Diversity and Justice at the Supreme Court
by Frank H. Wu
Letter from the Chair, José E. Gaitán
Hopwood v. State of Texas: Retreat from the Supreme Court Ruling in Bakke
by Leo J. Jordan
Valuing Diversity - A Given?
by Keith Earley
Affirmative Action: Define "Qualifications" from Diverse Viewpoints
by Dale F. Rubin
1999 Spirit of Excellence Awards
by Charisse R. Lillie
1999 Annual Meeting Schedule
An open letter to Minority Counsel Program supporters
M y position as a corporate lawyer supporting my company’s human resources (HR) function affords me many opportunities to address a full range of employment matters, including those relating to EEO compliance, affirmative action and diversity. I have attended diversity training and have had numerous discussions with HR professionals regarding the topic. I also have been involved in coordinating diversity presentations with the American Bar Association’s Commission on Opportunities for Minorities in the Profession. Thus, like many employment lawyers, I believe I have developed a context from which I gain better perspective regarding diversity issues. Perhaps as important, I have assumed that as an African American, I have a natural resonance with diversity issues because of the history of oppression and exclusion of African Americans in this country.
But how much do I really understand about diversity? I have not devoted meaningful time to studying the technical underpinnings of diversity. I have some, but not an extensive level of, knowledge regarding the evolution of diversity theory, its impact on organizational dynamics, diversity models or the psychodynamic issues impacting diversity. Moreover, any meaningful discussion of diversity requires each of us to "work the issues" and probably experience some degree of discomfort. While this is true for those who have engaged in oppressive behavior, it is also true for those who have been historically excluded.
As minorities, how many of us continue to hold on to feelings of distrust and have difficulty forgiving those who have engaged in oppressive behavior? How many of us have created a "hierarchy of isms" to evaluate and understand the dimensions of diversity? This construct allows us to place our defining qualities at the forefront of any discussions regarding the importance of diversity. If you are an African American, for example, do you have a sense of moral superiority over members of the groups that have oppressed African Americans?
While you may understand and be sympathetic to concerns regarding exclusion of others based on gender, age, physical ability, sexual orientation and other dimensions of diversity, are you inclined to view issues involving racial exclusion as more insidious than any other type of exclusion? If so, you may exhibit a constricted view of the importance of diversity and its implications.
The juxtaposition of our presumed enlightenment around diversity issues with the reality of our own lack of understanding and indifference brings us face to face with the difficulties we confront when we seek to promote and model desired behavior. The baggage we bring is our emotional, psychological and even spiritual frame of reference. That frame of reference is the basis for evaluating and judging the attitudes and behavior of others who are different.
The failure to be wedded fully to openness and acceptance is problematic because it can cause diversity initiatives to take on a "flavor of the month" character from which individuals, groups and organizations can retreat when it is expedient to do so. Exclusion and denial of opportunity can be based on any one (or more) of the differences that define us. That is why it is important to view diversity from as broad a perspective as possible. By understanding that as human beings we are more alike than we sometimes think, we can look beyond our differences.
This does not eliminate the need to continue to focus on remedying the effects of past discrimination and oppression against racial and ethnic minorities in this country. It is clear that the impact of exclusion has had the most profound effect on race relations. Moreover, it is myopic and dangerous to assume that racial issues are not among the most significant issues that we must confront as individuals, in organizations and as a country. The stark reality is that organizations do not exist in a vacuum. People are affected by the problems that exist outside of our companies. For this reason, we must continue to struggle against the historical oppression of racial and ethnic minorities and its present-day manifestations.
There is a significant difference between groups that have been systematically excluded and denied and those that have not. While individuals in either group can champion inclusion, those in "one-up" groups must come to grips with the reality that the cost of promoting inclusion may be the loss of privilege, prestige, and comfort. Individualism and com-petition characterize the attitudes of many white males—the ones who typically dominate organizations— and it is a phenomenon that militates strongly against the loss of privilege. This translates into blind belief in meritocracy, a lack of comfort with minority cohesiveness and it explains the active and passive resistance to initiatives that are perceived as threatening to the status quo.
We must dedicate ourselves to the goal of diversity and inclusion for persons of color. To that end, our challenge is to act with courage and integrity. We must persevere over the forces of racial intolerance, indifference, and the defenders of the racial status quo.
Mr. Earley is chair of the Minority In-House Counsel Group.
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