Building and sustaining authentic relationships across differences

The historic and current realities of racism and sexism can make relationship building across differences a challenge.

Trust is one of the most important aspects of healthy relationships, and trust is what makes communities of all kinds work. Building trust can be tricky; particularly across human differences such as race, gender, class and other areas of social identity. Part of the reason is that our membership in “target” and “non-target” groups often affect our beliefs, values, perspectives and understanding of these complex issues in significant ways.

According to VISIONS, Inc., target groups are those that have been historically (and are currently) targeted to receive less within the U.S. context. People in target groups continue to have less access to benefits and privileges in terms of housing, health, jobs, fair wages, safe communities and other essential areas that tend to lead to more positive life outcomes. Examples of target groups are people of color, women and the LGBTQ community. Non-target groups are those that historically (and currently) benefit from systems of oppression (like racism and sexism) and who are more likely to have access to positive life outcomes. Examples of non-target groups are white people, men and heterosexuals. Many of us will find that we have membership in both target and non-target groups.

The complexity of these social identities within the context of systems of oppression can make relationship building across differences very challenging. For example, it’s very common for those in non-target groups to be oblivious or in denial about the advantages, benefits and privileges that they receive. Consequently, this can make it very difficult to build trust with those in target groups.

Karen Pace and Dionardo Pizaña, staff members with Michigan State University Extension, have written a piece titled Qualities of Authentic Relationships across Differences. In it, they write, “Our commitment to the process of developing an authentic relationship across racial and gender differences has helped us to identify important qualities of our relationship. These characteristics are essential to building trusting and lasting relationships across race and gender within a society that continues to be grounded in racism, sexism and other forms of oppression. It has also been important for us to recognize that, although much of our work in developing an authentic relationship has occurred on the personal and interpersonal levels, our relationship is also deeply impacted by institutional and cultural systems that have influenced our behaviors and defined our privileges – or lack thereof.”

Pace and Pizaña share several qualities that have been important to them in creating and nurturing an authentic relationship across race, gender and other differences. They stress that this is not a prescriptive process or a “to-do list” but rather qualities in themselves and in each other that have helped them to build, nurture and sustain an authentic relationship across differences for nearly 20 years.

Michigan State University Extension provides resources focused on diversity, equity and inclusion as well as other areas of social and emotional health and wellbeing

Did you find this article useful?

You Might Also Be Interested In