Money, Sex, and Social Justice

Money, Sex, and Social Justice

— By J. Elliott Cisneros,

Edited by Cathy Butler

I grew up with a lot of unknown and unacknowledged privilege. I was a straight boy: cis-gender, able-bodied, Christian, middle-class, and white. From these “locations,” I learned lots of specific, mostly unspoken rules. I was taught that these rules offered the only path to a meaningful life. Specifically, it meant there was a social and economic pyramid and the idea was to climb as high as possible before you die. Even as income inequality in the United States became evident to me, I cared very little about this or other issues of social justice. The truth is I didn’t care about money or social status for its own sake. I cared only about girls. I learned that if I wanted a relationship with a girl (and I did more than life itself), my job was clear: stay in school, get a job, buy a car, take her out to dinner, buy her flowers, etc. Generally, I’d need to demonstrate my ability to fulfill societal and economic expectations to “provide and protect.” These qualities were the only thing that made me desirable.

The rules came from all around me: t.v., friends, culture, my church, school, and parents. I probably made some up myself once I had the idea! As an adult, the rules became ingrained and habituated and I stepped right into line. I pursued a career that would allow me to climb some vague “ladder of success.” Like a salmon swimming upstream, I may not have known why, but I knew the necessary direction.

What became increasingly confusing was the information I got from many women about sexism and patriarchy. Because my desire for relationships with women was so strong and visceral, I was very interested in listening to women and understanding their perspectives. At the same time, I was learning hierarchy in “man-school.” The more I could portray myself as an “alpha” male, the more likely I was to separate myself from the rest and appear strong, confident, and bound for “success.” I didn’t have to actually be these things, just look like it. Having this hierarchical frame and desiring relationships with girls so powerfully led me to one conclusion: females had complete power over me. 

Of course, I needed to hide this fact because there would be no greater shame, nothing less attractive or sexy in my hierarchical male world than to be dominated by another…especially a girl. I began to realize that I was not the only straight, cisgender boy having this experience. Researchers have found that males, in general and across cultures, tend to interact and think in hierarchical ways (Heim, 2013). In the straight, male world then, it can be common to have an experience of both being dominated by women and suppressing or hiding this fact. For a young male to admit this would be tantamount to giving all his power away and, thereby, losing all hope of climbing the social ladder and successfully connecting with women.

As I became compelled by the need to keep this secret hidden, I invested in my image versus the truth in an attempt to garner the attention of, and matter to, members of the opposite sex. My interest focused on finding value in doing rather than deserving this value by simply being. This incongruence between my external image and how I felt meant that I spent much of my younger life experiencing myself as an imposter. Clearly, I didn’t matter much because I didn’t make a lot of money and wasn’t high on that pyramid of success.  

As a young, straight male, I was so desperate to perfect this guise of mattering and importance to connect to women that I felt willing to do whatever it took.  I did anything, from working to build abdominal muscles, buying certain clothes, or getting a particular haircut to ultimately abandoning internal approval in exchange for external approval. While I began to recognize this in my own life, I also realized there has been a historical, gendered, and desperate legacy for many men and societies. In “A People’s History of the United States,” Howard Zinn details much of the history of the dynamics of those in power related to class, gender, race, culture, sexual orientation, etc. This provided many of the ugly, tragic, missing stories about our country’s history (or “herstory”) that most of us did not learn in school. These are stories about events like the Tulsa Massacre of 1921, in which a white mob looted and destroyed an affluent black community, and about the fact that in the early colonies, which were made up of almost all white men, “…women were imported as sex slaves, child bearers, and companions” (Zinn, 1980). 

The more I learned about the power dynamics in which white men maintained their power at any cost, the more one question arose repeatedly: “Why?” Why have these power dynamics existed for so long and why do they continue today? How might they be reflected in my own life? How do I participate and perpetuate them?

