Whistles of Minimization — Kamau Consulting Group

Kevin Kamau
5 min readMay 31, 2021

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I have seen countless examples of minimization which are prevalent in our society leaving so many impacted lives with no resolve. Please allow me to highlight a few examples. A news agency reported “Black customer recounts ‘degrading’ treatment at Ottawa bank branch”. The news agency reported that the bank offered ‘an unreserved public apology’ which read, “[the bank] is committed to providing a level of excellence for those we serve, and when an individual has the courage to speak out, we have a responsibility to listen and take appropriate action.”

In another incident that was widely circulated at the Governor General of Canada’s office, an employee spoke out about bullying, racial discrimination, and harassment. The office responded by saying it’s in an “important period of renewal” and is “taking meaningful action regarding the unjust treatment of Black people, other racialized groups, and Indigenous peoples in our society.”

On response to the racial allegations by Meghan and Harry against the British Monarchy, the palace responded by saying, “The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan,” the palace said. “The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.”

While these responses on the surface may appear and sound like appropriate responses, it does more silencing than resolve.

Minimization Culture

We all largely live in what I would describe a minimization culture. In a previous article, Deconstructing your Equity, Diversity & Inclusion journey, I discuss at length Dr. Milton Bennett’s Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) which is simply a framework explaining people’s reactions to cultural differences. At the Minimization stage of the DMIS model, people recognize superficial cultural differences and are driven towards universalism by emphasizing similarities as opposed to difference in order to minimize polarization.

Over the decades, spokespeople (I mean no disrespect to anyone in this profession), policy and elements in our workspaces have all perfected the way to hone in on minimization by exploiting the minimization stage as described by the DMIS model to empathize with situations while honestly providing no resolve especially in matters pertaining to intercultural sensitivity.

Responding to a racial incident that I raise at the workspace that is met by empathizing with how unfair racism is or by reminding me of your ‘ineffective zero tolerance policy’ on the matter is simply not a way to resolve the problem and here’s why.

Impact on victims

Let’s take a deeper dive into what transpired in the first bank example. This Black man who had been a loyal customer to this bank (over 20 years as reported) had recently moved to a new location in the country. Working as a contractor, this loyal bank client gets paid in cheques which he routinely has to deposit at this branch. He faced serious scrutiny every time he deposited the cheques at this branch where the bank would at times even place holds on the cheque. Keep in mind, he’s not borrowing any money, he was in fact depositing his money where this occurred multiple times as he visited his branch up until he decided to call this behaviour by the bank out. The bank later reported that they had proceeded to train their staff on unconscious bias and even after this training, this customer experienced the same treatment and decided to publicly reject the bank’s apology.

The bank failed to recognize one thing in this case. When victims speak out, they are not necessarily looking for a response. Victims speak out when they believe they have been treated unfairly and as a matter of bringing the matter to the perpetrator’s attention. It is a poor decision to respond without consulting the victim and being intentional to correct this situation. The response statement appeals to the majority by acknowledging the act which leads many people to believe that the bank is taking swift action to address the matter.

It is also a poor strategy to rely on your racial complaints to determine if indeed you have a racial discrimination problem. The default by now (and I mean 2021) is that we should all understand by now that we are all brought up in a complex system that perpetuates racism. It’s complexity is not something that is taught in our education systems, neither is it part of our institutional learning as we navigate our day to day lives.

In the British Monarch’s example, the palace responds to the allegations of racism with some reservations casting doubt on the victim’s recollection like they haven’t gone through enough. It’s despicable for such responses to be aired especially after a victim has had the courage to share with the entire world their truth on an incident that almost cost them their life.

How do we move forward?

Listen empathetically

In order to learn from others, I encourage everyone to bring their humility, empathy and courage to these conversations. Systemic discrimination was not built overnight, neither will it be erased overnight so patience along the way will carry some weight to desirable and effective outcomes.

Identify the harm, label it and address it

The worst thing one can do is skirt around the issue. If it’s racism, label it as such if you want it addressed. I have come across many situations where people struggle with labeling the problem. Stop minimizing the issue by saying we have someone who violated our respectful workplace policy. One can only imagine if they visited their doctor and advised they were sick with no details. How are we to fix the disease if we cannot label it?

Step outside of your defense box

It’s not unusual that many of us are subjected to wearing our Professional hats in our workspaces. We almost forget that we have human problems that need a human approach. It is not uncommon for professionals to respond from their professional lens. As much as it’s helpful to have effective policy that encourages good behaviour while discouraging unwanted behaviour, we need to know when to step outside of our boxes. I am reminded of a legal professional I worked with who could not see beyond the legal lens of the situation and had to insist on understanding what part of the policy had been violated while addressing a racial complaint case. What this legal professional had failed to understand is that the policy he was referring to had not been created to address the racial complaint and there was nothing stopping him from identifying the flaw in policy and addressing it.

Be Accountable

Instead of responding with ‘fluff’ and appealing to emotions while providing no resolve to the victims, it is vital that we dedicate our efforts to learning the impact on the victims. Humble yourself and extend your supporting arm to the victims. There is no ‘fluff’ that will fix systemic discrimination or acts of injustice that do little to provide resolve. Accountability is finding resolve and restitution to the victims in a way that prevents similar harm to others.

Author: Kevin Kamau, is the Founder and President of Kamau Consulting Group, a Management Consulting Firm focused on creating opportunities for inclusive participation through Inclusive Leadership

Originally published at https://www.kamauconsultinggroup.ca on May 31, 2021.

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