We’ve all been excluded and made to feel less-than. And, we’ve all had someone stick up for us and make us feel like we belong. We’ve all had opportunities to step out of our comfort zone and be an ally for people who need our support. Culture doesn’t happen to us; we create culture. 

In today’s Culture Spotlight, Jared K. shares stories about getting bullied for wearing short shorts, choosing not to be bourgeois, being an ally even though it’s not always easy, and having the courage and clarity to end a thirty-five-year friendship. 

– – – – – 

Please share an experience from your personal or professional life when you were excluded. How did that affect you?

I grew up poor in the eighties in Southern California. When I was in seventh grade, I desperately wanted a pair of longer surf-style shorts that all the kids were wearing, but my family couldn’t afford them. I was stuck wearing my short, nerdy, out-of-style soccer shorts that I’d been wearing since fourth grade. Kids teased me every day. The worst incident was when two bigger kids raised me by my armpits, slammed me up against the lockers, and made a big show about my short shorts. Pinned up against the lockers, I was humiliated in front of everyone, as kid after kid walked by and laughed and pointed. 

My mom eventually found enough money to buy me longer shorts, but the damage had been done. It was at that moment that I realized how much our socioeconomic status shapes our everyday experiences. People with more financial capital have more social capital, which leads to more power and privilege, which leads to greater access to opportunities for success. If you’re poor, on the other hand, a lot more hard work is required of you to succeed. 

Please share an experience when you were included but noticed that someone else was left out. How did that affect you?

My family and I periodically get invited by our friends to spend an evening at a swim club where they are members. It’s a nice place – a big pool for the kids to swim, an adults-only spa, a beautiful view of the mountains, covered canopies to socialize, barbecue, and drink wine. It’s pretty bourgeois. And very white. There’s no officially policy that excludes people of color, but it’s clear by the membership that whiteness is the dominant – and comfortable – narrative. 

Our friends frequently urge us to buy a membership so we can hang out with them more often at the club. Thanks for the invite, but it’s not even an option. We have no interest in using our financial, social, and racial capital to intentionally position ourselves in an exclusive, privileged environment. While our relationship with our friends is important, equally important is being true to our values of inclusivity and diversity. When you know what you stand for, it’s much easier to make decisions. It is curious though. . . I notice we don’t get invited up there as much as we used to.