By: Darrie Burrage

Rewardingly, my career and espoused principles have become more deeply steeped in diversity, equity, and inclusion endeavors over the years. And despite my years in this work, disappointingly, I have only recently been shaken with the realization that my oppressed Black experience doesn’t outright make me competent in knowing the oppressions of other marginalized communities. In other words, being Black doesn’t “cover me” comprehensively. I recognize within myself that my Blackness had relaxed my drive to expand my understanding of the histories, injustices, and artifacts of other groups — simply because, in bolstering my Blackness, I had privileged my oppression over that of others.

I have also noticed this laissez-faire approach to understanding global justice as well. I want to be better. I want to contribute to change. If you are interested, as I am, in being more awake, it could be beneficial for all of us to meditate on the people who cross the paths of our lives (intimately, tangentially, and even only mentally) by considering the following questions:

  1. Who is the population you contemplate most, whose identities are outside your own?
  2. What is it about the circumstance of that population that you connect with deeply?
  3. What does your care for this population look like, and how often are these actions engaged?
  4. Would individuals in that population truly feel and testify that your care for them is evident, genuine, respectful, and constant?

I offer a comprehensive, yet simplistic, criteria for us to measure the depth of our connection with (and our care for) marginalized groups; a criteria that can be used to audit our own socio-intellectual values and the socio-intellectual intentions of others. I call this criteria the AAA Membership Plan — Attitude, Association, and Action.

Attitude is used here instead of “awareness” because awareness signals being merely informed or educated on a topic whereas attitude reflects a mentality and lens that shapes how one sees and moves in the world. Although attitude is a much deeper and more profound presence of mind, awareness must first be acquired as a foundation to then arrive at harboring a particular attitude.

Association recognizes with whom we form our closest relationships and even accounts for the individuals with whom we have a sincere desire to become closer. This category explores to whom we open our lives, their presence and contribution in our stories, and whose related invitations and wishes we honor in turn.

Lastly, Action addresses how we invest our most valuable human resources: our time, money, relationships, and opinions. In some sense, it is fair to consider Actions as a miscellaneous category compared to its counterpart categories (Attitude and Association). However, this category maintains its importance nonetheless because, like the Association category, Actions are the everyday artifacts of the Attitude we possess. Here are some examples of those everyday artifacts:

  • The movies, tv shows, music, and podcasts that have our attention
  • The activities and events that have our participation
  • The communities, cities, and countries that have our footprint
  • The people we feature in the photos we take, share, and frame in our personal spaces
  • The businesses and causes that hold our dollars
  • The people who are subjects of the remarks and jokes we make 
  • The votes we cast when election seasons dawn

These artifacts are, indeed, choices that reflect the preferences and tendencies that direct our lives. So, with careful (and honest) consideration of our responses to each item above, which direction do we gravitate toward, which do we avoid, and why?

The more practical understanding of this framework implies that each category affects another. To illustrate that fated, interwoven nature of these categories, you will find that your ability to cross the chasm between awareness and Attitude will depend on the Associations you establish; because the lived events of the people with whom we have our closest relationships provide a more real, grounded, and meaningful learning experience than what we may gather from books and podcasts. Further, your Associations may be impacted (may deepen, expand, remain at their current level, or even dissolve) depending on the Actions in which you engage; because your willingness to act in the favor (or impediment) of others will determine whether people want to be closely involved in your life.

The AAA criteria attests to the level of social and cultural capital we have accrued over time — revealing our AAA Rating. Our AAA Rating is a simple (but perhaps not emotionally easy) reflection exercise where you account for your experience with each AAA category using the following ratings: Obligatory, Selective, and Habitual:

  • Obligatory– When you are required or expected to perform an action to maintain access to your professional or relational settings and associated privileges
  • Selective– When you consider the variety of options available to you and choose to engage one action over another with careful intention
  • Habitual– When the choices you have made regularly over time have become a new mental paradigm and a set of routine practices, voiding older patterns of thought and action

As you sift through each category, it may be revealed that it is possible to be higher in one category over another when having a particular group of people in mind. Using the queer community as an example, the Actions you demonstrate in their favor may reach the Habitual level, but you may only be at the Obligatory level in the Associations category when you realize that you haven’t fostered any close relationships of your own choosing with individuals from that community.

While I assert that it may take whole lifetimes to reach a Habitual level across each of the three categories for every marginalized community, the idea here is that we become conscious of where we stand in our connection to other groups and where we can still grow. More vulnerably, the insights we gain from our AAA Rating may also be informative to individuals from those marginalized communities who at times may wonder how deep, resolute, and authentic our efforts are in support of them. Thus, our Rating reflects the degree to which we have access to one of the most sacred relational assets marginalized individuals can impart to us: their trust.

Hence, this provides the rationale for why the model is framed as a Membership Plan, because our AAA Rating unveils the areas of our lives where we can strengthen our advocacy and alliance with the communities we posture as having our comprehensive support. Use these criteria offered here to aid your reflections, to guide your decisions, and to craft your steps to achieve a greater sense of alignment between the person you think you are and the person they see you as.

What had begun as an indictment of myself and others, has now become a model for self-examination from which we might all benefit in pursuit of having a more expansive impact in the well-being of others. Recently, I came upon this statement in some artwork, “Collective care is the future;” and I have arrived in complete agreement of this, finally.