I have found the historical answers to these questions connected within my own body and experience. As an example, as a white man, I have felt drawn to consider what I would have done if I had lived 150 years ago in the United States. Depending on where I lived (I grew up in Colorado), there may have been pressure, opportunity, and encouragement for me to participate, at some level, in the annihilation of indigenous people. If it meant I could acquire land and social standing and there-by gain access to relationships with women, what would I have done? 

Currently, I live in Virginia. I am compelled to wonder: what financial and status benefits would I have gained if I had participated in the enslavement of African people? How would that have related to my ability to have and maintain relationships with women? What would I have chosen?

As I consider these questions, it has been a natural progression to wonder how these issues play out today in my life, my community, and my world. Because slavery is now outlawed, I may be tempted to pretend that issues of white supremacy and social justice are increasingly irrelevant. Yet the loss of voting rights for large numbers of incarcerated Black men has replaced the need for Jim Crow laws in our modern era. How does this benefit me as a straight, white man? While I may not have personally participated in the annihilation of indigenous people, how have I benefited from my ancestor’s actions?

As my awareness has grown, I have been hard on myself at times and become mired in guilt. I’ve blamed others and sought to get them to “get it” and “be sensitive,” like me. And yet, my deepest interest here is to understand my own motivations. I want to be informed by these lenses of history and my life experience.  I want to make choices that serve me and acknowledge my impact across our differences. Ultimately, I want to live more effectively in solidarity across our differences.

I have come to recognize, with profound grief at times, this dichotomy: my desire for relationships with women has supported a money-making system that, while it doesn’t have to, marginalizes people of color, women, and others–both in the past and today. I have had to grapple with my fear of what I might lose if I refuse to participate in these aspects of this system. Access to food and shelter…basic survival needs immediately come into question. Then there’s the comfort of the middle class: an occasional vacation, adequate clothes, and dental care. But beneath that, for me, was always this fear that I would lose my attractiveness and ability to connect to a woman and my raison d’être. 

Through these reflections, I’m clearer about my masculine identity. I’m more humbled and empowered. I’m also less interested in “powering over.” No longer do I work to make money out of fear or from a neediness for a woman. I can work as an expression of non-violent solidarity with all of myself, those I’m close to, my community, and my world. Women are, of course, a powerful and amazing force and I want healthy, honest, intimate relationships with women—as a father, a son, a brother, and a partner. But I’m learning that if I’m to deserve this approval, I have to earn my own approval, first and foremost. I have to be “sexy” to me. And this means I want to, I can, and I will step up to the plate of my own inspiration, wholeness, tender compassion, ferocious boundaries, and noble brilliance. I can let these aspects of me unfold, catch fire and generate the money and wealth I need and want with profound gratitude. I allow this knowing that the connection to my conscious privilege has the power to transform the poison of my former unconscious privilege into a balm for me and our world. As this work gets done inside me, I increasingly enjoy envisioning, sharing, and creating just and thriving communities, organizations, and a planet where no one stands alone. 

What is Pinkwashing? What It Means for Me as an LGBTQ Ally

What is Pinkwashing? What It Means for Me as an LGBTQ Ally

“Pinkwashing” is a term coined by Sarah Schulman of the New York Times in 2011. It describes how Israel uses a pro-LGBTQ platform to “gain points” for open-minded progressivism to hide a refusal to engage in a progressive dialogue about the Palestinian conflict. The word has been used since then to describe the similar practice by countries, politicians, and corporations: anyone or entity that uses LGBTQ openness as a way of garnering favor and distracting from, and thereby enabling, an underlying harmful or distasteful practice related to a separate issue more central to that person’s or entity’s core agenda. 

Some in the queer community have expressed appreciation and support for the progressivism related to LGBTQ issues, while others have decried the practice as manipulative and self-serving and the very antitheses of progressivism. Allies and others outside the queer community who might look to queer folks for guidance can find, instead, another example of a kind of “transferred oppression” when straight people, observing this conflict, say “See, LGBTQ folks don’t even agree. Let them fight it out.” We minimize the larger LGBTQ issues. Whenever people in marginalized groups “fight it out,” the dominant group wins…in this case, it is heteronormativity in general.

