Tactic #1: Trust yourself

This one is hard. Believe me, I know. Especially if you are part of a marginalized group and have been socialized to put the comfort of others above your own. You’re already getting messages every day that your perspective isn’t valid or worthy. You may be in a workplace that reinforces those messages. But it’s worth the work to get there.

My father has a lot of great advice, but one of the most memorable things he told me was that if I was having concerns or doubts about someone or something at work, there were going to be others who did as well, even if they weren’t saying it.

This really stuck with me, because it can be so easy to doubt our own feelings. And if we’re in an environment that encourages our doubt, we start to feel like we may be the problem. His words made me realize I could give myself permission to trust my own perceptions. That not hearing anyone else complain about something bothering you doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make it less valid, or less likely that others are experiencing it too.

If you’ve been in the dysfunctional environment for a long time, it can be so hard to realize this. And it make take time to rebuild your confidence in your own judgement.

But I can tell you, right here, right now, you are not wrong for how you feel. If something feels off, it’s off. That feeling in the pit of your stomach? That sense of disquiet? It’s there for a reason.

And the interesting thing is that once you learn to trust your perceptions, you’ll find confirmation that others feel the same way.

I had a really great manager who retired, and the first manager hired to replace her was…let’s just say, not a good fit. He wouldn’t listen, spoke down to his female employees, and thought he knew best in all situations, despite not having any real experience in the type of work we were doing. Now, I knew a couple of my co-workers were unhappy, as we spent a lot of time together and could talk about it. But it wasn’t until he was fired, and we were able to have our first unit meeting without him, that I truly found out how deeply hurt so many of our staff were. We had all been suffering, but unable to share it openly.

Of course the ability to trust your own intuition and perceptions isn’t something you can develop overnight. It takes time. Just last week I found myself using very apologetic language to remind my building’s maintenance team that they needed to finish a job for me. I shouldn’t need to apologize. I should be able to remind a man to do his job without feeling bad. The socialization runs deep, but I’m going to keep pulling it apart, piece by piece.

Trust yourself. You know what’s right.

Here we go...

Tactic #2: Speak truth to power

Another aspect of learning to trust yourself is learning to see authority with some perspective. It’s challenging, because we live in a culture where people with power are often granted the assumption that they are there because they earned it, and that we have a responsibility to be obedient to them.

Power differentials based on job classification are reinforced constantly in our culture. Just recently there was a trending article where a woman was talking about her three children being doctors and CEOs, and bragging about how it was her parenting style that got them there. That’s all well and good, but what does that say about people who have children who are receptionists and janitors? Are they supposed to feel lesser, or like they failed at parenting? I don’t know about you, but I bet if you removed the CEOs from some companies, and the support and janitorial staff from others, the ones without the CEOs would fare a whole lot better. In the end, there is nothing inherently superior about you because of the job you do.

Throughout my career, no matter where I went on the ladder, I always felt the power of authority. The first time I presented in a meeting with the district manager, I was keenly aware of the power differentials in the room. I was flattered when I got attention from those in higher level positions. I was excited if the director of the agency would attend our leadership program graduations, because I knew it would mean something to our students for someone of that level to be present.

None of that is inherently bad, of course. When someone has a great deal of decision making power over your career, it’s natural to want to be noticed by them.

But there are some important things to keep in mind.

People in power are not smarter than you. They are not more deserving. They are not better than you. And they need to be questioned.

If they are doing something wrong, it is wrong. It doesn’t matter who they are.

And this goes both ways. Because if you hold positional power? You need to be open to being questioned. Which leads me to my next point.

Tactic #3: Transparency & honesty

Unfortunately, we can’t control the honesty of others. Our current government proves that. But we can be honest and transparent ourselves, and encourage it in those around us.

When I was quite little, I was playing with some of the other kids in the neighborhood. And this boy came over and started chasing some of us around. I didn’t really know him, or want to play with him, and I didn’t like being chased. So after running for a moment, I just stopped.

The funny thing? Once I stopped running, he had no idea what to do. He literally veered around me to go run after someone else.

It was a huge moment for me. I realized I didn’t have to play by his rules.

