Behind the scenes, Elephant is a small troupe of tight folks—tight as in close, loving. We argue, we debate, but speaking personally we’d all lie down over a puddle and be a bridge for one another. We’re 85% women, and also 85% white (if you include Jewish, which I’m not sure I would in this era of new-fangled anti-Semitism). Jen, who is Canadian, is our amazing woman on the front lines answering folks’ messages and love and concerns and irritations. She likes to sing, and works with some physical difficulties in a way that inspires and shows the kind of guts I only wish I had.
Nicole is one of our managing editors, and is black and Latina.
I am the founder, and editor-in-chief, and am half-white, half-Jewish, and thoroughly, below, pre-coffee.
Background: we work hard on our images—we want to show non-stockphoto humans, and real diversity of background. We ask authors to supply their own photos: real and personal are best. We feature articles on tough issues. We’re not a mere smoothie site. But: we’re also 90% female, writers-wise, and readers-wise, which is great, and/but most of those readers and writers are white.
Here’s how we get into the vital issue and question of representation on Elephant. This is offered in the spirit of transparency and offering a space for rigorous debate, not PC-tiptoeing on tulips. Our society needs to talk openly about these issues, not just try to win social media points by grandstanding or soapboxing.
Colleague #1 [6:46 AM]
Hey friends, I know this is a lot for Flowers [our announcement chat], but I wanted to share this because the conversation is helpful and important.
I know we’ve been talking about this for a while now, and @Sara in particular has been championing less heteronormativity, but this exchange was interesting to me and thought it was definitely worth the share. (edited)
Colleague#1 [6:46 AM]
Colleague #1 [6:46 AM] Her response is super long but well worth reading:
Hi Colleague #1,
(or other surely delightful human who comes across this first)
Thank you so much for responding to me. I honestly never expected to hear from anyone, let alone receive something so receptive and warm. Coming from a place in my personal-life where I’ve recently felt regularly overwhelmed and exhausted from not feeling heard- it means a lot to me.
Since receiving your message, I have been thinking about our exchange and thinking about my criticism and I want to take it back.
Having material that is inclusive (non-gendered/non-heteronormative/non-racially or culturally biased is extremely important to the point where it is vital for the perpetuation of any community that is founded on the idea of open mindedness and enlightenment.
Yet, I don’t believe the actual appropriate response to the lack of this type of writing published through your organization is to ask your contributors to change the way they tell their personal stories to make them more accessible to a wider audience.
The actual change I believe that is needed, is the intentional addition/interjection of stories by people who are not predominantly straight and white.
This tragic flaw is not directed solely at ElephantJournal but the mindfulness community as a whole.
I could continue with details for days but I will refrain for now.
Since you are having active discussions about inclusivity and potential already, I think you could put yourselves in a position to be the organization to begin to change that. Not only creating a more dynamic space for those already here but also to open the doors of this space to people who are open and in need, yet don’t quite see a place for themselves.
From a business standpoint, this route could also lead to much larger revenues from potential subscribers, greater advertiser payments, etc…not to mention your dating site.
A few years ago I was exploring the online dating scene and was very excited when I found yours. Once I created a profile and did a “woman seeking woman” search, I think there were three women within a two hundred mile radius of me, so of course I never subscribed to it.
Expanding your base in one space can easily equate to expanding it in another. This could not only also generate money for the company but exponentially enhance or change the lives of fellow humans.
Anyway, just a few more things to possibly consider during your next meeting…
Khara-Jade [4 hours ago] we have a dating site? :open_mouth:
Colleague #1 [4 hours ago] Fairly certain she means MeetMindful.
Khara-Jade [4 hours ago] ohhhh haha
Khara-Jade [4 hours ago] I thought I was missing a secret part of Elephant :joy:
Colleague #1 [4 hours ago] Yeah man, you click on the image of Waylon’s face, knock 3 times and say the seeeeecret password. hehe! :heart:
Naomi Boshari [4 hours ago] Wow, her response was so insightful. Thanks for sharing this Colleague #1. I think it’s a really important discussion to have and maybe this is something we could do with bringing on more diverse VIP people @Waylon H. Lewis?
Colleague #2 [4 hours ago]
I have to say that I cringe-post some of the articles that are overly “girl+boy”. I personally feel excluded from that conversation for many reasons—and I also whisper a little “sorry” to those who may also feel excluded. We definitely need less heteronormative images, titles, and intros—but also to include more POC and those who are differently-abled.
Everyone should feel comfy in their seat at the Elephant Journal table…there’s room for all here—and if not, we can build a longer one. :heart:
Nicole Cameron [3 hours ago] Thanks for posting this Colleague #1! I love how honest and kind she was in her initial message and her response. And this is part of what we chatted about when Sara joined Hub. If we can easily “ungender” articles and keep the message the same, we should, but we also want people to share their stories, and that means being open to their experience, whether it’s straight, white, and male, or gender queer, brown, and female. What we need is to encourage and find and pull diverse writers into the Elephant fold so that instead of limiting or policing what we post to appear more inclusive, we actually become more inclusive. And we can help with that now by recruiting and paying attention to the authors who submit to Instant/Pending and pulling out fresh, new voices.