In the Power of Difference Model, whatever side of the pinkwashing analysis a person takes, underneath, we find there is always an “under-expressed” need or pattern that is “asking” for support and voice internally. These patterns are typically unconscious. Most people primarily hold one of three.

We call the first one Sensitivity, though there is no particular order. This pattern leads us to want to “get others to get it.” When we hold or value this pattern, we are likely to be sensitive to most differences but believe that others need to be, somewhat ironically, sensitive like this person perceives herself to be. We may often feel stuck, not knowing how to be both sensitive but also hold strong boundaries.

A second pattern we call Oneness, which is held by about 65% of people. From this “lens,” we believe it is more important to focus on how we are the same.  We devalue differences. Concerning pinkwashing, our analysis will be predicated on whatever helps people to “get along” and avoid conflict. We can minimize differences.

The third primary pattern we see, we call Strength. From this “location,” we evaluate difference and seek conflict as the crucible in which our “mettle” is tested and leadership cultivated and proven. With regard to pinkwashing, whether we are queer, an ally, or even a homophobic opponent of LGBTQ issues, we are likely to be combative and protective of a sub-group to which we identify.

While each of these patterns has gifts and weaknesses, it is the awareness of them inside of each of us and their eventual integration that we are invited to consider. In this process, we learn to leverage the assets of each and become less destabilized by others’ opinions, actions, beliefs, or feelings. We can hold our own boundaries with ferocity if need be while also,] holding and enjoying our common humanity. 

We begin to recognize that whatever our analyses of pinkwashing, or any other politically loaded position, these can represent a vehicle in which we invest our passion and identity and, in so doing, avoid this critical internal awareness and integration process. 

The essence of this process involves “owning” our projections in this way: we notice the positions and people that “bug” us and, instead of passing judgment on them, we consider what critical aspect or asset they hold that we deny ourselves! If they seem combative, are there ways we are invited to have stronger boundaries? If they seem to over-focus on oneness, can we, instead, focus on experiencing a compassionate connection to them?  If they seem frozen in political correctness, can we acknowledge the importance of their value for diversity?

If you’d like to know more or find support related to these internal patterns and the unique learning needs of each, please contact us at info@thesum.org.   

BLM in Support of Palestine: What can I do?

BLM in Support of Palestine: What can I do?

A friend sent me the link to this article entitled: What do Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Palestine solidarity have in common?  He enjoyed reading about, near the anniversary of George Floyd’s death, how Black Lives Matter had expressed support for the Palestinian cause in its most recent exacerbation of the ongoing conflict in Israel’s history and how Palestinians have supported BLM in the past. The article describes these two movements as having several experiences in common: colonization, police brutality, and discrimination.

He asked me what meaning I construed from the article from the lens of  The Sum’s Power of Difference Model. Since The Sum’s model is about, ultimately, standing in solidarity across our differences, why was I not on a picket line or writing to a congressperson in support of these causes? What might move me to take some kind of action? What action was called for, concerning Black Lives Matter, the cause of the Palestinian homeland, and concerning political activism in general?

Our model, the PDM, focuses on supporting people in doing their internal work: becoming aware of unconscious patterns and bias. We find that until people do this inner exploration, we can’t make meaningful changes in the world. When we focus on changing the world prematurely, that activism, more than being ineffective, produces chaos, harm, and combativeness.  Moreover, it becomes a way for us to avoid doing the challenging foundational work inside each of us. 

There is a payoff for this avoidance. Typically, that payoff is that the other person or group,  a particular organization, political worldview, religion, culture, race, gender, etc., becomes the “problem” or the threat. We believe that if they would change, if we could get them to see, overcome them, or connect with them, then we all would be safe and the threat would be mitigated. 

