I did not know I was different
I did not know I was different until I entered the coaching profession. And yet there it was. As I sat in my coaching diploma class, and everyone started grouping together, I was left with the only other person holding the marginalised identity. Well actually he held two or three of these identities. This intersectionality fused together in a hotpot bubbling over, while the others in the group heterosexual, normative, white-bodied, able-bodied, middle-class, corporate huddled in their spaces together.
I did not know I was different until I heard the stereotype of a south asian women displayed in an example the supervisor spoke of. I wondered if he thought all south asian women were like the emotional wreck he described his client as. I wondered if it was necessary to disclose her race or her gender in his example. I wondered in silence to myself. The supervisor whom is a pleasant enough individual but that moment, that example, well it is ingrained for all the wrong reasons. Our systems are lined with racism and patriarchy like oaks strongly lined across the pathway, rooted and resistant to weather change. And this what seemed like a small incident perpetuated the systems of oppression that exist in society today.
I did not know I was different until a peer coach on my course choked by my honesty repeated racial microaggressions against my name. He did not even know he was doing it, so he said, and yet there he went on mutilating a perfect flower. That was my first taste of the ‘professional coaching’ world, like the kick from wasabi, there one minute and completely suppressed the next.
I did not know I was different until I volunteered for a climate organisation and the white bodied coach with her distinct white saviour complex, yearning to save the indigenous people, brazenly mocked indigenous names whilst also skilfully patronising me as her show swan. Evidently I removed myself from helping that individual. It was interesting that the onlooker felt totally comfortable with this outrageous behaviour. This was the first five minutes of the conversation, the ease in which the racism dripped from the coaches mouth, like butter wouldn’t melt.
I did not know I was different until three white men in a coaching break out zoom room felt it was appropriate to discuss how necessary it was to have white supremacists in the room to be truly inclusive. They carried on and wondered why non-white bodied people were so angry all of a sudden, and can’t we all just be friends. I felt unsafe, violated even, nauseous at what I was being exposed too. The irony was that one of these men was a cross-cultural expert. Neither of the men seemed to realise the impact their conversation was having on me. At a loss of words, shocked into silence I said very little.
I did not know I was different until I spoke up and gave feedback on the racism I had witnessed and was treated like the perpetrator and ousted. So you are happy to take free labour but god forbid the different one asking for equal rights and respect, did I say different, well let’s add difficult on top. If we ignore her, maybe she will go away and we won’t have to do any self reflection or understand why our systems perpetrate unsafe spaces, let alone take accountability and change things for the betterment of our coaching profession.
I did not know I was different until I was not told I would be coaching a young adult who had asked for a coach of a different race. This important information somehow slipped through the portal of communication. Neither was I informed that this individual had to wait 9 months for a coach rather than a matter of weeks relative to her white counterparts. How the bombs fell as I heard the words uttered, how I too felt that pain of being outcast, and brushed off as if these were innocent acts, as if no harm was caused whilst daggers pierced through our backs. Where was the apology?
I did not know I was different until I was asked to speak out, but not too much, maybe just say the first word because that complete sentence would make us divulge in our guilt too much. We don’t like feeling bad, even if it’s actually harming you, we shouldn’t be made to feel sad for silencing you.
I did not know I was different until I could not bring up racism in supervision. When the supervisor coaxed me to say the word which left me ambushed by the white silence and white accusation. We feel attacked one pointed out - no dear I was describing how I was a victim, at no point did I state Karen you personally did this - firstly the description was of a male, but go ahead take over the show. Where was the supervisor when the peer decided to display her white fragility. Where was the safety then?
I did not know I was different until I was placed in a racialised affinity group and none of my other identities meshed well with the others, whether politically or in social demographics. I am more than the colour of my skin, what don’t you understand I screamed to myself, for who else was really listening? Each coaching space began to feel like a prison, I was sentenced even though I had not committed a crime. I was sentenced to being the other, and there was no way out.
Well I am the other, I am different and because I am who I am I found myself searching for safer spaces. Spaces where my multiple identities fused together like the perfect perfume, blended in a way that only one with exceptional discernment could sense.
The first was a BIPOC coaching collective, mainly USA based but it was a space where you could say the word race and be heard. In this space your identity mattered, it was not disregarded, you could finally breath without assault. I found another BIPOC space, again over in USA, part of the ICF Washington Racial Equity group initiative. It was interesting to meet so many qualified coaches of colour, and yet a company I worked with had trouble locating them. Optically I wonder where their vision was being assessed for such colourblindness, oh because we exist.
I then reached out to find a BIPOC coaching supervisor, someone who would also be willing to hold BIPOC only group supervision. The search was interesting, I asked around and did not find a whole range of options, a well known coach supervisor, in the field a good few decades, named just one person, just one I thought - but we are the global majority - that’s a pretty sharp statistic to overturn.
And here I am, because I am different. I decided to hold a BIPOC peer to peer coaching linear space, where we empower each other. Like the rings in Christmas paper chains, all joined delicately together and yet a strong bond is formed.
We can no longer be stagnant if we are to be relevant. Where can you open the doors for a diverse pool of coaches and make those spaces safe? Where is the accountability from the accredited bodies and what individual work needs to be done? Why don’t we just form our own coaching body, one that is anti-racist, trauma-informed, holistic, where embodied listening in safe spaces is a prerequisite. Because at the end of the day, what does our presence in spaces not made for us stand for? We are richer than we know, so time we stood up.