“The inclusion policy at my clinic covers everyone… Treat everyone the way you want to (be) treated. The Golden Rule. I have a very diverse staff. We are all the same.”
This comment popped up on a Facebook post I shared about being an ally to the Asian community in vet med during this time of increased hate crimes. I expect backlash when we share anti-racist content, but this response was unique.
Several people came out in support for The Golden Rule, so I started to think about it more.
It sounds nice, in theory. How can, “Treat others the way you want to be treated” be problematic?
I’ve been the white person who “treats everyone the same.” That was the only tool I had to navigate race as a child. My socialization occured in an incredibly white Boston suburb. Seeing everyone as “the same” was a perfect system in a sea of Irish and British surnames.
But guess what? 9/11 happened, and suddenly my best friend – one of the few people of color in our school system – was not treated the same. As a Muslim American, she faced every kind of terrorist “joke” you could hurl at a person.
As we got older, I noticed how much random people wanted to touch her curly hair, call her beauty “exotic”, or demand to know where she was from.
I continued to “treat her the same,” often missing what those experiences must have been like for her. I wrote the people that treated her poorly off as random jerks, not part of a bigger system. I didn’t like the idea of “white privledge.” I had grown up poor as shit, and I didn’t see how I had something over her when she had better Internet than me in middle school. (Seriously…)
Treating everyone the same and ignoring others’ unique experience is a a simple solution as a child. But now that I’m a grown ass woman, and it’s on me to educate myself, listen more, and speak up.
That’s why it is critical for me to say this: The Golden Rule is a terrible way to treat your veterinary team.
Sure, it makes it easy for you to sleep at night. You tell yourself that “you’re kind”, and you move on. But when you play by this rule, you:
1) Erase others’ unique experiences.
I have my car doors set to only unlock the driver’s side. This drives my male partner insane as he tries to open the passenger door right away. “Change the settings!” he demanded, until I explained how scary it can be to unlock all the doors alone at night as a woman. He never thought of that
When you “treat everyone the same,” you are refusing to see their point of view. That’s poor allyship, and vet med needs all the allies we can get.
2) Willfully refuse to listen.
If you have one blanket statement for how you treat every person, how are you going to stop to hear their unique needs?
What if a Black team member tells you they’re uncomfortable seeing a pet named the “n word”? (Yes – this still happens.) Are you going to force them to do it because you treat everyone the same, so you can’t show them some sort of favoritism by listening to their needs?
3) Force minorities to “be polite.”
While you’re focused on treating everyone the same, you’re putting other team members a tough position. They know they can’t come to you for support, and they likely are having experiences where they need that. (This article from a Black, queer pastor struck a chord with me on that topic.)
Veterinary medicine is an industry that suffers from increased suicide rates and rampant mental health issues. It is deeply problematic to refuse to let people be their full selves, to deny them a support system, and to ignore their needs.
While I don’t doubt the good intentions of it, the golden rule is getting a little rusty. It wasn’t helping me develop, and it certainly wasn’t supporting people different for myself.
It’s time to ditch in our lives, and definitely as a vet clinic “policy.” Let’s instead try something that involves listening, curiosity, and empathy and treat others they way they want to be treated.
PS: If you’re looking to educate yourself more about race, I recommend starting with The Black Friend by Frederick Joseph or So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo.