Omphaloskepsis: In Defense of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The SCA can be a wonderful, transformative organization, teaching others medieval arts, courtesy, and other skills that can affect not only their in-game life, but their world outside of the organization. However, like any modern organization that contains people, the SCA has a DEI puzzle to solve. When studying the medieval world, its class systems and the like, while also still having modern people with modern sensibilities, how do we balance diversity, equity, and inclusion with the internal class system that is resultant of one’s abilities, financial capabilities, or other abilities?

To start: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is not just limited to POC and LGBTQIA+ issues, which the SCA has currently put the most focus on. DEI is tied into people who are in the military, the disabled, socioeconomic status, age, language and many other things. People who are constantly marginalized and under-represented are part of the groups that DEI is supposed to be there for and should be part of all conversations.

Per the last SCA Census (2020), out of 7388 completed census surveys, the average SCAdian is a straight, cisgendered white person born in the early 1970s. Of note with this survey, a full 36.2% of the demographics survey indicated that they had food restrictions, with other aspect of the survey noted a not insignificant number for difficulty in socializing, moving around, seeing, or hearing, and another aspect indicating if assistive devices were needed. A full 48% indicated that their household income at the time of taking the survey was under $70k USD a year.

While the SCA is far less diverse than many of us would like, we do have actively participating members who aren’t straight, cisgendered, heteronormative white people born in the 1970s – and many of these participating members are peers, have held positions at all levels of the Society, and have helped to mould Society policy, but those faces simply are not seen in the makeup of our Board of Directors, which, as of April 2023, will comprise of all white-presenting people, all with at least one peerage, and nearly all publicly showing straight-passing relationships. The current stats of those on the Board nomination list, comprising of 35 individuals, show at least 24 of those with at least one peerage.

If we want the SCA to be more welcoming, more inclusive, more vibrant (among other things), there are a lot of things that need to change: we need to be less ableist. Less sexist. Less racist. Less white supremacist. Less homophobic. Less transphobic.

The same goes for at the corporate and board levels.

The work, both in emotional and physical labour done by Jessica van Hattem and Gigi Coulson (a former Board member herself) as the first corporate DEI officers of the Society is vital to our growth and palatability to others who don’t resemble the average SCAdian. Their very public roles as Black women showed that there was a place for people who didn’t resemble the average SCAdian. If we want people to come to our table, and we want them to stay there, we need the Society to make sure that the Corporate DEI office is an active office. In October 2020, the Board affirmed its solidarity with the fight against systemic racism and rampant sexism. Unfortunately, the Board has also allowed the position of the corporate DEI office to lapse and is currently (as of this writing) vacant. The Board has not adequately addressed disproportionately low numbers of racial minorities as participants, and has not investigated and/or resolved complaints of racial biases, racial discrimination, and racial microaggressions made by its gender minority participants. It does not track complaints of code of conduct violations, sexual harassment, or assault in order to protect its participants from harm. (source: Equity, Inclusion, and the SCA), and frankly, the emotional labour of women of colour whose concerns from a professional perspective were not adequately acknowledged or developed. Jessica also literally received death threats by members of the SCA who didn’t see the point of DEI.

Chivalry should be the base of everything we do. And while many of us think of Pre-Raphaelite paintings as our base for chivalric virtues, even research into medieval writers like Ramon Llull show that the Society for Creative Anachronism has a long way to go to truly embracing the aspects of chivalry that involve taking care of those who are marginalized.

It is all well and good to have that romantic Dream of Leighton’s The Accolade, but to SCAdians of Colour or those in queer relationships, this may not represent our Dream, and this is why DEI and the work within is so important.

And it means that we need a board that better reflects the population of the SCA, including people who do not have peerages, are members of the LGBTQIA+ community or are People of Colour, and it means that the selection process where people are nominated to the Board, the existing Board then selects who they will go on to interview, and subsequently must then unanimously agree on leads to a Board that will never be able to serve the most marginalized.

I am saying all of this noting the massive amount of emotional and actual labour of both Ms Van Hattem and Ms Coulson, and countless others who work behind the scenes who are also in marginalized communities. I say this as someone who is nonbinary and has to fight this fight every time I go to an event and am misgendered purposefully – if this is happening at events, I am sadly not surprised that this is happening in the Boardroom.

Again, if we truly believe and want to espouse the values that were written into our Governing Documents, then DEI must take centre stage in all of what we do. Chivalry (and the SCA) is more than just a hobby, as the SCA has been so keen on putting on tee shirts, but doesn’t take in account the actual work of what being chivalrous actually entails.

What this means is that we must go to the mattresses, to pull from the Godfather. Sure, it’s hard work, but if we want the SCA to survive ,and more importantly, thrive, then we must find our landmines and work on the very good work for the betterment of our Society.

So, where do we start?

We ask for DEI support in our own kingdoms. If we have the ability and the training to be the DEI person for our kingdom, then we take care of that.

We listen and make space for people in marginalized communities and let them speak and provide a listening ear.

We reach out to the Board, to our Crowns, and to our Peers in our kingdoms, and explain why DEI is important. We tell all about the spaces we want to see, and then we make that happen as much as we can within our power.

We tell people how to respect others. If that means correcting people when they misgender someone, or noting that language can be hurtful to others, we need to learn to centre the experience of others.

We don’t go “but this can’t happen here!” because it is happening here. It is happening to peers, and it is happening to those who aren’t peers.

We must fight. We must be humble. And we must do justice for those who need it.

We don’t leave. We make our space as welcoming as we can.

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