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  • Fenella Trevillion

Deconstructing Coloniality in Coaching - A Mini Beginning?

Updated: Jun 4

Exploring coloniality in coaches from the personal to the systemic


Imagine a world where there had never been slavery, where land is not owned, money pooled and the wise ancestral stories shared, debated and learned from? Where there wasn’t a construct of difference through race. It’s wonderful to dream about a place where the sharing of stories debated and learned happened in an uncomplicated world. If that is not possible, where then do we begin the discussion of how we might take apart our colonial culture and perspectives in coaching? Here I explore my own journey as human being/coach during the year of covid, of the death of George Floyd and the rise of the global Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. In it, I touch on coloniality and its place in coaching and look where deconstructing and reshaping our practice might go from here.

The journey begins

The start was when I was asked what my aha moment of awareness was that as white coaches we need to start with our own racism before downloading the wisdom of our black colleagues; remember the mantra - ‘put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others’? Consequently, I explored and noticed many ahas in my life, starting with my first racist accusation, aged 6. During my childhood, I listened to, watched, and, saw racism out there; my learning over the past year has been about how racism relates to what is in here, out there and in the system as a whole.

My driving purpose is now to continue the journey of noticing, exploring and making sense of racism. In my previous blog the back story was examined and now that I have begun, where else might it be taking me?


The ‘Race’ Conversation Having started with the in here, next is the conversation with others about race. Conversations are complex iterative processes, always dynamic and three dimensional and the easy starting point is to ask what is going on out there? Robin DiAngelo helps with that, her book is uncomfortable reading where she covers ‘racism and White Supremacy’ – is that me? Then The Good/Bad Binary, the slow realisation that in that conversation, there was a clue – all of it described me, out there was in here.


Eugene Ellis’ ‘Race Conversation’ developed it further, one concept, being colour conscious, was something with which I was already familiar.(my previous blog) for me, skin colour and, my own and others’ race, has for years, been a thing, taking a colour blind approach for me, is not an option. However, other new concepts such as those described in inside the race construct gave a shape to my thinking and enabled some further steps in the journey.


While we white people mostly hate talking about race, Ellis’ statement “talking about race has always been hard work, but, after George Floyd’s killing it had somehow become hard work not to” (2021. P 4). This was heartening to read as I was encountering both black and white people starting to say race has become the flavour of the month, we should focus on intersectionality not just race. For me, race is figural, it’s a major part of my story, coming before other important intersectional issues. Thus, I continued to embark on the rather deeper exploration in understanding the race construct in, around, and throughout the whole system.


Connecting across the world

My simultaneous looking in here and out there meant connecting virtually with friends, family and networks globally. A year of virtual connections with those in Africa, America, Australia and other continents gave a many levelled vista to knowledge acquisition and understanding. At Pam Christie’s book launch in Cape Town, I noticed ‘coloniality’ being explored. In her book she quotes Maldonado Torres noting that he sees coloniality as different to colonialism, it’s the ‘long standing patterns of power that emerges as a result of colonialism that defines labor, intersubjective relations and knowledge production’ (2020. P 7). Coloniality are perhaps the behaviours and artifacts that remain (often visibly in the coaching space) even though the structures of colonialism have been removed.


How might coaching assist with uncovering coloniality?

A key role of coaching is to provide a space for the other, the coachee, acting as a reflector of what might be going on for that person in their own and wider world, seen and unseen. Inevitably, the coach will be occupying a similar (though not the same) space and where appropriate at best reflecting back on ‘long standing patterns of power’ and possible discrepancies in power relationships. Often however, particularly with white coaches, not noticing possible discrepancies and racism where embedded current assumptions of white privilege and the colonial history of slavery still hurting, exposes a deficit in coaching practice. Seeing it at the personal and system levels

At the ‘Philosopher’s Stone Community’ discussion on social justice, systemic and anti-racism in coaching, Charmaine Roche pointed to the National Equity Project’s ‘Lens of Systemic Oppression’ . This uses the ‘interpersonal’ overlap between the individual and system levels of systemic oppression, where ‘the interactions between people – both within and across difference’ takes place. This linked well with Torres’ view of coloniality in recognising patterns of power relationships through ‘intersubjective relations’.


Roche illustrates how the personal is influenced by the system in her article ‘Decolonising Coaching’ . Here, her example of workplaces that are often construed as neutral, supported by diversity guidelines for working with black employees, simply, are not. Even though the workplace assumptive culture is of a safe, neutral space, black staff she coached, experienced daily microaggressions there and, in one situation, a black person’s behaviour of avoiding ‘socialising with work colleagues our of hours’.. [was] ‘seen as cultural’ and ‘self-limiting’(2021.p11) whereas, she points out, this was ‘self-protective behaviour’ in a non-neutral environment. These are issues that all coaches working in organisations are likely to encounter. All of us need to gear up our coaching practice so as to encourage black people to talk about their experiences and speak out about the racism that happens in the workplace today.


