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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hinkleman

Unmute: An Intersection of Zoom Culture and Social Justice

Updated: Jun 5, 2020

Have any of you been on a Zoom call lately? It's this new platform where people can actually see each other on computer screen and talk to each other and...oh, right, you haven't been living under a rock! And if you have been living under a rock, your shelter may have been picked up recently and thrown in anger and outrage over the current climate of our country. The most recent event we all watched right in front of our eyes, the horrifying murder of George Floyd, beckoned an energy not seen, heard or felt since the crescendo of the Civil Rights Movement.

An energy ignored, not welcomed by the powers that be, fearing an uprising would what, unseat their power? For fear that we may actually come to the conclusion to love and respect one another? Well, the time is upon us. An awakening, an emancipation of a collective voice is manifesting right in front of our eyes, much like the murder of George Floyd happened right in front of our eyes...yet the way in which this emancipation emerges, begs a question for us as a society. Instead of only listening when there are senseless and grotesque killings of black men, can we choose to embody the culture and energy of a Zoom call? Let me explain.

I've found myself immersed in Zoom calls/meetings daily. Anywhere between 2-5 Zooms per day. These Zooms keep me connected to my teams for work. They keep me connected to my family. They keep me connected to my friends and neighbors. They keep me connected with other people I call mentors, teachers, supporters and allies. They provide a platform to have deep, meaningful and generative conversations. The most significant observation for me is the Mute/Unmute function.

Let me back up. To be on a Zoom call, requires an invitation. That in and of itself, is a wonderful place to start. Invitation...this is a critical element to basic human connection. Humans are hard-wired to be connected, yet we are susceptible to living lives of disconnection due to a lack of invitation. I don't want to lose track, and I'll share more on future posts about living connected lives. Back to the matter at hand. An organizer decides to host a conversation, sends out invitations to people to join the conversation and then we convene. The platform has several functions that provide the space for people from all over the world to be in conversation with one another, in a respectful and meaningful way. One of these functions is the Mute/Unmute. Typically, depending on the number of people on a Zoom call, the convener will ask that people 'mute' themselves to prevent unnecessary background noise. I believe that is the intention. The mute function invites us to be mindful of others. It also, whether intentional or unintentional, provides respect for and honoring of the person who is speaking...a deeper level of listening. When that person is finished talking, someone else begins to speak and often forgets they are muted...what happens next, is an overwhelming energy from others on the call saying 'your muted...Unmute yourself, Unmute!' People are not only immersed in deep listening, they are more than willing to invite someone to 'unmute' themselves so that they too, can be heard. So that they too, can be heard!

The epiphany: seeing how this recent movement for social justice came to consciousness through the murder of yet another black man, juxtaposed to the abundant welcoming of Voice on Zoom. If you're 'muted' those around you see it, feel it and invite your voice into the room. Unmute! It landed heavily on me a few days ago and its decided to take up residence in my mind, my soul and my heart. In my work, I hold, or at least try to hold, safe spaces for people to let go of societal dogma, archaic patterns of thought and action as a means of having generative conversations. Conversations for change.

These generative conversations are not possible without an invitation, a welcoming of people to speak their truth. These conversations cannot happen unless we invite people to Unmute themselves...and more often than not, people are not willing to Unmute themselves if they don't feel safe. It's not difficult to see that our history as a country has not created a safe space for people to speak their truth. That's not to say citizens and activists haven't been trying to be heard. I mentioned the Civil Rights Movement earlier, yielding some very basic human rights for marginalized people. Yet what we know from our history and current climate, is the embedded systemic racism permeating this country is formidable. The #blacklivesmatter movement has been around since 2013, born in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of his murderer. The Founders of this movement Unmuted themselves! The immediate response to this movement, from mostly white people, was shouldn't it be "all lives matter"? This response comes from old, embedded patterns of thought and ignores the plight and injustice the black community has lived and continues to live in this country. That response is a Muting of a collection of voices, operating from old habits, beliefs and values...asleep to the reality of the marginalized and oppressed.

That response taps into, as my friend Dave Hasbury put it in a recent conversation, "the DNA level of depth of racism we have as a nation." The blind spot our country has around the very real, and ever-so-present institutional racism and structural violence is huge. It is time for us to start uncovering this blind spot. It's time for us to understand it will take all people, all of us, no matter our color, to rise up and know that All Lives Matter, only when, Black Lives Matter. We are called to welcome and invite all people to Unmute! Can we embody the culture of respect and deep listening I encounter on Zoom calls? A culture of people more than willing to see, sense and feel when a voice is Muted and collectively say Unmute!

This intersection of Zoom culture and Social Justice has landed for me. It's Unmuted me for sure. I've spent my life's career working within a different social justice movement, Disability Rights and Inclusion. Yet, I've been reluctant to get involved in this movement. For fear of who I may offend? Maybe. For fear of how it will be received? Definitely. But what I know, from many years of reading, studying, being with people and reflecting is that my complacency around any issue that prevents another human from living a life of freedom and justice, makes me complicit to the problem. I'm Unmuting.

One of my favorite writers/teachers is Parker Palmer. He writes in the context of non-violent change, or as he refers to it, The Third Way, "Now we understand a simple but significant truth: The Third Way is not a path of high heroism reserved for the likes of Gandhi and King. It is a path that can, and must, be walked by mortals like you and me.”

This is an invitation to Unmute. The path laid before us from activists we look up to, like Gandhi and King, will fade away and we'll find ourselves lost. Their footsteps will slowly disappear and we'll find ourselves without a compass. We will continue to meander, muted like zombies unaware of the real-life apocalypse surrounding us all while being infiltrated by messaging through all forms of media as if nothing of injustice exists. We must walk the path of social justice...of All Lives Matter only when Black Lives Matter, but how? I don't know the answer, only to say that perhaps, as I sit here and write this from the most privileged position in our country, as white man, it starts with that very awareness. I am aware of my white privilege. I've spent years with this understanding and awareness of my privilege and have been muted by guilt. For whatever reason, I'm seeing, feeling and sensing an invitation to no longer let guilt mute me. My energy has followed this attention to guilt for too long. So I'm setting an intention to stand up, with and for this a white man. No longer letting fear or guilt preclude me from fighting for what is right. Set intentions, pay attention to them and the energy will follow.

I don't know how this unmuting will manifest. That's ok. We don't say that enough. I do feel strongly about one element: if sustainable, systemic change is the starts at home. I as a white man, husband to a white woman and father of three white kids need to have a collective awareness of our privilege first and foremost. I will invite my kids into generative conversations around this issue. What I know is that we are not born hateful. We are not born racist. It is, however, indoctrinated in us over a childhood development of school, communities, media and experience of watching the adults we find ourselves around. I intend to continue to sit with difficult subject matter with my kids. For as many conversations necessary, we will lean into this awareness, only then can we move forward, leading by example in our neighborhood and communities. I intend to invite them to Unmute themselves and encourage them to Unmute those around them. I write this from the heart of this important intersection of Zoom culture and Social Justice and ask this: When we see, sense and feel when people are muted, can we embody the energy of a Zoom and wholeheartedly and collectively welcome those people to UNMUTE?! We see you. We hear you. We feel you. May we move forward together, in a collective Unmuting until we realize a world that works for everyone.

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