The “Diversity” Deception: Accomplishing True Inclusion when Diversity is Often a Mirage-in-the-Desert Facing African Americans
By Section Chair Wilson Adam Schooley
Kress Department store in Montgomery, Alabama etched indelibly, and eternally, into solid marble that “colored” could never drink from “white” water fountains. Years later, how far are we from overcoming the permanence of that etched-in-marble prejudice? We’ll come back to that question.
We hear a lot these days about achieving “diversity.” In our workplaces, our schools, our organizations, our society. But we don’t, as a society, think enough about what achieving diversity really means.
What is the goal of diversity?
Answering that question starts with asking this one: What is the circumstance that led us to seek diversity—the precipitating reason we seek it?
Is it that, living in an ideal world, we want to fill in colors of the rainbow so we have the full spectrum represented to make us all feel good, and for our office photographs?
Or is it that we live in a country that has systematically excluded and discriminated against people of color just because of their color, and we are long, long overdue not just to balance the scales, but to ensure recompense for centuries of opportunities lost?
The answer, of course, is we are not merely endeavoring to have a happy variety of folks that will make all our lives more interesting and vibrant. We are trying to rectify and repair centuries of intentionally invidious exclusionary racism against particular peoples.
So, why do we—or why should we—seek “diversity”? To make white people feel good about having a variety of faces included? Or to not only “include” a variety of people, but actually include those people, and
So, we need to employ what I would call dynamic diversity, or “inclusion.” In other words, much more aggressive and inclusive efforts to
We need to acknowledge that treating unequally positioned people equally does not create equality. Bringing African Americans into a group in a number proportional to their percentage in the
“Diversity” has come to be an almost empty word wielded by corporations and entities to burnish their image. A euphemism. Companies and schools plan to “diversify” instead of consciously striving to overcome centuries of racist exclusion. Inclusion is about people long excluded finally feeling and being recognized, valued, and welcomed. Inclusion does not necessarily flow from “diversity.” Millions of dollars can
It is easy to get lost in, or fooled by, the terminology in this area (e.g., affirmative action versus reverse discrimination). So, we should not use words like diversity without being honest about what must really be achieved to reach justice. We have to look at the underlying problem, and what we need to do to solve it.
The purpose of diversity, or of pursuing diversity, is to rectify historic imbalances and to rectify historic wrongs. No group has been more wronged in and by this country
Even after decades of affirmative action, Black and Hispanic students are more underrepresented at the nation’s top colleges and universities than they were 35 years ago, according to a New York Times analysis.
A study by researchers at Stanford, Harvard
Black wealth in the U.S. is five percent of
The parade of stark statistics marches on, and all of those statistics belie the now widely-held belief that class, not
Affirming the emotional truth of the statistics are personal stories. Just last
There is a lot of
Standing in the way of our achieving true African American inclusion is not just the blatant and overt racism we have seen resurfacing in the current political climate. Perhaps even more
Conveniently for most white Americans, being white means not having—or having to worry about—a racial identity. It means living and experiencing the world as an individual. Essentially, white people in this country don’t have to think about race except in the abstract. We white folks have no real idea of what it is like to be Black in America. We don’t have to make the daily, infinitesimal adjustments African Americans do in order to live while black in a white country—to achieve in education and employment, all while making white people feel comfortable around them. We wholly lack the instinctive, reactive muscle memory of America’s perpetrated evil and promise betrayed. The privileges of whiteness produce a societal resistance to comprehending the soul-toll taken by racism.
As a result, many apparently well-intentioned white Americans who outwardly support “diversity” balk at dynamic diversity—at any efforts that, for example, produce African American inclusion at rates greater than their percentage of the population or that prefer black candidates over white candidates.
Theirs is essentially the “reverse discrimination” argument. In other words, it is the notion that we should now treat all people equally—even though all people are not equally positioned. Any efforts to balance these egregiously unbalanced racial scales are seen as “reverse discrimination.” There was a recent viral social media post that said something like: “I didn’t own any slaves, you didn’t pick any cotton. Case closed.”
That viewpoint is wrong on the face of the undisputed facts—the statistics of African American employment, education, incarceration, and victimization in the U.S. You can’t promote and celebrate “letting everyone run” in a supposedly fair 100-yard dash if some of those newly allowed to enter the race
Plain and simple, the problem is not one afflicting white folks. That doesn’t mean white folks don’t have problems. It just means America did not enslave them for 250 years and then systematically terrorize and oppress them for 150 more.