Coloniality in how the global north views the world

From the personal/individual to the systemic level, I noticed that the very way we make sense of the world shines a light on our internal coloniality. This was highlighted at a global online discussion on climate emergency to show how it affects us at every level; the model used was the familiar stacked Venn diagram -

with ‘I’ front and centre. An indigenous person of colour pointed to this being a western way of seeing the world. This comment highlighted my personal lens of an embedded ‘I’ perspective. This illustrated for me the many centuries of a ‘long standing pattern of power’ where us as white people expect to be front and centre. For me it also demonstrated my colonial ancestry and coloniality apparent in me today.


With our white perspective showing up at every level, how might we, coaches, step back and become useful practitioners and begin our own process of deconstruction?


First, a paradigm change?

With the global pandemic affecting all of us what stands out for everyone is our interconnectness. This was addressed at the 9th International Conference on Coaching Supervision on 7th May 2021 where Hetty Einzig spoke on Ecosystem supervision, here she mentioned the emergence of a new Axial Age with a new paradigm. A paradigm where the western (white) world view is waning; the Kantian ‘I think therefore I am’ or in today’s parlance: ‘it’s all about me’ is shifting. Our connectedness and our global communities are becoming more centre stage and to survive global disasters such as the climate emergency, we must find a way to co-exist positively.


Peter Hawkins contributed to the debate in a series of articles in ‘Coaching Perspectives’ where he notes the biggest paradigm shift in the 20th century was the move from atomised thinking to systemic thinking and now, we need ‘systemic awareness’. This is an awareness that “needs sensuous, embodied knowing, not just propositional knowledge, that leads beyond ‘knowing about’ to ‘knowing with’”. This is a move away from the ‘I’ to the ‘we’, an awareness where ‘all the nests I reside within, are nested within me’ (Coaching Perspectives January 2021, Issue 28, P7-9).


Leading to a change in coaching?

Simultaneously, systemic coaching has gained ascendancy within coaching. It does not mean only working with teams or a group, it requires a new awareness of the many systems in the room occupied by the coach and the coachee. For black coachees and coachees of colour, race and racism may well be the figural system; here white coaches can never know the essence of that experience however, what we can do is to bring it into awareness, acknowledge its presence and, through our contracting, open up the conversation. Here we shift the discourse from knowing to being and being with the black coachee alongside their experience of racism.


A mini beginning?

Parallel to my exploration has been the emergence of a Race and Coaching Network. This has arisen from the 13th April 21 White Privilege and Fragile virtual workshop with coaches, led by Liz Hall and I, here our concerns were shared followed by a consideration about what next to do. A series of actions arose resulting in the development of the network and a second group covering coaching practice and race. Both are at the early stages of establishing their identities and core purposes with an intention of shifting the gaze of coaching towards actively responding to the construct of race that is omnipresent globally and in coaching, today.


So far, typical of any group, we have brought our own stories and different levels of understanding to this challenging issue of race. We all hold a shared passion and ethical stance to address racism and respond to it as coaches. There is a variance of approach and level of action intended by those present however, the commitment is secure. This is the minute beginning; we recognise the years of work yet to do in deconstructing our own coloniality and coloniality in coaching, and, it is a start.

This could be regarded as a pivotal moment. Work is already afoot in widening the debate, for instance, in the ‘Speak Up, Speak Out’ REF podcast Charmaine Roache, describing herself as the compassionate disrupter, asked questions on coaching and racism; hopefully, other work within the coaching world is exploring this issue and taking action.


Challenging racism and examining our part in it, is by definition, an all-embracing process, how might coaches envisage taking it forward?


Deconstruction from a number of perspectives

One possible way is to visualise a series of three-dimensional orbiting perspectives of the world of race and coaching and the knowledge production of it, these might range from the global eco systemic to the personal. At the centre is a shared moral compass (ethics) and purpose. This would be to build systemic awareness through increasing our knowledge and experience of the ‘nests that reside within us and we reside in’ (e.g. our coloniality resulting from ancestral colonialism) while committing to social and racial justice and working within an interconnected world of coaching and coaching supervision.

For ease, these are set out with more detail in the table below.

Conclusion

This paper begins by exploring the possibility of a world where the construct of race did not exist, land was shared and, wisdom passed on through debate and storytelling. The narrative brings the reader back to the real world, with a history of colonisation where today its structures have gone yet its artifacts and power discrepancies remain figural along the fault lines of race, referred to as coloniality.


This complex journey through which I endeavour to understand my racism internally and use this year of the global pandemic to reach out across the world in search of knowledge and meaning about it. Part of that iterative process is looking at the place of coaching within it. Through alighting on the debate of the paradigm shift towards greater connectedness I look at the varying perspectives on the race debate within the coaching community; through building the mini steps already taken, I suggest other possible changes to actively work with social justice through coaching.


Resources on Coaching and/or Anti-Racism

R DiAngelo White Fragility Allen Lane 2018.

R Eddo-Lodge Why I am no longer talking to white people about race Bloomsbury 2018.

E Ellis The Race Conversation Conifer Books 2021. (

J Ryde White Privilege Unmasked – How to be part of the solution Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2019.

L. Saad Me and white supremacy Source books 2020.

Online and other resources

Becoming an Antiracist White Ally: How a white affinity group can help (article) (20mins)

When were White people invented? Ash Sarker (video 11mins )

White Privilege – Unpacking my invisible knapsack - Peggy McIntosh

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