We find this exploration opens up the possibility of internal integration of three primary unconscious patterns. Each pattern has strengths and weaknesses. Each can appear to contradict the others. It’s as if a sailing ship has a sailor in charge of the sails, a sailor in charge of the rudder, and a sailor in charge of the star charts. Each can hold a sense of self-importance and can minimize the other sailors or their functions. When a good captain comes on board, she can recognize and integrate the critical purpose of each function for the larger purpose of the ship.

Each of these functions exists within us but our learning needs are determined by how we identify with regard to the “external world”–also by who we feel threatened, with whom we feel unity, and with whom we experience resistance.  

We call these three patterns: Sensitivity, Oneness, and Strength. In Sensitivity, we attempt to get others to value understanding like we believe we do. We value differences but can feel stuck because we often act “too nice” and fail to set firm boundaries. In Oneness, we try to get others to connect through our shared humanity. While we value commonality, we tend to devalue differences and can minimize differences that matter to others. And in Strength, we seek to overcome weakness and dominate those who oppose us, those who we deem the “enemy.” We tend, in this pattern, to evaluate differences and are experienced by others as acting unnecessarily combative.

As we become aware of how these patterns play out internally and in the world, we begin to integrate the assets of each pattern and limit the harm of the patterns’ limitations. Using this framework, activism for social justice can look different as determined by each person.

When we read about BLM and its support of Palestine, we will likely have an emotional reaction that is determined both by our unconscious pattern and by the leaning we need to feel integrated internally. When people ask: what should I do, or what can I do, about this situation in the world (Israel with Palestine, Black Lives Matter, etc), the answer is the same: go inside and do this internal work.  Only then, action or a “calling” will be meaningfully clarified and launched!

3 Examples of Unconscious Bias and How to Eliminate Them:

3 Examples of Unconscious Bias and How to Eliminate Them:

A closer look at the Power Difference Model (PDM) copyright by The Sum–a 501c3 in Charlottesville, VA

There are three primary patterns of unconscious bias. We each tend to hold one of these concerning differences: race, gender, culture, disability, religion, class, and sexual orientation. Each of these three patterns has both assets and unconscious limitations—ways these patterns negatively impact others. Ultimately, the goal is for each of us to integrate the assets of all three while becoming aware of, and thereby deliberately limiting, the unconscious limitations! Take the free Race Pattern Quiz on our homepage to discover your primary unconscious bias around race. The 70-item Power of Difference Assessment (PDA) and online consultation can give you deeper information about your patterns, which can be different, in relationship to all 7 of the above-named differences. We call these three patterns: Sensitivity, Oneness, and Strength.

Sensitivity          

I value the power of understanding others’ perspectives as the way to safety for all of us. I recognize and deeply value racial and other differences. However, I can over-focus on political correctness out of fear of offending others. Consequently, I can become frozen or confused. In my effort to get others to “get it,” I can become exhausted and patronizing and miss connecting personally. My primary learning edge is courage, powering up, being ferocious in a way that refuses both silence AND violence. This pattern can sound like: “If only we could get our supervisor to take this workshop” or “I’m afraid to say the wrong thing.” This Eracism bumper sticker embodies the kind of message people in Sensitivity want others to understand. There is, of course, an assumption that the person displaying this sticker already understands and treats “all colors with love and respect” and is, therefore, not “part of the problem” and is “clearly not racist.” In this way, systemic racism is reproduced and perpetuated. For a white person, I may need to explore my unconscious privilege and power. For a person of color, finding my “voice” and setting boundaries may be a learning edge.