This is a topic about which I’m passionate. I am likely not the best person to talk about it both because I feel so strongly, and because I’m white—so even with my strong feelings, I cannot fully comprehend or articulate how difficult it still is to be Black. This, though, is a deficit of understanding the white folks who balk at dynamic diversity efforts clearly share, however good-hearted and well-intentioned they otherwise may be.
In his last book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” (1967), Martin Luther King wrote: “The majority of white Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice for the Negro….They believe that America is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth toward a middle-class utopia embodying racial harmony. But
Dr. King’s words then still ring true
In the wake of both President Obama, whose election made people believe we were in a post-racial, or post-assimilation, society, and President Trump, who has shown us how stark is that lie, Dr. King’s words are truer than ever.
Half of all Americans, 57 percent of the white population, and 66 percent of the white
But the myth of reverse racism is just that, a myth, utterly unsupported by the facts. White students remain
Data shows affirmative action is the primary reason enrollment stays even approximately representative of America’s racial demographics. Colleges in states that bar affirmative-action are less representative of state demographics than colleges that allow consideration of race. Colorblind policies that take into account socioeconomic status, rather than race, result in less racial diversity. Without Affirmative Action it is likely the percentage of Black students on campus would fall below two percent.
Why? This brings us back to the question posed at the start of this column: Years after the segregated water fountains you saw in the Alabama photograph above, how far are we from overcoming the permanence of that etched-in-marble racism against African Americans? How far away we are as a country from coming to terms with, much less resolving, the deep and fearsomely enduring legacy of our having stolen, enslaved, and oppressed a race of people 400 years ago.
Today, African Americans are unemployed at twice the rate of whites and have half the median family income, and only five percent white wealth. Deep and entrenched disparities remain between whites and blacks on income, college-graduation levels, employment, and incarceration.
As historian Roger Wilkins has pointed out in 1995, Black Americans have a 400-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100-plus involving legalized discrimination, and a fraction of that involving anything else.
Or, as the poet Morgan Parker poignantly put it: “American slavery, the event, begot American white supremacy, the psychology. That psychology provides white Americans with privilege, power and the benefit of the doubt. Meanwhile, black Americans don’t and will never know their real names; commercials for Ancestry.com feel like a personal attack; we are expected to prove to our government that we ‘matter’; and we fear that, in the event of our death, our life will be scrutinized and we will be presumed guilty. Sometimes I think my depression is the most normal thing about me. We should all get therapy. We could call it reparations.”
Our Section’s 2018 Fall Meeting
In this context, treating everyone “equally,” when everyone has not been treated equally for 400 years and are not yet close to equality of status, does not result in equality.
We have a long road still to travel to arrive at racial equality in this country. Racism is baked into America’s DNA. It was written into the Constitution. And it goes much deeper than that. It is a yeast-like institutional and cultural ingredient that keeps rising, but which people too often do not see. The Confederate States of America were overtly founded on racial supremacy. The Confederacy lost the
In such a world, we cannot settle for lip-service to “diversity” a watered-down word adopted and drained of meaning by entities wielding it as a way to paper over deeper inequities with superficial showings of “rainbows.”
We should, instead, embrace an intensive commitment to vigorous and true inclusion. So, for example, we should strive for dynamic chronological diversity—diversity over the years, as well as in a year. If you’ve had 400 years of all or almost all white groups, it hardly seems unfair that there be at least some years of all or almost all Black or all Latino or all Native American groups.
The New York Times just published a piece explaining that though New York City has tried to desegregate its schools since Brown v. Board of Education, the school system is still among the most segregated in the nation. As a result, some Black parents in Bedford-Stuyvesant are pursuing an alternative to integration and “diversity”: Afrocentric schools, which “have been championed by Black educators who had traumatic experiences with integration as far back as the 1960s and by young Black families who say they recently experienced coded racism and marginalization in integrated schools.”
According to a member of the newly formed group of Brooklyn parents, Parenting While Black:
Do we as a bar association, and as a Section, want to pay lip service to flawed and superficial terminology, like “diversity,” or do we want to take the lead in aggressively tackling the historic inequities—as a Civil Rights Section should?
In the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice, we
True diversity, I feel strongly, means that since we have had decades—centuries—of all or mostly white groups, it’s only fair we have years of mostly or all black groups. I wouldn’t call that a “lack of diversity.” I’d call that a drop in the bucket, long overdue.