I watched this Netflix documentary, not sure how Chelsea Handler would approach the topic. It’s easy for a comedian to go straight to what they know. I was pleasantly surprised.
Of course, her humor shown throughout her journey. That is who she is. And humor can be a safe vehicle for people to talk about very sensitive topics. At the same time, she was vulnerable and willing to listen, a hard but necessary choice to make.
The conversation about privilege has also become necessary for us to have in this county. As diverse as America is, white Americans have dominated for over 500 years. White males specifically have become the definition of equality. What do I mean by that? Equity and equality in this country have been defined and governed by white males, period. As such, they have afforded themselves the privilege to basically do whatever they want. And in many cases, get away with it.
Brené Brown has been a true light of understanding as it relates to white privilege. My business partner, Joe Thurman, has been devouring everything she’s published. And her explanation of equality really hit home for me. She talks about dehumanization in this way: “We want to harm a group of people, but it goes against our wiring as members of a social species to actually harm, kill, torture, or degrade other humans. Smith explains that there are very deep and natural inhibitions that prevent us from treating other people like animals, game, or dangerous predators. He (David Smith, the author of Less Than Human) writes, ‘Dehumanization is a way of subverting those inhibitions.‘”
There have been systematic and deliberate campaigns in our history to make groups other than white people seem less than human. That’s a simple fact. Now we find ourselves having to confront these “sins of the past.”
Chelsea does a really great job beginning to confront our sins and her sins. Reconnecting with her high school boyfriend and his family, all of whom had spent time in prison for various crimes, was very touching. And inspiring. And exactly what Brené Brown is guiding us to do.
I’m hopeful by her description of dehumanization and equality for two reasons:
1. In our Breaking the Bias programs, we talk about the BIAS Code and how we’re all born wired with bias. That code, as alluded to above, also compels us to connect with our fellow humans, not hurt them. So if we can just become more aware of our own BIAS codes, understand what drives and triggers each of us, we can regain that natural instinct to see everyone as human.
2. Once we’ve regained our own humanity, we can help to re-humanize those groups of people who have been dehumanized since America began. That is the definition of equality.
There is a clear path forward. It will be a difficult one that requires honesty, safety, trust, and vulnerability. And as I’ve always said, if we can just become more aware of our own biases, we will be halfway to building a more inclusive and equal society.
Check out Chelsea Handler’s documentary here: https://www.netflix.com/title/80244973