Alternate Title: The toxic a-holes of the Kemetic community won.
On the first day of the leadership conference, the second panel was a Q&A panel. They do these to break up the 30 – 50 minute talks along with the breaks. The Q&A panels are usually pretty good, but my team and I were especially looking forward to this one because the topic was toxic work environments. After a year of having to deal with just that very thing, we were very interested in what Bozoma Saint John had to say on the topic.
After the session, we could all agree that the panel would have been better if she had been able to speak freely. She would begin to go down a specific rabbit hole related to the topic and the host would gently nudge her back to the primary topic, or force her to go off into other directions when we were interested in what she had to say on what she had just been talking about.
I also really enjoyed her energy. She was… vivacious and she grabbed your attention. As I was taking notes and processing what she had to say, I kind of got the feeling that no matter what Bozoma was talking about, everyone would have been entranced by her subject matter.
The reason she was invited to speak on this particular subject was because Bozoma went to work as the Chief Brand Officer at Uber. She had heard some of the horror stories of what was going on in 2017 for the company, which was having a bit of a bad year. After hearing what was going on over there, she left her position as a marketing executive at Apple Music to go to Uber in the hopes of helping turn the company around.
While I don’t know much about Uber or its current state, it kind of sounds like she wasn’t as successful as she had hoped. It sounds like the toxic environment of the company was all pervasive and while she made some changes, there were more people stuck in their ways than there were people willing to make the change.
When we think about the culture of a workplace, we start to think that the overall dynamic is created by the HR department or the CEO’s office. But that is a misnomer. The culture of one’s work environment can be found first in your cubicle or work station, and next in the cubicle or work station beside you. The CEO and the people of the HR department are, of course, part of this but it isn’t their rules or regulations that necessarily create a toxic or not-toxic work culture: it is the attitudes of the people that make up the company as a whole.
The problem is that a toxic work environment typically is created because there are multiple people coming at things from a completely different point of view or basis of an idea. Instead of everyone being on the same page about X, Y, Z thing, they all come at it from different directions.
Just like a school of fish, everyone in a work place need to swim in the same direction and together. When you have multiple fish going in a million different directions, it causes chaos. And this in turn will cause issues across the whole school, or in reality, within the work environment.
While competition between coworkers can be healthy as it can promote new ideas and growth, this doesn’t mean that people should be pitted against one another. Worker 1 and Worker 2 who have the exact same title and position would work better together as opposed to working against each other in the hopes of being recognized for one reason or another. They would be able to go further and make the job better for themselves and by extension, for the other people at that work place, if they are allowed to bolster up one another and work together towards a common goal.
Another way to ensure that the work environment is not-toxic is to ensure that you are empowering those who need it. Bolster up coworkers on a bad day, on a good day. Whenever and wherever you see a need for empowerment, give it to them. Work is hard and tiring for everyone more often than not and we need to be willing to bolster up others to promote a healthy and happy work place for everyone.
As the Q&A panel progressed, the hosted asked Bozoma what were three things that can make a work environment better for everyone. Her answer was:
You have to be willing to empathize with others; not sympathize but to have empathy for your coworkers and the situations that they are in. If you look at a situation and fail to empathize with the person in that situation, you are cutting yourself off from them. This can and will cause work place issues in future, which will only snowball from there.
You have to have diversity within your work environment. Everyone must be invited to your workplace. Whether its an after-work get-together or the workplace itself, diversity helps to promote growth, positive change, and everything else you want to see in the place that you spend at least 40 hours of your life in every week.
You have to be inclusive for everyone. There can be no us vs. them, or me vs. the whole in a workplace. There must be inclusion for everyone. As Bozoma indicated, it’s like going to a school dance and standing on the sidelines, waiting for someone to ask you to dance. You’ll begin to feel badly if you continue to sit it out. You have to join and the other works have to allow you to join in order to make the work environment a good one for all parties.
The last thing that was discussed before the panel came to an end, albeit briefly, was branding. This is something that TTR has already discussed and I won’t be doing the post justice by either summarizing or rehashing it. But the point is that Bozoma indicated that branding is everything – just like TTR’s opening statement on their post – and that branding must also include the internal work culture of the company.
