The Problem(s) with Diversity Workshops

On Monday, I attended a series of mini-workshops on diversity and inclusion. In the span of a few hours, I was ready to call it quits. I was tired and irritated. Diversity talks are becoming increasingly popular and sometimes required by employers. However, I’ve concluded that these talks are merely emblematic of the bigger problem in our society- we talk a good game, but lack true action.

In these workshops, we were given handouts over the definition of diversity and why diversity is important. Honestly, most people will never say that diversity isn’t important. However, society often shows how inclusion is a tough pill to swallow. In these small, one-hour workshops, we nodded our heads to the reasons behind striving for social-equity in our classes, places of work, and etc. But we never discussed the need for diversity. We simply started the conversation on how we can become diverse and inclusive in our practices.

These workshops were relatively easy to sit through and didn’t require much critical thinking.

In efforts to appease the predominately White audience, Whiteness was never a part of the bigger picture. The concept of Whiteness was never on the table to be deconstructed. It was completely ignored. Out of sight. Out of mind.

As being a Black woman, I couldn’t ignore this huge elephant in the room. I was bewildered that this wasn’t the first point of discussion in our conversation on diversity and inclusion.

The speakers would speak about ‘the other,’ ‘voice,’ ‘cultural-relevancy,’ and etc. However, there was no mention of Whiteness and how it perpetuates the inequities that plague the lives of Black and Brown people. In order to have a true conversation over this issue, we have to contextualize the issue. There wasn’t any contextualization. The conversation continued as if there wasn’t a reason for why these social inequities persist in our society. I guess, these social inequities are just inherent.

As I shuffled between the mini-workshops, I only saw a handful of people that looked like me. Why? In a place that parades the necessity of ‘diversity’, where was this diversity?

In arriving at the rooms in which these workshops were held, I wanted to scream and pull out my own hair. I was being told the necessity of diversity by a White person in a room full of White people. I was being told that there were external organizations available that could facilitate an easier existence in the space I would occupy for work.

In the numerous diversity workshops I’ve attended in the past and present, I believe they play to lip-service and have no real impact on changing the climate of a space. If the issue of Whiteness isn’t deconstructed then the cause is lost. The content in these workshops are very sanitized and lack real depth. Inequity may be used, but the concept is very much misunderstood. In most cases, structural changes are usually not a part of the conversation.

In being a Black woman, I am deeply enraged by these workshops. I find them extremely nonsensical and unhelpful in the fight for creating equitable conditions for underrepresented and historically oppressed groups.

Diversity and inclusion are two separate concepts.

In my opinion, we must aim for both. We must aim to create, sustain and enforce new ways of including those that are continuously silence and marginalized in our society. There’s no benefit of having diversity if people are being structurally excluded.

If tokenism is the aim, diversity may be the route for you. But if you’re aiming to be inclusive, you’re digging deep to change the structures in place to create space for all voices to exist and maneuver.

 

 

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My Experiences with Double Consciousness

As I sit here reflecting on my experiences in school, I can say that I struggled the most in the suburban schools I went to. Academically, I was fine. Psychologically, I was fighting a war daily. As one of only a few Black kids in these schools, I had to trust that my parents knew what they were doing. They kept telling my brother and me that education was the way out of poverty. We needed to learn the ways of the White people. We needed to learn how to navigate this White world in our Black bodies. But every day, I had to decide who I wanted to be. With my Black friends, I could be myself, but I didn’t know which self to give to my White friends.

I remember my White bestfriend told me that her mom didn’t want her hanging out with me because I wasn’t a good influence and made F’s. I remember that phone call. On the contrary, I was an excellent student and made great grades. I met her mom and her family a few times and never had an issue. Where was this coming from? I don’t know if it was a race issue or a class issue or maybe both, but we were great friends.

After that experience, I was heartbroken. Her mom pulled me from a great friend. In these schools, race and class were issues that went unaddressed but were important to the fabric of the community. As a poor Black girl, I didn’t have the luxurious car to drive to school or the extracurricular activities that many parents would have their kids in. We didn’t have money for many things. No, we didn’t wear designer clothes but that was almost a requirement for the student body. And of course, I didn’t look white.

But this was a part of the plan- to learn how to navigate Whiteness. On top of this socialization, I had to learn how to control my tongue when teachers made racist and classist comments. I would go home and tell my parents and they would say that I had to learn when to pick my battles. It was a huge game that I felt I was losing at. I didn’t fit.

