Navigating the Anti-Woke Movement: A Reflection on Language in the IDEA Landscape

The IDEA landscape is changing. Language is changing, and terms like Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Accessibility, and Justice, along with newer additions, are rapidly evolving, reflecting changing attitudes and societal norms. While some argue that these changes are for the better, others see them as limiting. Across the United States, from elementary to university education policies, words like antiracism, critical race theory, intersectionality, equity, and many more are being removed from the curriculum and school vocabulary1. In Canada, we are starting to see the same movement sprouting up in the way businesses are re-labelling their IDEA specialist jobs to Social Impact Specialist or Internal Community Manager. Furthermore, legislation bills and laws in many provinces are reducing the language around equity issues in primary education classrooms.

Recently, Kimberlé Crenshaw spoke at the University of Calgary on the Anti-Woke movement across North America, and it really spoke to me about the work we are doing here at CCDI Consulting and what many of our clients are working towards. One term our team often experiences some pushback or hesitancy is "microaggression." Without fail, every couple of months this term receives an ick from many folks just starting their IDEA journeys. Our team has met time and time again around this exact term over the years on when we introduce this concept, why we should and shouldn't change the language around it, and we always land on this: This term represents the immense weight that the small acts people intend or don't intend to inflict on others adds up to. It is a term we introduce very briefly at the beginning of someone's IDEA journey but do not dive into deeply until some foundation knowledge is established. While we introduce the concept briefly to new IDEA learners, we refrain from delving deeper than introductions until a foundational understanding is established. This approach is taken to acknowledge the significance of the term and the complexity of accepting its everyday impact without undermining the experiences of those affected by it.

We are at a time in our socio-political climate where we are getting caught up in the battle of language rather than enacting change; because this language can be triggering, we are trying to soften or talk around the issues equity-deserving groups are still facing. The reluctance to engage with uncomfortable terminology reflects a broader resistance to IDEA practices. Terms like intersectionality, coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, are essential in recognizing the multifaceted nature of privilege and its role in perpetuating inequity. Removing such language not only erases the experiences of marginalized groups but also hinders the collective efforts toward inclusivity, justice, and equity. As Kimberlé Crenshaw says, "Intersectionality has given many advocates a way to frame their circumstances and to fight for their visibility and inclusion."

Now, here is the dilemma – while it's essential to meet individuals where they are in their personal growth or development journeys, we can't sidestep the critical issues of racism, discrimination, inequity, and privilege. If a manager is not yet willing to recognize their privilege, their learning journey may need to commence with discussions on bias. Similarly,  if they practise allyship in one-on-one interactions but struggle to implement it into their leadership style or organizational practices, they likely require learning about inclusive leadership practices. While those personal journeys start at different points, as IDEA or HR specialists striving for progress, we can't avoid the root issues and barriers that equity-deserving groups work to bring to light.

And this is where 'calling-in' becomes crucial in our daily efforts towards IDEA. Language is vital to unite and grasp the weight of the issues our work navigates. While calling out may shed light on divisive movements, addressing a colleague in a small project meeting through such a method often fails to produce the desired behavioural change. Calling-out usually means an immediate public response that shuts down a statement or claim. Conversely, 'calling-in' typically involves a private conversation after an incident that generates dialogue. Both approaches have value and are intended to address behaviours, yet they differ significantly. While calling-out is necessary for establishing safer space boundaries, it often fails to foster productive conversations aimed at understanding intentions and impacts for meaningful change. On the other hand, calling-in serves as a useful tool in facilitating reflection on one's intentions and the potential impact of their actions on others.

The language used is a powerful tool in your organization's IDEA journey, from uniting your team and learning complex issues to addressing problems and pain points. Meeting people where they are is vital to your organization, but supporting equity-deserving groups in the progress they have already made is integral to the work that has been done and that will continue to develop. Explore our learning solutions to see how we can support your and your organization's IDEA journey.

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This article was featured in our May 2024 newsletter. For more engaging content and updates, check out the full newsletter.

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