Waylon H. Lewis [2 hours ago] Ask her to write! As I wrote above: we’ve talked about it, and done it, for years. Not just recently. My normal response is to agree, if I agree, but raise them one and invite them to write about the subject. Affect thousands not just one person in a forum.
I find it frankly confusing from you and them that we don’t try. As far as I know, it’s our policy to try. If you editors aren’t following that policy, let me know. But we don’t do quotas, we do human stories.
And lest you forget, we don’t hardly ever manage to include po’white folk, or Trump fans–if you want diversity, embrace all of it. That’s what I try to do.
Waylon H. Lewis [2 hours ago] Exactly what Nicole said. I find it frankly racist and naive to ask for “non-gendered/non-heteronormative/non-racially or culturally biased” articles. So everything should be generic, white-washed? We want the opposite. Diversity is embracing our differences, not dumbing them down. Don’t tell me if I edit an article about a gay black friend I should leave out the details of her life and love so that white folks aren’t left out?
Invite the sweet writer to write! I love your responses but we are not here to please. We’re here to do even better—invite them in.
Waylon H. Lewis [2 hours ago] And can we stop talking about this, and do this? I attended Naropa back in the day, when it was pricey, and privileged, and largely white, whatever that means, there’s diversity and culture in white, I’m white and I’m half-Jewish…
And all Naropa did was feel guilty and have endless diversity meetings. A bunch of white rich kids talking about diversity. What a selfish joke. This isn’t about us. This is about encouraging diversity. So I urged them to get scholarships going, if they truly wanted to expand their pipeline. They have, and they are now, and they don’t need endless guilt-tripping meetings anymore. Now they can have tough important conversations among folks with differences.
So let’s stop talking, and do it. If we just keep revisiting this, then frankly this is about YOU wanting to be RIGHT and OKAY and not guilty instead of actually caring about diversity.
Waylon H. Lewis [2 hours ago] So if it’s an article about women in love, or a woman and a man, or two men, or trans, or black or white or Latino or what have you—celebrate that precise story, ask for more detail, don’t make it generic or PC to fit in—PC is fear, it’s the opposite of actually caring.
Waylon H. Lewis [2 hours ago] Thank you to Colleague #1 for bringing this up, but we’ve already talked about this, and if you all don’t want diversity at Elephant, let me know. Beyond that, there’s nothing to discuss, only do. Make it happen! We’ve talked about this for 16 years, not just “recently.”
Emily Bartran [2 hours ago] I think we can also be better about sharing and re-sharing some of the “controversial” (ugh) articles we already have that would encourage writers from outside the white-female-yogi demographic to write more. We have some amazing stuff about the yoga industry and body image in particular are coming to mind that generally get crazy in the comment section, but if we are all comfortable handling that I bet it would make the publication as a whole seem more welcoming different perspectives *and* help us walk our talk of inviting hard conversations.
Might be worth a training refresher on how to respond to comment threads like that :eyes: I still get nervous/unsure sometimes when they get especially angry.
Waylon H. Lewis [2 hours ago] it’s also okay to be white female yogi. We just have to broaden. Don’t dumb anything or anyone down–get more specific. Details. That’s our training. Make the story brighter, not less offensive or broader. (edited)
Catherine Monkman [1 hour ago] Love this convo, nothing to add personally, I think it’s all been said beautifully, but I am adding this thread to Workflowy so if the topic comes up again, we can review and/or use to train new eleditors. :slightly_smiling_face: :heart:
Colleague #1 [1 hour ago] Waylon, I hear you and appreciate all you’ve said. I just had a brief chat about it with Nicole in my check in, also. I did miss the mark on asking her to write. I’m usually better about that. I’m not about pleasing everyone, trust me, I work in Support. 😉 My intent here was to have her feeling heard and let her know that we do discuss it and we’re not just sitting idly by and not paying attention. I have no doubt that Elephant as an entity has been talking about this for a long time, but for me, having been here a year, and not working in editorial, I’m not often in those conversations. I see the updates when they come through hub. I always figure, if we’re hearing it over and over from readers and supporters, we should listen, and I liked the way the conversation went (and especially her response re: the answer not being just asking folks to rewrite/rethink or basically “dumb down” the details of their own stories.) So sharing as a reminder to do what we can, where we can, when we can.
Colleague #1 [1 hour ago] Sent her a follow up message, letting her know we’ve heard her concerns and inviting her to write. :heart:
Waylon H. Lewis [45 minutes ago] nice! And thank you for your thoughtful reply.
Waylon H. Lewis [44 minutes ago] I wrote this for Colleague #1 but maybe it’s interesting for all y’all, since it was part of my hard training and I don’t feel like we have similar hard personal training:
“I can’t tell you how many times I was sweetly proud of something I did well for my mentor, Jeff. And I’d tell him, all proud, and he’d be a jerk about it–unappreciative–all he’d ask is “did x get done? Did x get better?” He asked about the mission, and the practical objectives. I usually hadn’t.
One thing I was good at, and you’re talented at–being sweet and connecting with audience, readers, public, humans. Not everyone can do that–most can’t. That’s a talent. So now the second step is harness that sweetness, genuineness, to wisdom—and then you aren’t in a position of pleasing anyone, but of actually trying to get the problem healed or solution accomplished.
That’s our mission, not to talk about it, merely, but to really see it flower. That’s true cheerfulness.”
Bonus: (click to read the caption):