If the company is toxic, but you’re trying to brand it to look like it’s a good placed to work, you’re promoting dissatisfaction and lying to potential employees. Word will get out that this isn’t a good place, no matter what the branding online will tell you, and you’ll lose both potential and current workers. It’s better to ensure that the internal work environment has been cleaned of its toxic veneer in every way possible so that you can be the branding that you’ve put out into the world. This will attract the right type of people for the jobs available and promote growth of the company, which benefits everyone.
When I was listening to Bozoma discuss toxic culture in the work place, it is little wonder that I first thought of our Kemetic community. We have had a lot of problems in recent years. Some of it is simple growing pains – the more people who say they are a part of the community, the more problems are going to arise because of a variety of things. It’s a people thing. But beyond simple disagreements about how to do something or the way to go about introducing yourself to the gods, there have been Bigger Problems. Our community went toxic as hell and we never really recovered from it.
No matter how hard we try to make a welcoming community, there will always be people who get sucked into the racism problem that is prevalent within various pagan and polytheism communities. And as they slip down that rabbit hole, they change to fit the dynamic that their racist circle requires or desires to see in them. This will continue to happen as long as racism continues to be a problem within our communities.
Sometimes you can educate those people out of those circles, but as we’ve seen in our community with its issues, educating others tends to have them doubling down on their problematic rhetoric because “the loss of privilege often feels like oppression”. There will be people who can learn beyond what they’ve either been raised to believe about racism, or have been re-educated to believe about racism, and there are those who prefer their power and comfort over everything and everyone else.
We must be willing to understand that not everyone is going to be willing to examine themselves and their privilege. And if that is the way that they want to be, then we must do everything we can to police them, to make it difficult for them and their ideas to proliferate in the community. We must be willing to point out their wrong-doings, warn new people away from them, and everything else that we must do to ensure our community doesn’t turn toxic again. We must make it difficult for their shit to continue unabated; we must make them unwelcome and unwilling to continue to gain the foothold they are hoping to have.
The problem is that we all saw warning signs. I know that I did. I know that TTR did. I can remember having private discussions on what to do when we saw concerning behavior begin to manifest in various discussions. When we finally started pointing out the problematic behavior, it seemed to cause more headache than do much because there were so few of us willing to police it.
And I can understand why not everyone was willing to do anything about it. It can take a form of bravery that not everyone has, but part of the problem is that there were so few of us willing to speak up, to speak out. With so few of us willing to stand up and say, “no, this isn’t okay,” it became easy for the problematic people to simply block us. We couldn’t speak up unless we took the time to screenshot shitty behavior.
If a community is what is desired, then everyone has to be willing to think to the three points Bozoma made and do what needs to be done to see it happen:
One shouldn’t be capable of empathy for a racist piece of trash. I’m going to throw that gauntlet down now. You can pity them for their misinformation and just generally being wrong, but you should not be able to empathize with them. They have no legs to stand on and therefore, as far as we as a community should be concerned, we cannot and will not attempt to see things from their point of view in any context.
It is more important that the minority members of our community be safe than the privileged and racist few who demand the same sort of “respect” that they see us give others. It is the minority members of our communities who should have our empathy, not the assholes who preach hate either overtly or subversively.
And it is the privileged person’s job, through the empathy we should all have with our minority, to speak over the racist pieces of trash in our community and refuse them a platform to speak from. If that means we get blocked, then so be it. We must make the racists as uncomfortable and unwelcome as humanly possible to ensure that the people who we need and want in our community are safe from that shit.
We want to invite everyone – except racists – to the party. Everyone should be able to join us. Whether we agree with all of their ideas about what things are, or how things are defined, we want to extend an invitation to everyone that we want to see in our community. We cannot simply be a white, cisgendered person’s home away from home: everyone should be able to jump into the water and be able to stay. They should all feel comfortable and welcomed.
And in the same vein, we want to ensure that everyone – except racists – feel as if they were invited to the dance. We don’t want anyone to feel like they don’t belong. A newcomer will already feel overwhelmed with all of the resources and 101s that we’ve put out there. We don’t want them to feel like they shouldn’t be willing to post in our tags and be able to get helpful, thoughtful, and kind responses in return.
I know this is long, but for those of us who have stayed with me, thanks.
The community fractured because of the toxic environment it became and it has never recovered. We’ve all seen it.