Often people will claim that they’re not personally responsible for being misleading or hiding the truth of what’s really going on. In other words, “it’s just the culture”, “everyone else is doing it”, “I can’t succeed if I don’t play along”. “I didn’t make the rules.”

You may work somewhere where honesty and transparency are non-existent. Or maybe you have it with your co-workers, but you know management isn’t being truthful.

That sucks. But it doesn’t mean you need to play by those same rules.

Folks who have any experience with change management know that a huge element of it is managing the people side of change. I had a co-worker who was an expert in change management, and would conduct trainings on how to form committees of employees to assist during times of change at companies. The important thing about these groups was that there would be no managers. No one in a position of authority to control what was talked about. The group would be a conduit between staff and management, and could make recommendations purely from the staff perspective.

My co-worker once told me a story about doing a change management training where she emphasized, “Unless you manage the people side of change, your change will fail.” And the manager, at the back of the room, nodded his head vigorously. She repeated it for emphasis. And he again agreed.

So after the training, she went to talk to him. “So, you’re going to form a change management team?” she asked. “Oh no,” he said. “We don’t have time for that!”

And that’s how it seemed to work with transparency at my agency. Talk to any manager about the need to be transparent about decisions and to keep employees in the loop, and they would vigorously agree. And then, when a major change was happening? No information, staff becoming increasingly upset and stressed, and in the end, usually a last minute email letting employees know how they’re being impacted in the most disconnected way possible.

There are some workplaces where this is taken to a terrible extreme, where management knows their company is about to shut down, but doesn’t tell staff because they want them to keep working until the last possible moment.

But the thing is, most employees know things are wrong. They know they’re not getting the full story. If you’re not being honest with them, you’re going to lose them. They may still be physically present, but they’re not with you. Not really.

Everyone deserves the dignity of being treated like a full human being, and part of that is showing them you’re a human being too. Just be honest.

Tactic #4: Find your allies

There are always going to be those who resist change. There’s a number of people who strongly benefit from the inequity inherent in dysfunctional systems, and they have no interest in helping those who want to upset the status quo.

This applies to a number of people who will say the right things, but then still prioritize their own perceived self-interest over improving conditions for everyone. (Yes, this includes you, white women).

But the great thing is that you do have allies out there.

There were times I would get so frustrated at the lack of progress towards equity at my workplace. However, I knew I could meet with my like-minded co-workers, talk about ambitions and plans for continuing to move forward, and leave the room ready to keep going. I knew if I hit a wall, that I had someone who would take me to grab a coffee and let me vent. I knew I had people who would trust my perspective and support my passion for adding more voices to the work we were doing. I knew they would speak up for me and my ideas. And I knew that I could do those same things for all of them.

This is more than having work friends. This is standing side by side with others who are ready to do the work.

Side note, for those of you with privilege, you’re going to need to put some time in here. You don’t get to just be an ally by choice. If you want to be an ally to people who are marginalized, you need to do the work. This means doing more than posting Facebook memes and watching the occasional Ted Talk (even though I love Ted Talks). You need to be able to acknowledge your own privilege and bias, recognize the part you play in oppressive systems, and learn how to center other people in the conversation without taking it over yourself.

The advantage of doing that work? You get to connect with some amazingly awesome people on the other side. And it means that none of us have to fight alone.

Sunday Reflection – Trans Rights

The Trump administration has been dismantling protection for trans people for some time, leading to this week, where they directly attacked the ability of transgender people to access shelter and health care.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how each of us has to decide what is worth fighting for and against in this world. And for some reason, there are a large number of people out there who feel that fighting against someone else’s sense of identity is worth their time and energy. You even see people from the LGBTQ community insisting that the T should be separate, or people who call themselves feminists insisting that excluding trans women is their right.

I have a few things to say about this.

1) All people should have access to health care. I don’t care what religion you are. If you’re a doctor who wants to deny care to someone due to your faith, go find another job. You suck at this one.

2) If everything you know about trans issues is coming from cis people, you are missing a huge piece of the picture. There are a ton of trans activists, writers, and speakers. If you can acknowledge that you need to hear from people of color about racism, from women about sexism, and from immigrants about xenophobia, you should damn well be hearing about trans issues from trans people.

3) Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Nonbinary people are nonbinary. It’s really not that difficult. If you’re getting fixated on what’s under people’s clothing, that’s your issue. If you don’t understand it right away, that’s ok. It may take time. But don’t take it out on them.

In short, these kinds of policies are inhumane and will lead to further dehumanization and punishment to people who are just trying to live their own lives in their own way. Which is something we all want to be able to do.

And we can do better. For god’s sake, vote better.

Amplifying Voices – Deb Haaland

I have a lot of ties to the state of New Mexico, so was very excited when Deb Haaland became one of the first Indigenous representatives to be elected to Congress. This is a short interview, but I feel like it does a nice job on touching on why representation matters, and why people who have never experienced poverty, addiction, or oppression should not be exclusively in charge of legislation.

Sunday Reflection – The Limits of Being Inclusive

I’ve been thinking of the concept of inclusiveness this week. Someone recently posted a comment on Facebook criticizing a political candidate for not wanting to appear on Fox News. And the comment was saying that not appearing on this particular media program was “not being inclusive” of the people who watch it.

Now normally I don’t pay too much attention to Facebook posts, but this one stuck with me. It took me some time to figure out why. I could see the intent in wanting to reach out to others, no matter what their political philosophy. To feel like we should never shut the door to others. And that is a good philosophy – in theory.

But I think the reason I got stuck on that comment was the idea that being inclusive of a platform is the same as being inclusive of people.

There’s a wide range of platforms that make up our media. Some of them try to be unbiased, but all will have some inherent bias. And some deliberately promote agendas that are steeped in white supremacy and other hateful rhetoric.

And let’s be clear – they do this because it’s profitable. If it didn’t make money, it wouldn’t still exist.

So do we have an obligation to be inclusive of something that promotes bigotry, and profits from it? Do we have to support platforms that encourage prejudicial behavior in the interest of seeming “open”?

Personally, I don’t think so. I even struggle with the idea of talking one on one with someone who espouses hateful language, but I can at least acknowledge that some individuals may be capable of change. But I don’t think that’s the same as including or supporting a platform that does real damage to people’s lives.

There is a limit to inclusion. We cannot be overly tolerant of the intolerant, because it opens the door to more pain. And all of us have to draw a line.

I’d love if we lived in a world where we could include everyone. But for the safety and health of our marginalized communities, we need boundaries.

What do you think? Where is the line between inclusion and permitting oppressive behavior? Do you think someone reaching out on platform already biased against them can make a substantial difference?

"They promised they'd be totally fair. And I'm sure they didn't mean those names they called me..."

Amplifying Voices – Evelyn from the Internets: How to Be an Ally

Today’s video is a little more light-hearted. I’ve been following Evelyn from the Internets on YouTube for some time, and I really like her presentation style. She brings up important themes in very accessible ways, including utilizing her fantastic sense of humor.

There are a lot of people who toss out the term ally, but what does that actually mean? And for those of us who want to be allies, how can we do better?

Normalizing Dysfunction: Part 2

Two weeks ago, I wrote a little bit about how some workplaces normalize dysfunctional behavior and expectations. Today I want to go into more specifics on some of the strategies that are used by those in power to do this. To be clear, I don’t think I’m going to be saying anything people don’t already know. In truth, pretty much all of these strategies fall into the general category of “lying”. However, I believe that the more we can openly discuss the problematic behaviors of management, the more prepared we are to resist and counter it.

"You are the best staff I've ever had in my entire life!! Now...I have some new work assignments..."

Bad strategy #1: Manipulation via praise and other positive language

Over time there have been a number of positive changes in the workplace. And one of those is less reliance on the idea of the boss as authoritarian, and more understanding of the boss as a collaborator. That a manager who yells and makes demands is not a productive thing. There are still remnants of that culture, of course, but it’s much less popular.

However, what receives less attention is the extreme that can go in the other direction, and a strategy that can lead to a great deal of the manipulation of staff into unhealthy work habits.

Because we’ve all known the managers who are very sweet and kind – on the surface. They tell us how important we are. They use phrases like, “We’re a family here and we look out for each other” and “We’re all in this together”.

These kinds of phrases aren’t inherently bad. Feeling connected to your co-workers can be a good thing.

