A dear friend of mine and I had a conversation recently about what it means to be seen. Truly seen. Not the type of seeing that means that you notice another’s presence, but the type of seeing that is actively engaged and intentional. For me, this type of being seen comes with a feeling of spaciousness, an opening that I can step into. Perhaps it’s something to do with the prolonged social distancing measures of current times, but even as I write this, I can feel the yearning of stepping into open arms and being embraced with warmth and gladness of my arrival. It’s the difference between opening the door for someone to step inside and waiting with the door open and rushing to greet them with pleasure.

This is an important distinction in the complexities of the current racial discourse. Because agreeing with the phrase Black Lives Matter is simply the bare minimum. Cultivating a space where black lives are welcomed, respected, encouraged, beloved, and cherished is what is really needed. But in a world where we are still arguing over whether black lives matter, this feels like a steep mountain to climb.

For those of you who want to be allies for racial justice, I want to encourage you to build an awareness of how and when you can do more than the minimum. What might you change to be more welcoming to black, indigenous, and people of color? What do you respect, encourage, cherish, and love? How might you be more intentional in how you engage with folks who feel marginalized because of the color of their skin? How might you advocate and promote their work? What are you doing to support yourself in these difficult conversations with others in the majority so that you can truly advocate for inclusion? How does this translate from an individual intentional practice to an organizational or community wide commitment? Whether you are joining book clubs to discuss Robin J. DiAngelo’s White Fragility, or reading Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an antiracist, or joining social activist groups, or donating to Black Lives Matter, or supporting black businesses, let’s bring these conversations into our industry. And if you’re not doing any of those things, what’s stopping you?

Within the field of equine facilitated work, what are we doing as leaders of training organizations, equine facilitated learning programs, therapeutic centers, and private practices to increase access to our offerings to black communities? The HERD Institute is committed to bringing more diversity into our field. Our sister organization Share in The HERD, is working on funding more programs and training opportunities. But that’s just the bare minimum. How can we build a culture of inclusion so that when those we want to welcome into this space actually feel like they belong and not out of place? I know how it feels to be the only person of color in the room. I also know how excited I get when I see others who look like me. And I’m aware of how seldom that happens.

In our conversation, I was moved to tears when my friend said, “I promise not only to see you, but to look for you”. This commitment to look for those who may be under-represented in any space resonated with my desire to cultivate a more diverse and inclusive community. So, I am actively looking. For those of you who identify as black, indigenous, people of color, I am looking for you. For those of you who are stepping up as allies, please help me actively look for black, indigenous, people of color who are working, training, or studying in the field of equine facilitated work. I have created a Facebook group called Diversifying the Herd for us to hang out together and network in a safe space. Please get in touch with me at veronica@herdinstitute.com . I am eagerly awaiting your arrival and will meet you with open arms.

Warm Wishes,

Veronica
Executive Director

My post last week spoke about the importance of recognizing our unconscious biases. I also want to recognize the intersectionality of privilege and oppression. While I may have experienced sexism and racism in my life, I am also privileged by being a cis-gender, heterosexual woman without physical or cognitive disabilities. I have lived an economically privileged life which has afforded me housing, healthcare, food, relative financial security and the means to access the highest levels of education. Some of these advantages I’ve worked hard for, but for the most part, I was born into them. Holding these privileges does not mean that I am actively oppressing others. What I do with this awareness is what’s important. Denying that I have them limits my ability to find empathy for those who are struggling. Using my voice from a place of privilege and creating opportunities for others to step up can help to empower those who are disenfranchised.

You may be wondering how any of that is relevant and why I’m even sharing this with you. Well, in my worldview, all organizations begin with the vision of its leaders who realize their visions from the context of their lived experiences and personal values. My experiences of not-belonging have meant that I have worked hard to cultivate a culture of inclusivity within the HERD Community.

Now, The HERD Virtual Summit is now only one month away. We are working hard behind the scenes to curate a diverse and inclusive list of speakers and presentations that speak to the summit theme of Resilience, Recovery, and Reconnection. Now, more than ever, we all need to find ways to build our resilience – physically against the threat of the continuing pandemic and emotionally for difficult conversations emerging from the ongoing protests against police brutality and systemic racism. Someone asked me the other day why the HERD Virtual Summit included speakers and leaders from other training models. They were confused as to why I would want to advertise my “competitors”. My answer to that is simple: We can all learn from each other and collaboration is more valuable than competition.

I want to promote a culture within our community for diversity and inclusion, operating from a spirit of abundance. This is written into our mission statement at The HERD Institute®. I want to live to these values. I also want to hold hope that it’s possible to champion others who are different to ourselves, to hold the belief that there isn’t just one way, and that within our field of equine facilitated work, we are all ultimately working towards the same thing: healing and growth individually and collectively in the communities and organizations that we belong to and serve. I want to promote dialogue and curiosity, shine a light on the more shadowy parts of our industry, moving away from dogma, ruptures, and denial, to a more robust, resilient, and relational space. Perhaps by starting small within one organization, within one summit, we can create a ripple effect into the life space that we all occupy outside of our industry. My hope is that by doing this, that those who have felt invisible can feel seen, and those who have felt marginalized can feel worthy of belonging. Because you do. You belong. Here, in the HERD, and in the world. I see you and you matter.