The content creators are tired of the same old shit and tired of creating. The people who see shitty behavior going on openly in the tags aren’t willing to speak up about it. The new people who joined us after or during the toxic foothold in our community learned to keep quiet and to keep to the shadows, not posting in the shared tags, because it was too easy to get their content derailed by inter-community fighting or policing. The behaviors of the few continue to negatively impact a place that all of us are constantly looking for: a place to call home when it comes to our religious paths.
The toxic assholes won.
Our community broke down and we haven’t done a damn thing to fix it. Some of that is because we’re tired of fighting and policing. Some of that is because life gets in the way and we have things to do. Some of that is because people left, not willing to step a toe into our shitty environment considering the shit that was going on when shit was going down. Some of that is because people are scared to speak up. Some of that is because some people are just selfish.
Whatever the reason, we need to cut the shit and think critically when it comes to our community:
- Do you want to be a part of this community?
- Are you willing to speak up about concerns you have?
- Or. Are you willing to point out problematic behavior or call someone out if the need arises?
- Or. If you are worried about calling someone out, are you willing to say something to someone who isn’t worried about calling shit out?
- Will you be able to help out the prolific content creators and put things out there?
If you can answer yes to these questions, awesome. Welcome aboard. If you can’t, then maybe it’s better if you go before the going gets rough [again]. This may sound harsh, but if community is what is wanted, it means that you have to put the hard work in and continue to put it in. But everyone has to do their fair share. You can’t rely on the few to do it all; we all have to partake and be willing to do what needs to be done.
Otherwise, there is literally no point in trying.
Note: While I am specifically addressing the racism that was prevalent from the toxic shitheads that made our community anathema to many, please note that they also partook in sexist, ableist, and other shitty behaviors. While I may not specifically state that, please know that it is true and that we also must ensure that shit doesn’t get a foothold in our community either.
Reblogged this on Fanny Fae and commented:
This particular issue has come up quite a bit in recent months. Aubs writes a particularly good perspective on what the Kemetic and other pagan / magical communities are currently gooing through.
Another part of this is coming up with positive, substantive content that’s beginner-friendly and inclusive. That’s not easy. But if there’s a vacuum and the toxic statements are the only thing filling it, people are not going to be invested enough to stay or to try and defend that space.
And right now, very few people are putting out any content. There’s been very little going on in the Tumblr zone that I see (this could of course be because I’m always on mobile or because I’m blocked by people) and hardly anyone updates their WPs anymore.
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I think this is a good post that misses the mark in a few crucial ways. For one, we shouldn’t conceive of communities in the same way as a workplace; that’s in its own right a toxic, corrosive way of thinking. Likewise we probably shouldn’t rely on the advice of people whose jobs are enforcing the illusion of conformity and order for the maintenance of profit margins. That’s going to produce a highly artificial and deeply repressive environment, devoid of any kind of genuine empathy or support.
Likewise, we need a more critical examination of why and how racists proliferate so easily in pagan communities if we’re going to effectively combat them. Deplatforming and ostracizing are good strategies but without also figuring out why and how they’re so continuously prevalent and what needs and inclinations they’re speaking to that draw new people in, they’re going to continue to be a problem. Not that I’ve ever been very active on tumblr, etc. or in the kemetic community properly (I never really got properly ingrained into it, probably bc of my lack of presence on tumblr), but speaking to my observations both from the edges and from my experience in the pagan (and especially heathen) communities more broadly.
Caveat that I myself have often been a toxic presence and am continuously working on improving that, because I’m sure someone will show up to call me an asshole lmao. But this does seem like a good, if rudimentary, starting point. It just calls for a more substantive structural analysis of the community, of pagan subculture, etc. imo.
I mean, half of tumblr is taken over by white supremacists and racists with almost complete impunity from the corporate moderators, so how do you manage to exclude them for any specific community is not clear to me. Moving the community to a more secluded space which can be vetted and which is less driven by dynamics of social capital (i.e. chasing follows and likes) might be an idea, however with every move, paryicularly if it is to a more private, hard-to-find space, you will lose some people.
I am largely ignoring tumblr because its interaction patterns and infinite scroll modality wreak havoc with my attention span and just consume my mental energy. I find Discord much easier to interact with and much easier to police against racists and other assholes, however it does not allow longform communication and essay writing. Old-style forums might ve a good intermediate solution because they allow policing, longform writing and fast interaction, but how do we go about setting up one and moving the whole community there? I do not have an answer.