But when you hear “we’re a family and all in this together” right before a new announcement comes down that everyone will need to put in overtime, it’s not an accident. It’s a tactic. They’re using language and a feeling of community to get more out of you. And it’s an abhorrent thing to do.

The same is true when a company starts to talk about “magic” or the very special quality of their workers. It sounds like a compliment, but it’s just another manipulation tactic. It uses language to mask the fact that what is being asked of the workers is often unreasonable.

I regularly saw this kind of language at work. Whenever there were budget cuts, or we lost positions to other offices, or were being given more work on top of what was already too difficult to handle, it always came with praise for us as workers.

And the truth is that many of us are starved for positive reinforcement. I once had a supervisor that I would ask for feedback. And he would wave his hand, and say, “You know you’re good.”

Maybe – but I still needed to hear it. Most of us do. And it makes us vulnerable to this kind of language.

I still remember one phone call I had with executive management back when I was an office manager. My co-manager and I were being told we needed to take on supervising an employee from another office – one who was experiencing disciplinary issues, and was considered a bit of a problem. And the executive manager said to us, “We picked you because you’re both so good at what you do. You’re really the best out of our choices. We just knew you could handle this.”

Very flattering, right?

And yet funny that we didn’t get calls about how good we were at any other point. That when we explicitly asked for help or support, we were denied it.

But when she needed something from us? Suddenly, we were just the very best.

"I promised to not add any more work? Hm, that's not how I remember it. You probably heard me wrong."

Bad strategy #2: Manipulation via gaslighting

This is very similar to strategy #1, but goes even further.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, gaslighting originated from a play, later movie, called Gaslight, in which a husband tricks his wife into believing she is going insane. It’s now become a common term for when someone tries to manipulate someone else’s perception of reality.

We see this often in cases of harassment and abuse. A woman may try to tell people that a man is making her uncomfortable, and will receive responses like, “Oh, you’re just imagining it”, or “You’re reading too much into it”, or “I’m sure he doesn’t mean it that way”. All of these are attempts to convince her that her perception is incorrect.

It’s not always deliberate. Sometimes it happens when someone is very unaware of their own privilege and can’t even conceive of a reality unlike their own. But intentional or not, it is extremely damaging. And when management is using it to force their staff into uncomfortable or hurtful extremes at work, it’s criminal.

I once had a friend who turned out to be a narcissist. Of course, I didn’t know it in the beginning. Narcissists are so darn charming when you first meet them. And they are experts at gaslighting. You get pulled into their world, and it seems so awesome at the time. But gradually, over time, something started to feel off. If I didn’t conform to her way of doing things, suddenly I would get an email telling me all the ways I was wrong and hurtful to her. And over time, I realized – in her mind, she was the star, and I was the supporting player. If I tried to focus on myself, if I tried to have a different point of view, she saw it as unacceptable. And so I would get punished.

I put up with this for much longer than I should have. I tried so hard to not “set her off”, because things were fun when I didn’t. I have a tendency to trust people, and so it was easy for her to convince me the problems were all with me. I was only able to snap out of the spell when she pushed it too far, and criticized me for being sad after I had lost several family members within the same year. My own sense of perspective came back, and I was done with her from that point on.

Snapping the spell when it’s coming from management can be even harder, because you’re dealing with a power differential. When someone holds your career in their hands, and is telling you that you’re not good enough, or that they know better than you, it’s really hard to feel confident about your own perspective.

I once had a really uncomfortable conversation with a supervisor, after he had said something quite sexist that upset me. I didn’t plan to confront him, as I knew he wouldn’t take my feedback seriously. But a co-worker, intending to be helpful, had let him know I was upset. He called me into a meeting with no warning, and “apologized”, while at the same time making it clear that he “didn’t remember it the same way”, and “had done research in his spare time that supported his position”.

I was lucky in that by then I had a pretty clear view of who this guy really was, and knew to trust myself first. But it still hurt me, and I can just imagine how damaging that kind of conversation would be to someone who wasn’t there yet.

This article does a nice job of laying out some of the specific tactics of gaslighting. I have a feeling that most of us have seen most of these strategies at some point in our career.

"Problems? Nah."