Warm Wishes,

Veronica
Executive Director

***WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU DON’T WANT TO ENGAGE IN A DISCUSSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS. DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU DON’T WANT TO HEAR THE VOICE OF A PERSON OF COLOR. DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU ARE COMFORTABLE WITH THE STATUS QUO. DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU ARE TOO EXHAUSTED AND FEEL THAT THE WORLD IS CONDEMNING ALL WHITE PEOPLE***

Please note: If you are able to choose not to read this because of the warnings above, then you are lucky that you have the choice not to face this every day, and I would encourage you to come back and read it at another time. Because you need to.

It’s been an exceptionally tough week. In the midst of the global pandemic, the witnessing of yet another incident of police brutality has ignited a fire storm of reactions around the world. The death of George Floyd was a horrific example of institutionalized racism. But let’s not forget the equally disturbing and calculated racism aimed at Christian Cooper, when a white woman banked on the knowledge that she could weaponize this institutionalized racism. The insidiousness of that incident somehow leaves me feeling more spooked than the blatant disregard for humanity for George Floyd. Let me be clear, I’m not saying that what happened to Christian Cooper was worse, only that it affected me differently.

Since moving to the States almost a decade ago, I have lived in three different states and experienced the vast differences in regional attitudes and reactions when people meet me. As a British Chinese woman who drives a truck, listens to country music, and works with horses, I’m aware that I’m a bit of an anomaly. My expectation and experience of blatant racism follows me from a lifetime of living in predominately white spaces. What does it say that it no longer surprises me that black and brown communities experience institutionalized racism every day? That people of color have been brought up to expect to be treated with such disregard? What does it mean to you, that in some ways I’m more comfortable with knowing that, because at least we know what we’re dealing with and what to look out for?

But what Christian Cooper was met with chills me to the bone. The worst kind of racism comes from those who don’t think that they are racist. It comes from folks who think they are color blind, or folks who think they don’t have biases. As part of The HERD Institute® certification programs, students are introduced to Project Implicit, a pioneering force behind challenging attitudes, stereotypes, and hidden biases that impact the way we perceive others. By partnering with Harvard University, they have created online assessment tools to highlight areas of implicit bias. The assessments they offer are free and I highly recommend you take a look if you haven’t come across them before. What always surprises me is when students enter into our training believing that they don’t hold any biases, or when doing the assessments admit to trying to give the “correct answers”, or those who react defensively against the results given by criticizing the format of the tests. I’m not saying that the test designs are critique proof, but the interesting thing for me in all this is the underlying idea that if we hold any biases at all, it means that we are not evolved enough as human beings, so we have to defend ourselves from that notion and aim to be completely bias free.

I am a person of color and I am racist. I am sexist. I am homophobic. I am politically incorrect. In short, I am prejudiced and biased, and have been complicit in the oppression for those who I stand in solidarity with in so many ways. Why? Because I live in a society that has conditioned me to be that way. Institutionalized racism, heteronormativity, and misogyny have shaped me by osmosis, and continues to influence me through the media and my lived experiences in everyday life. While I make every effort to be mindful of some deeply embedded prejudices, and fight for equality and equanimity, and stand as an ally to all who are misrepresented and oppressed, I know that I will always have my blind spots. I say all this, as a person of color, to alert my well-intentioned white friends that it is okay to acknowledge our inherent biases and privilege. What we do with the awareness of these is more important than spending our energy being defensive and denying their existence.

Taking a stand against bigotry and hate requires us all to examine our own prejudice. It’s uncomfortable, and often deeply unsettling, to admit to the judgments that we hold. The act of being an ally begins with working through these ourselves, before we even enter into the dialogue. Within the current political climate, it is imperative for us all to take action, speak with compassion, be clear in our intention, and acknowledge that prejudice resides in us all. In doing so, we can step away from the defensiveness that arises when someone points out our privilege. Somehow, in the current discourse, the term privilege invokes anger and denial, as if admitting to having privilege in any way makes us a bad person. If that has been your understanding, let me be clear: having privilege doesn’t mean it’s your fault that people are oppressed, but denying that you are privileged makes you part of the problem. This isn’t a process of privilege shaming; it’s an opportunity to reflect on what we have been blessed with and find compassion for those who are less fortunate. Privilege shows up in a multitude of ways, every day, and allows us to seek to understand the experiences of those without. The aim is not to erase all of our biases, but instead, for us to acknowledge that we all have unconscious biases, and that we need to work to raise our awareness of them. By bringing these biases to light, we can actively choose, and reflect on our thoughts and actions from a different lens. We ALL have biases as a result of being alive in a relational space; our environment, our culture, our upbringing, our experiences, and our own choices speak volumes about how we have become who we are. Stepping into an equine-facilitated setting with the intention to be aware of our biases so that we can interact with our participants and horses with intentional non-judgment helps us to provide a safe space for all.

This week, we opened registration for our upcoming HERD Virtual Summit: Resilience, Recovery, & Reconnection. The theme was chosen at the beginning of the global pandemic, thinking ahead to July with hopes that we would be through the worst of it by then. What I hadn’t anticipated was how much more relevant the theme is when we take into consideration this past week. In writing this piece, my hope is that we can find ways to bolster our resilience in times of discomfort, look for opportunities to lift each other up as we recover from this collective trauma, and in doing so reconnect with ourselves and one another. Putting together this summit is hard work, with a lot of moving pieces. But I’m doing it because I believe in hope. I hope that we can come together as a community and address the disparities within our field. I hope that we can build bridges towards increasing diversity so that all our voices can be heard. I hope that you will join us in this quest and in doing so find resilience, recovery, and reconnection in your life.

Warm Wishes,

Veronica
Executive Director