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Friday, February 13, 2009

Fostering Inclusion

Cynthia Tucker wrote a very thought-provoking editorial last Sunday about how officially setting aside one month of the year as Black History Month simply reinforces that the history and achievements of those of African descent in this country somehow isn't a part of American History. The same could be said of Women's History, and probably other groups. The goal initially was important--to raise people's awareness of that history, but the process ends up perpetuating the "otherness" of that group.

I have been struck recently by a similar phenomenon at events. Sponsorship by an organization linked with race or gender leads to attendance almost exclusively by members of that group, despite wide advertisement and the clear communication that the subject of the event would focus on issues of wide interest. Few men come to the women's bar group seminar on communicating effectively across generations. Few white people come to the same seminar sponsored by a group of minority lawyers. Even worse, sometimes when broad-based organizations hold events to commemorate or celebrate something linked with a non-Anglo race/ethnicity/national origin, women, or sexual minorities, white people, men, and straight people tend not to go. And even though it's probably not due to any intentional slight, often the non-attendance seems to be a rejection of the group or the thing commemorated.

So how might we foster inclusion in the face of what is well-meant, but counterproductive, in the case of Black History Month or the events I mention, or because of inertia, as may be the case for at least some types of events?

Posted by Marcia L. McCormick on February 13, 2009 at 05:15 PM in Culture | Permalink


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Isn't it funny how when the strite (straight white male) asks where is their interest group? The response usually given in the corporate circles that I've seen is, "well you don't have to be (black, gay, female) to be part of an interest group." Isn't that the same rediculous mindset that strites had back at the turn of the 20th century when African Americans and Women wanted to discuss equal rights?

Admittedly thick-headed, I don't see how the word inclusion applies. If the goal is to include everyone, then doesn't that make the word inclusion invalid? Isn't that like saying we invite everyone to be part of the everyone group? But wait, not everyone IS included... hmm

Inclusion - another buzzword gingerly targeting a tougher topic

Posted by: CC | May 7, 2009 2:43:13 PM

If the claim is that promoting the achievements of a particular group necessarily requires some "singling out" of that group, I would agree.

On the other hand, this may be considered to be a good thing by persons who have a vested interest in maintaining group identity. E.g. "women's history" is $$ for "women's history" profs. Further, maintaining the separation helps to reinforce the notion that American society is white and patriarchal, and so helps to discharge victimhood endorphins.

Posted by: AndyK | Feb 14, 2009 7:13:21 PM

Efforts at promoting diversity may instead promote social isolation. One example is the obligatory Diversity Committee at the Big Law firm. Given the time constraints of working in Big Law, one has only so much time to devote to committees. By working on the Diversity Committee, one is deprived of the opportunity and the time to serve on other committees. Furthermore, the signaling value of having chosen the Diversity Committee is comparatively low. It is not a benefit to be perceived as having chosen to obsess about racial matters rather than work on real issues. Worse still, because having a Diversity Committee is a boon to the firm's marketing and recruitment efforts ("Look, we have a Diversity Committee and minorities who voluntarily serve on it!"), as it signals to recruits that the firm culture is utopian and egalitarian, minorities may be coerced onto it. As a result, the particular interests of individuals who happen to be minorities are subordinated to the diversity mandate of the firm; ironically, true diversity would empower rather than subordinate individuals who are members of minority groups.

Part of the problem may be that liberals, who care about inclusion, have a particular conception of cognitive bias or prejudice that is under-inclusive. One could fairly claim that a stereotypical presumption constitutes prejudice whether benign or invidious; it may be benign to presume a racial minority is deeply vested in social justice or a woman is deeply vested in issues of gender equality, but it is still prejudicial. To the extent that prejudice is unquestioned and drives attitudes and behavior, it may create a hostile environment where compliance to identity-destroying norms is expected. You cannot include people by presuming away their valid existence.

The way to foster inclusion, one might argue, is to be inclusive. An event that is inclusive has no political imperatives at all. It has a very simple declaration across its flyers: "Free Beer!"

Posted by: Jack Krevins | Feb 14, 2009 11:06:07 AM

I have made a similar observation with regard to the shift from integration to diversity. Integration suggests that if we spend time together we will realize that we are the same in the way that all humans are the same. Diversity suggests that we should focus on the ways that we are different. The forced move to diversity, by the court's rejection of integration, seems to me to have counterproductive elements similar to those mentioned above, though more subtle, despite the very obvious value of diversity. I have actually been meaning for some time to see if anyone has written about this particular way of looking at the shift from integration to diversity.

Posted by: Andrew Boese | Feb 13, 2009 7:50:26 PM

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