Inclusion in Action, cont’d

As I said in my last post

Diversity means difference, and there is nothing more universally human than difference. Difference has consequences. Rolling a boulder up hill is very different from rolling the same boulder down hill because gravity has consequences. Similarly, thinking of and approaching difference as an obstacle, a problem to be fixed, or something to be tolerated provokes a very different experience and outcome than approaching it as a) inherent to all human interaction, and b) a rich source of value.

Diversity means difference, and difference has consequences. If we are to maximize the positive consequences and minimize the negative consequences we have to do stuff – we might call this stuff the work or the practice of inclusion.

I also, in that post, made the point that fundamental to the practice of inclusion is a certain amount of ongoing education. I did not do an adequate job of emphasizing how much of that education must be focused directly on yourself. The road to understanding others, to understanding human diversity runs directly through understanding your own identity. This can be difficult and unpleasant work, which helps explain why so many of us step around it.

I can still remember the first time I was confronted with the idea of privilege. My knee-jerk, defensive response was “oh, you don’t know who I am. Privilege? I don’t think so.” I do, and have benefited from a tremendous amount of privilege, but it was very hard for me to see it because it challenged the beliefs that I had about myself and the world. I grew up on a working family farm, keyword working. I spent four years on active duty in the United States Marine Corps, in the infantry no less. I worked at least one part time job while attending college, etc. – I did not feel like much had been handed to me. But that is not what privilege, properly understood, is about. Eventually I came to understand the unearned advantages and disadvantages that accompany our social identities – and it changed my view of myself and it sent me in a very different direction personally and professionally.

Sincere, sustainable behavior change requires a certain amount of identity change. I do not think that a smart, shiny business case has ever provoked real change – but I have both experienced and seen, over and over again, real change as a result of people getting greater clarity around who they are, what their real values and priorities are, and how all of that stuff connects to diversity and inclusion.

Be good to each other.

  1. Nathan Howell

    Joe, I’ve got a question about what you mean when you say Privilege. I think that most people that use this term mean White Privilege, and whether they mean to or not, the result for most white people like myself is a tendency to simply feel guilty about any privileged or beneficial treatment which was given to me at any point in time.

    Besides this, I think may main issue with the language frequently used to describe “privilege” is that what is often used as examples of privilege (favorable treatment in jobs, not being bothered excessively by law enforcement, being welcomed into social circles), these are all things that everyone no matter who they are should expect to receive just for being a human. Thinking of it as privilege indicates to me that these things are “extra” or perhaps can be lost if you don’t behave right. It makes me think on the idea that minorities might have to “earn” these things while they are just given to me. I would agree that no one should have to earn fair treatment, respect, inclusion, and being genuinely enjoyed by others. But I’m not going to feel guilt that things were given to me, even if they were given to me because I’m white. I think it more important to spend my time giving those things to others and convincing those around me to consider when they are not simply giving those “privileged” considerations to others just because they are humans. Being cognizant that this has not always been done historically is important. But sulking around feeling guilty about having them given to you doesn’t accomplish the goal of them being freely given to others.

    So what do you mean when you say Privilege? The word is so loaded to me me nowadays that it is hard to converse with anyone about it meaningfully without saying what they think that word means.

  2. Joe Gerstandt

    Sorry for the slow response Nathan, I have not been terribly attentive to my blog. When I use the word privilege what I mean is “unearned social advantage.” Nothing to feel guilty about as it is not a product of anything you have done or not done, but rather a product of the social groups that we belong to. White Privilege, for example, means that in some situations your race gives you a certain amount of unearned advantage. Does not mean that you have not faced and overcome adversity or had challenges…it means that your race has not been one of them.

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