Bad strategy #3: Using propaganda to push a message

Propaganda is the term for biased or misleading information that is used to promote a certain point of view. The term is often associated with politics, and is quite common there. But we are surrounded by it. Advertising is full of it. Want to live a perfect life, attract a perfect partner, and never worry again? Just buy this one product, and all your dreams will come true!

Many of us don’t think of our workplace in terms of propaganda, but it’s there all the same.

I’ve spoken before about the email that my HR department had sent out, claiming that employee engagement was higher than the national average. I had previously talked about it from a bad data perspective, but the truth is, it was also propaganda. It was using misleading information to tell employees that most of their co-workers were doing quite well. So if you’re not feeling engaged? The problem isn’t with the agency, it’s with you.

Even signs that talk about core values or how much employees are appreciated can have a propaganda element – if the words are not backed up by the actions of management.

When I was a manager, I was constantly getting new posters to put up in the workplace. They had fancy little signs, one for each of our core values. Responsibility, respect, integrity. All wonderful values. And yet, somehow our staff were still having breakdowns and desperate for more support from leadership. Because words without action are meaningless.

And there can be all kinds of propaganda, from the subtle, to the not-so-much.

Recently, a poster from Delta Airlines was shared on Twitter. The poster read, “Union dues cost around $700 a year. A new video game system with the latest hits sounds like fun. Put your money towards that instead of paying dues to the union.”

This one seems laughable at first sight, because it’s so blatant and awful. But the truth is it still sends a damaging message. Not only is it insulting to the employees’ intelligence, it tells them very clearly how much management cares about things like fair wages or reasonable overtime. Which is, not at all.

"I don't know why I'm always so depressed. Everything is great! ...Right?"

Of course, the world isn’t black and white. Not everyone who engages in these behaviors is trying to cause harm. When I was a manager, it was so natural to want to compliment your staff to soften the blow when bad news was coming down the line. Sometimes you want to write an email to assure people that things aren’t as bad as they seem. But if you’re not careful, you end up supporting the status quo.

That’s how dysfunction is able to thrive. Between those who are deliberately being misleading, and those with good intentions, bad behavior becomes the norm.

Next week – tactics to fight back against dysfunction.

Sunday Reflection – Believing Change is Possible

This week I listened to a webinar from an organization focused on amplifying women’s voices in determining political agendas. And shortly after it began, the speaker mentioned the number of women on the call, and talked about how it meant that none of us were alone in wanting things to change.

As soon as she said the words “not alone”, I got emotional.

I used to consider myself a quite positive person. I know part of that changed when I started working for a child welfare agency, and was surrounded with dark stories for a number of years. Another part shattered a couple of years ago on election night.

Being engaged with social justice and other similar concepts means exposing ourselves to a lot of really troubling stories. Walking the line between caring and self care is difficult.

And sometimes I feel like it’s all futile.

But during that call, the speaker’s words hit that little, sometimes hidden part still deep inside. That believes we can make things better. That it may be in tiny little steps, and not nearly soon enough to help everyone who deserves it. But however slow it may go, we’re not alone. And we won’t ever stop.

What is it that brings you hope? What makes you think change is possible?

Amplifying Voices – Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story

In a course I took on training and development, one of the women from my class was originally from Africa. She shared with us that after moving to the U.S., time after time, Americans would excitedly ask her if she regularly saw lions and zebras in her home country. 

I still remember her face when she frustratedly exclaimed, “I lived in a city! The only time I saw animals was at the zoo!”

Author Chimamanda Adichie talks really beautifully about what happens when our perception of an entire group or country is based purely on one story. That single story can be one we’ve heard over and over, but that doesn’t make it true. And so much depends on who’s telling it.

Withholding Empathy

Generally, I try to be an open-minded person. But I’m also finding that the older and more experienced I get, the less patience I have for people in positions of power and influence who are unwilling to examine their own privilege and extend empathy to those who are in different circumstances.

Because we’ve come to a point in our society where you cannot plead ignorance. You can embrace ignorance, and try to stay within a small framework of ideas. But the information is out there. There is so much powerful work being done by people of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants, and others, in all mediums. There are so many resources to help you engage with new ideas, examine your own privilege, and make choices that embrace empathy and compassion for marginalized people.

And of course you can choose not to engage. But it is a choice. There are millions of people sharing their stories. It’s purely up to you if you’re not listening.

