There’s been much chatter recently about how “diversity” is rapidly becoming a meaningless term. I admit that I bristle at this claim every time it’s made, because I’ve usually felt that “diversity” was a pretty good shorthand for providing opportunities for people of color, marginalized gender identity, or sexual orientation. But then I saw one too many comments/tweets/what have you about how “diversity” is being used to refer to any difference between people, whether that’s geographical difference (which can be valid), a difference in political ideology (lol wut), or, like, someone who likes pilates instead of P90X.
I kind of faded to black and when I shook myself out of it, this post had generated itself.
Come on a journey with me.
Sometimes, when I’m in a particularly bad mood, this brouhaha over “diversity” starts sounding like the discussion about “basic” all over again. For a summary, go here and read: CLICKITY CLICK.
(Briefest summary of all: White ppl, stop misusing words and then protesting that those words are now problematic. Instead of checking those words, can you check your fellow white people? Thx.)
Anyway, that generally only happens when I’m in a very bad mood, because more and more people have been critiquing the use of “diversity” as the end-all, be-all of creating spaces and organizations that allow people from marginalized groups to flourish. Even if we adhere to a definition of diversity that specifically denotes that we’re working to provide opportunities and space for marginalized people (POC, marginalized gender identities, the poor, to name a few), that term, “diversity,” isn’t enough on its own.
And, frankly, they have a point. All diversity means, on a basic (heh) level, is the presence of marginalized people. And presence isn’t what we’ve been fighting for.
For any diverse space to allow marginalized people to flourish, there needs to be a culture of inclusion. This means that you (YES YOU) need to be dedicated to producing an environment in which marginalized people can succeed.
The classic and cliched example of this is the golf party at work that only men attend. You’ve heard this story before: all the male first year associates go golfing with the managers every other Friday, just ghost of out the office at 5. All of the women are left behind, scratching their heads.
This is not inclusion. This is, in fact, the opposite of inclusion. When you have an environment that throws up roadblocks against marginalized peoples’ successful participation in routine activities, you’re screwing up.
This also means that you (YES YOU) need to make decisions on the basis of whether they will provide necessary support for the marginalized people in your organization, group, club, whateva. Why? Because in all likelihood, you have never done so before and have instead created a long history of terribad microaggressions. (Which are just like being nibbled to death by those little fish that eat dead skin off people. Microaggressions suck.) Accept that you are a fallible human like the rest of us and try to do better.
Inclusion is, I admit, a tricky line to walk. You don’t want to go up to people and be all, “ARE YOU COMFORTABLE IN THIS SPACE???” Instead, try to make yourself available in subtle ways. Talk to them regularly, offer them chances to get to know you, offer mentorship opportunities (especially if you can mentor them yourself!!!), and, above all, if someone comes up to you with a qualm or question or a tale of an exchange with another human being that made them feel poorly, for the love of God do not react defensively. Say, “I’m sorry that happened to you. Do you need anything?” Or, if you’re in a position to do something about it, “I’m sorry that happened to you. What would you like me to do to fix this?”
I personally believe that without access, diversity and inclusion are kind of moot. Access is probably most easily understood by taking the unpaid internship as an example. If you’re not offering pay for labor, you inevitably end up in a situation where only people who can afford to work for free are going to have that opportunity.
Improving access means reducing the number of barriers that prevent people who are not, to be totally blunt here, already consolidated into the vastly over-hyped and largely illusory idea of the American upper middle class. This illusion suggests that everyone has some amount of disposable income, is able-bodied, is not discriminated against, and has generally been afforded an okay number of opportunities.
Put some fucking ramps in your convention space.
Do some fucking double-blind auditions for your orchestra.
Remove applicants’ names, genders, addresses, and other identifying information from whatever work they have to submit to get that grant.
Hire a goddamn ASL interpreter. Just do it.
Those barriers are in our brains as well as in our spaces. They’re in our submission guidelines, our application guidelines. These are designed to be barriers for entry under the guise that we’re weeding out the people who are unqualified, or the people who aren’t “dedicated,” but in reality we end up weeding out people who have fewer resources, whether they be monetary, social, or spoony.
These access issues will invariably decrease the diversity of your organization and invariably create an exclusionary environment.
Your $20 submission fee is a barrier to entry for someone who needs that $20 to spend on food. They’re not going to apply. They’re going to miss that opportunity.
If they can’t get into the building, they’re not going to go. They’re going to miss those opportunities.
Make 2016 Not Suck
Look, I know we’re not going to fix everything over night. And I know I’ve been harshing on criticisms of “diversity” and I should probably stop. But honestly, I was being harsh because I thought everyone understood that diversity cannot happen without inclusion and access, and like, I was wrong? If people are fundamentally misunderstanding what “diversity” was meant to mean, then we need to start talking explicitly, loudly, about inclusion and access. Because these are all components of the Trifecta of Not Suck.
And I think we can all agree that less suck is better.