Oneness                       

In this pattern, I value the power of unity as the way to safety for all. I identify as a bridge-builder. I can focus so strongly on our common humanity that I can impact others by devaluing and minimizing differences. I may encourage assimilation and therefore, collude with the systemic power of the dominant group. It can sound like: “I don’t see color, I just see people,” “Talking about race just causes divisions,” “The only race I care about is the Human Race!” This “All Lives Matter” poster is a common example of this pattern, typically expressed by white people seeking to downplay racial differences and, however unconsciously, maintain the “normalcy” of whiteness.  If I am a person of color in this pattern, I may have found it necessary to downplay my own racial difference as a survival strategy. The learning edge for me in this pattern is to make room for others, and/or diverse voices within me, to define the importance of our differences without pressure to assimilate to what someone or some group determines as the norm.

Strength 

I value the power of strength and courage as the way to create safety for my “own” group (familial, racial, organizational). I may employ denigration or minimization of other racial groups, dominance, aggression, evaluation of difference, and the identification of “other” as “less than or as “enemy.” I see myself as nobly willing to sacrifice everything for the protection of my “own” and the “truth.” My learning edge: unity, oneness, common humanity, connection to all people. The Strength pattern can sound like: “People should just stop complaining and take care of business” or “the real problem is reverse discrimination.” Author Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman expresses this value for this warrior archetype being ready to protect the “sheep” against the “wolf.”

How to Eliminate Unconscious Bias          

 Whatever our primary pattern with regard to race and/or other differences, we have found that we tend to have a particular learning edge as described above. For Oneness, it tends to be Sensitivity. For Sensitivity, it tends to be Strength. For Strength, it tends to be Oneness. The more I’m able to learn, internalize, integrate, and leverage the power of the primary assets of all three patterns, particularly the one that is my learning edge, the more I’m able to eliminate unconscious bias AND:

  • Experience greater effectiveness across differences.
  • Have a clear mission and feel empowered.
  • Call others to increased internal integration without blame and shame.
  • Live from solidarity across our differences…refusing silence and violence.
  • Experience less rising and falling on external conditions and greater internal stability.
  • Impact others the way they intend–across our differences and our common humanity. 
  • Feel pride without prejudice.

“Home is a place we all must find. It’s not just a place where you eat or sleep. Hope is knowing your mind, your heart, your courage. If we know ourselves, we’re always home anywhere.”                    ~ Glinda the Good Witch

How to Make Money and Help Dismantle Sexism and Racism at the Same Time!

How to Make Money and Help Dismantle Sexism and Racism at the Same Time!

As a straight, cis-gender, able-bodied, Christian, Anglo, middle-class, adolescent white boy, I learned lots of specific, unspoken “rules.” These rules required that if I wanted a relationship with a girl, I needed to stay in school, get a job, buy a car, take her out to dinner, buy her flowers…generally fulfill the societies expectations to “provide and protect” and the “systems” expectations to participate fully in a pyramid of power that marginalizes women, people of color, queer folks, non-Christians, poor folks, people with disabilities, and others. My ability to accomplish all these things, I was learned, gave me value and my life a purpose and meaning. The rules came from all around me: t.v., friends, culture, my church, school parents, etc.. I probably made some up myself once I had the idea!  As an adult, the rules became ingrained and habituated and I stepped right into line. I pursued a career that would allow me to climb some vague “ladder of success.” This meant a livelihood and social status but, underneath, my deeper motivation was to increase my chances of being attractive to, and connecting with, women!

As a younger man, I was confused by what I was hearing from smart, powerful women about male power and patriarchy. Because of this desire for relationships with women, for me, as an individual boy, raised in the hierarchy of “man-school,” I experienced girls/women as having all the power. It felt, therefore, that women dominated me! I’ve come to realize over time that I was not the only straight cisgender boy having this experience. But part of my man-school learning was this: this feeling should never be spoken about since the portrayal of myself as an “Alpha” male, or as close as I could approximate that image, was the key to my success!

Researchers have found that males, in general, tend to interact and think in hierarchical ways (Heim, 2013). In the straight world then, it is a common experience to have an individual experiences of being dominated by women and that this experience must be suppressed. To admit this for a young male, would be tantamount to “giving all your power away” and, thereby, losing all hope of climbing the social ladder and successfully connecting with women.

