A wise law professor said at a law school event this past week, “I take issue with the way we talk about diversity these days.” He continued on to talk about how the current discourse about “diversity,” particularly in higher education settings, generally revolves around the experiences of minorities. When reflecting on the opportunities afforded “diverse” students, the initiatives promoting “diversity,” and many discussions I have had about “diversity” with my peers, I realized that this is true. I’ve had countless classmates tell me “I’m not diverse, I’m not going to that event.” On the other side, I’ve also heard “why is that person at this meeting? He’s not diverse at all.”
While the experiences of minority populations are extremely important, focusing the discussion of diversity on only those experiences excludes people who are not typically considered minorities – in particular, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied, heterosexual males. And although it may not seem like it at first glance, this is a problem.
The problem is that it makes those who are not included in the conversation feel like they have no stake in the issues and do not need to take ownership of the topic. Like the student who says “I’m not diverse, I’m not going to that event,” people in the majority often feel like they do not belong in the discussions or will be judged for their privilege. And while pure diversity is important, it is almost nothing without inclusion.
This is not to say that it is the job of the minority or those already involved in the movement to bring the majority in. The minority should not have to bear any further burden than they already do, and the majority should want to take ownership of the issues themselves. Instead, this is to say that if we re-frame the way we talk about diversity, hopefully more people can feel included and then become bearers of the burden that those of us who face oppression and discrimination every day already carry.
Everyone contributes to diversity. The very definition of diversity is just variety, difference, multiplicity. The way we talk about it society is what has made it more limited. But in the fight against oppression and prejudice, we need as many allies as possible. So the discourse should not exclude anyone.
We need to change the conversation to include everyone. A huge difficulty with this, however, is the fact that because of white privilege and male privilege, there is a tendency for people to respect white males over any other people in almost every setting. So if we bring them into the conversation about diversity, won’t that center it around them? Won’t that take away from what little role and respect minorities already get? Not if we do it right. Those who are marginalized should still have the power, but there are a couple nuances to that:
1) I think a very basic change we can make is to start talking about diversity and inclusion, not just diversity. This may not seem like it make a big difference, but I believe that the way we talk about things affects the way we view and act towards things. So the hope is that if we talk about inclusion, we will remember that everyone should be included in diversity, and that everyone has a role.
2) There should not be pressure put on people to “represent” diversity or represent a group they identify with. Being in a law school where I am one of five Asian women in my class, I often feel a lot of pressure to speak out about Asian American issues, give my opinion when relevant cases come up in class, or represent all of the Asian American community during diversity events. While I do speak up, I do it because the racial justice movement is something that I am passionate about and that I’ve invested a lot of time in. And I make sure to speak only as myself, from my own experiences. I never claim to speak for the Asian American experience because it is so diverse. Demanding that an individual “represent” diversity or a group of people only reinforces assumptions that a group of people can be generalized, and often stereotypes that are already rampant in society. It also places more burden on people, often those who are already marginalized and carrying a heavy weight. The conversation about diversity is something that includes all of us, and we all have something that we can talk about. We should value people for who they are as individuals, and what they contribute to the conversation from their particular background and story. This will help us get a fuller understanding of diversity.
3) Those with privilege need to realize they are included in the conversation so that they can be allies, not necessarily leaders. While it is not necessarily awful for a man to lead a talk about gender inequality or a heterosexual person to lead a LGBTQ organization, I think it is much more effective when the power is the hands of those who understand the struggle most intimately and can provide the most honest perspective. There is a fine line between supporting a cause and making it about yourself; an example of the latter is the journalist who attempted to celebrate the cultures of certain African tribes by transforming herself into women from those tribes. The project not only used blackface, but also made the entire conversation about herself instead of the women she was trying to showcase. While her intent might have been good, she took attention away from the actual stories and experiences of the women. An alternative would have been to be an ally to the women, and showcase their stories and their faces without any attribution to the journalist besides maybe a byline. When we recognize that we have privilege in a space, including a space where we are talking about diversity, we need to realize that with privilege comes power, and we need to give that power to those who don’t have it. We need to use that power to uplift the voices of those who are silenced.
The fight for inclusion is something that every single person in this world should care about. People around you every day are struggling with oppression, discrimination, prejudice, hate, just for being who they are. If you experience this, be strong and fight and stand tall, and there are people who support you. If you have never experienced this, try to have empathy for those who have. Together, we can make this not only a diverse world, but a inclusive, loving one.
Let me know what you think of this topic! As always, I’m open to feedback and thoughts 🙂 Thanks, Femmegades, and keep on keeping on.