This month, I have been sent by the Slovenian circus umbrella organisation, CIRKOKROG, to the latest NICE (Network of international circus exchange) meeting, in Lapeeranta, Finland. During some of the sessions, there was a discussion amongst the participants about the fact that circus teachers should strive to abolish their tendancy to put people into boxes. And that got me thinking… Lucky my flight back home was cancelled because that gave me a lot of time (16h on a bench at Helsinki airport to be precise 😅) to reflect upon what happened during this wonderful last week in Finland. I though long and hard and I came to some conclusion for myself and also a lot of questions. The following text is only a few of my reflection that I hope can fuel the already florishing conversation about our practices…
I personally don’t think that the abolition of categorisation is necessary or even possible. On the contrary. Everyone is different in some way so I feel that we need to categorise ourselves (if not to be categorised by other). We need to fit in boxes or rather place ourselves on a scale of characteristics that define who we are, our identity. The confident, happy people I know tend to be the one with a strong sence of self.
But our identity is not static. It fluctuate relatively to our social context, the period of life we are in and the people that surrounds us. Our identity is also both defined by inner self-perception and outside(r)perception. For example, I may think that I’m young but maybe people see me as old. So in that case, who am I? What and who defines my identify? Is my actual identity the alignment of my inner self-perception and outsiders’ perception of me? Is my identity defined solely by my own perception of my-self?
I feel that the problem with discrimination is not the construction of boxes, categories or spectrum because humans need this to create identity and therefore certainty, self confidence…
The biggest problem I see with discrimination are the assumptions that come together with the perceived identity of such and such individual or group of people (for ex: white people are smart…) in combination with the culture of hierarchal organisation of categories and the perceived superiority of one set of category over another in a specific context (for ex: white people deserves more because they know better).
For youth workers, the difficulty of inclusion is to avoid the tendancy to impose a certain vision and apply solutions that are only relevant to a certain category/group of people, to everyone.
In practice, this means that the role of an inclusion facilitator should be to discover the needs of discriminated people and what it means for them to be included.
I tend to think that identity is shaped by the relationship between the inner and outer perception of a person. So in practice, should the process of reducing discrimination and fostering inclusion mean to work on according inner and outer identity disparity? For example, isn’t the (sometimes difficult and scary) act of coming out for a young LGBTQ a confrontation of inner self-perception against outsiders perception? If the outcome of declaring your non-conforming sexual orientation or gender is acceptance, then you feel included. If not them, you feel excluded…
I keep wondering what could be the indicators to take into account in order to measure inclusion? Should inner perception trump unequivocally the reality and outsiders perception when it comes to the defining of one’s identity? Or is it the opposite? To what extend excluded/discriminated people should compromise (as in ‘make compromises’) on their needs and what define them, in order to make themselves included? And vice versa, to what extend, privileged groups should do that?
In addition, for me, the concept of ‘inclusion’ refers to the process of bringing people closer, in order to move forward together towards a more humanistic society. But what if a person or a group of people do not seek integration into a larger group? Does being inclusive means integrating people into a larger cultural context or does inclusion means also accepting someone’s wish to differentiate themselves from others?
As circus educators, it is interesting to ask ourselves those questions because, once we answer them, we have at our disposition an endless array of tools and practices to accompany young and achieve our objectives. These answers can guide our practices and help us to adapt, transform and modernise our lessons/activities, and therefore develop the reach and impact of youth and social circus.
Diversity is being invited to the party but inclusion is being asked to dance… Or in our case, invited to play 😁🥳