As I became compelled by the need to keep this secret hidden…I overcompensated, in an attempt to garner the attention of, and matter to, members of the opposite sex. My interest focused on finding value in “doing” rather than deserving this value by simply “being” (a value women seemed to me to have). This incongruency meant that I spent much of my younger life experiencing myself as an “imposter”: clearly I didn’t matter much because I didn’t make a lot of money and wasn’t high on that pyramid of success.  

As a young, straight male, I was so desperate to perfect this guise of mattering and importance and in order to connect to women, that I felt the need to do “whatever it took.” While I recognize this in my own life, I have also realized there is an historical, gendered legacy in this desperation. 

In “A People’s History of the United States,” Howard Zinn details much of the history of the dynamics of those in power related to class, gender, race, culture, sexual orientation, etc. This is a history (or “herstory”) many of us did not learn in school. And yet, what was missing for me in Zinn’s seminal work was the “why?”  

I have found this deeper historical dimension within my own body. As a white man, I have felt drawn to consider what I would have done if I had lived 150 years ago? As one example, depending on where I lived in what is now the United States, there may have been pressure, opportunity, and encouragement for me to participate, at some level, in the annihilation of indigenous people. If it meant I could acquire land and social standing and, therefore, gain access to relationships with women, what would I have done? 

What financial and status benefits would I have gained if I had participated in the enslavement of African people related to my ability to have and maintain relationships with women? What would I have chosen?

As I consider these kinds of questions, it has been a natural progression to wonder how these issues play out today in my life, my community, and my world. Because slavery is now “outlawed,” I may be tempted to pretend that issues of white supremacy and social justice are increasingly irrelevant. Yet, the loss of voting rights for large numbers of incarcerated Black men has replaced the need for Jim Crow laws in our modern era. How does this benefit me as a straight, white man? While I may not have personally participated in the annihilation of indigenous people, how have I “enjoyed” the benefits of my ancestor’s actions: the making and breaking over 500 treaties with Native tribes (2)?  

I have been hard on myself at times and gotten mired in guilt. I’ve blamed others and sought to get them to “get it” and “be sensitive” like me! And yet, my interest here is to understand my own motivations.  I want to be informed by this perspective, make choices that serve me, that acknowledge my impact across our differences of race, class, gender, disability, religion, culture, and thereby, more effectively stand in solidarity across our differences.

I have come to recognize with profound grief, this dichotomy: how my desire for relationships with women has supported a money-making system that, while it doesn’t have to be, marginalize people of color, women, and others–both in the past and today. I have had to grapple with my fear of what I might lose if I refuse to participate in these aspects of this system? Access to food and shelter, basic survival needs, immediately come into question! Then there’s the comfort of the middle class…an occasional vacation, adequate clothes, dental care. But beneath that, for me, was always this fear that I would lose my attractiveness and ability to connect to a woman…my raison d’être. 

Through these reflections, I’m growing clearer around my masculine identity: humbled and empowered…but not interested in “powering over.” No longer do I work to make money out of fear or a neediness for women. I can work as an expression of non-violent solidarity with all of me, those I’m close to, my community, and my world. Women can be, of course, a powerful and amazing force. And I want healthy, honest intimate relationships with women—as a father, a son, a brother, and a partner. But I’m learning that if I’m to deserve this approval, I have to earn my own approval, first and foremost…I have to be “sexy” to me. And this means I want to, I can, and I will, ‘step up to the plate’ of my own inspiration, wholeness, tender compassion, ferocious boundaries, and noble brilliance. I can let these aspects of me unfold and catch fire and attract all the money and wealth I need and want with profound gratitude. I’m learning how all this work gets done inside me and from this, I give all I can to creating just and thriving communities, organizations, and a planet where no one stands alone.