"What is this "Google" of which you speak?"

I was originally planning to not really get into the presidential race on this blog, because 1) I think it’s pretty clear where I stand politically, and 2) there’s so much coverage everywhere else, I don’t want to contribute to the fatigue.

But I gotta talk about this. Because we have someone in a very important position who keeps saying things so forehead-slappingly stupid, I can’t ignore it. Now this actual quote happened back in January of 2018, but I only saw it recently. It’s recirculating, for good reason.

Presidential hopeful Joe Biden said the following while promoting his book last year, “The younger generation now tells me how tough things are. Give me a break. No, no, I have no empathy for it. Give me a break. Because here’s the deal guys, we decided we were gonna change the world. And we did. We did. We finished the civil rights movement in the first stage. The women’s movement came to be. So my message is, get involved. There’s no place to hide.”

Ok, first, to the defenders – yes, we all get that he’s talking about civic engagement being a positive thing. That people shouldn’t just talk about problems, but should get involved. And yes, we all agree with that.

And if he had just said, “Wow, things are hard, but we’ve been fighting for rights for decades, and we need to keep fighting now”, there would be no issue.

But that’s not what he said.

"You can't make rent this month? Clearly you're not trying hard enough to save."

Privilege is a concept that is often misunderstood. So often people see privilege as being lucky or having special benefits. But that’s just part of it. At its very core, privilege is the idea that something is not a problem, because it’s not a problem for you personally.

I was lucky enough to get out of college debt free. If I then turned around and told students struggling with debt that it’s their own fault and they should have made different choices – that’s privilege.

I’m a white woman. If a black co-worker came to me and told me she was experiencing harassing behavior from our colleagues, and I shrugged and said, “I haven’t seen anything like that.” – that’s privilege.

I’m a cis woman. If a trans woman talked about being discriminated against by her physician, and I told her, “Just find a new doctor.” – that’s privilege.

Biden saying the “younger generation” shouldn’t have any complaint over things being tough? So much privilege. (I’m not going to even touch on the “finished the civil rights movement” claptrap, because that’s way too big for this post, but needless to say – privilege to the nth degree).

Words matter. Words matter a lot. And yes, we can all say the wrong thing from time to time. But just listen to Biden speak. Listen to him say “give me a break” repeatedly. He is sending a very clear message. His derision is visible. He doesn’t care to hear their voices. He doesn’t care to examine his privilege. He doesn’t care to do the work.

And that is an absolute failure of leadership.

"Oh, wow. I had no idea everything you'd been through. I'm so sorry."

Out of all the things that bother me with this particular statement, the very worst is Biden’s claim that, “I have no empathy for it”.

Withholding empathy is a powerful tool. And I’m not going to say it should never be utilized. It’s a choice all of us have to make for ourselves, in who we believe deserves our empathy and who doesn’t. But it’s a hammer, not a scalpel. And it needs to be wielded responsibly.

Using it against an entire generation? Is downright bigoted.

Biden looked at his audience, primarily made up of people like him. People with many kinds of privilege. And he decided to go with the narrative of the lazy, useless young person. That these kids today just don’t understand. That someone speaking to things being tough is clearly just not trying hard enough.

Nevermind that earnings have not kept up with the cost of living. Nevermind that predatory debt has skyrocketed. Nevermind that one health problem can clean out your savings. Nevermind that you can do everything right and still be discriminated against for your color, or your sexuality, or your gender identity, or your size, or health status.

No, no, it must be that everything is the fault of the people who are struggling.

This kind of attitude is everywhere. But it doesn’t belong in our leaders.

Imagine what it could have been if Biden had made the choice to lead with empathy. If he had made the choice to talk about what life could look like if we stood up for each other, instead of encouraging older generations to feel superior. If he had acknowledged his own privilege, and talked about how much he’s learning. If he had validated the pain of those who are just so very tired of fighting systems they didn’t create, and then being told that everything they’re experiencing is their own fault.

Imagine if he had said, “I’ve talked to young people telling me how tough things are. And you know what? They’re right! Things are tough! They may be different struggles than what some of us are familiar with, but we know what it’s like to go through tough times. We can stand up for what’s right, and help them. We’ve made change happen before, and we can do it again.”

Just imagine.

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