In order to keep myself from going crazy, I started gravitating towards sub-cultures- the emo kids, students of color, Muslims, LGBT community and etc. Honestly, these groups were seen as subhuman in their proximity to Whiteness, but I didn’t want to continue my fight in fitting in with White students, especially the wealthier ones. I didn’t fit. I tried straightening my hair, dying it blonde (my hair fell out), talking White by way of code-switching, wearing designer clothes I couldn’t afford nor fit, and disconnect myself from Blackness. All of these attempts failed.

I understood why my parents wanted us to go to those suburban schools. I get it. As a parent, you want the best for your kids. But in my humble opinion, I felt traumatized from those years. Doing my schoolwork was easy, but everything else was mental gymnastics.

As W.E.B DuBois called it, “double consciousness”- having to live in the world as a Black person but feeling divided into parts because of Whiteness. You try to figure out how to live in your Blackness in a world that rewards and upholds Whiteness.

Where Are You Looking?

thinkoutsidethebox

 

Over the last two months, I’ve been immersed in a certain topic. I’ve made it my priority to read all of the existing literature out there. In opening and closing different books and putting down journal articles, I was told to stop. I was told to refrain from going down the path I’ve been going down. In this rather unexpected demand, I was shook. Honestly, I didn’t understand the request. I thought I heard wrong. No, I was hearing it right.

“Lauren, I’m going to need you to suspend your readings- completely,” said my professor

“What do you mean? This is my topic. Didn’t you say we needed to review the extant literature for the literature review?”

As the answer carried itself in the air, the book in my lap had closed. He went onto the next student to hear about their research topic and their developments. As the trend continued, I was frustrated that he told me to suspend my reading. However, I was quite done with his request. So, I offered up a question.

“Excuse me, but you said that we can be on two sides of the spectrum- either objective or subjective, willing to research for change or to simply track trends,” I stated

The class was quiet. A pen couldn’t drop without its sound being heard.

“Yes, you’re correct. What do you want to be? Do you want to be an activist or a deal in scholarship,” he responded back.

“I want to do both. I want to be an activist and a scholar,” I argued.

“I understand. However, you need to be clear on what you’re saying. Your scholarship will be your vehicle for initiating change. Look, there’s been numerous scholars that has changed the world through their scholarship- the doll’s test, the stereotype threat study, etc”

I sat there. I looked dissatisfied. Maybe I was. He knew. The class felt the uneasiness. For me, I knew that the world needed a big thinker, as my undergrad Philosophy teacher said. So, I sat there. Twenty to thirty minutes later, my professor dismissed us for a break.

“Lauren, can you come here?”

Once again, I was shook. Like, what did I do now?

“Yes?”

“I understand that you’re passionate about your topic. It shows. Also, I see that you have a grasp of the topic. That’s good. However, you’re looking at it the wrong way,” he said with a stern look.

My mouth dropped.

“Look, you are saying what all of us know. You and I both know that racism and sexism exist in schools. Heck, all of us know that. That’s no surprise”

So, he started to draw an analogy on the board between patients and hospitals. He began to say that patients come into the hospital with an array of conditions. Now, on the other end, the hospital has its own things that it brings to the table. In this exchange, you have two entities/groups/populations that are either work with one another or against each other.

In bringing this full-circle with my topic, the professor said that I need to understand that schools are structures/institutions with their own beliefs and cultures. In these institutions, they function to produce something outcomes.

“Cultural hegemony, Lauren. I’m talking about hegemonic beliefs”

“I see what you’re saying. These schools function to keep out individuals or groups to produce the outcomes that they strive for. For those individuals and groups that aren’t serving the interests of the structure, they are marginalized until they are pushed out,” I exclaimed in an epiphany.

“Exactly. However, you need to bring this to your research. You need to look at the history of education, schools and teacher’s education programs. You need to understand the historical nature of why certain groups and individuals are pushed out of schools. We are talking about structures. Systems. Machines.”

“I understand. I will make sure to do the research. However, will any of this change?”

“Revolution, Lauren. Revolution.”

Week after week, I have argued and gone back and forth with my professor. We’ve butted heads about the trajectory of my research and now I understand. In life, you may think this but it could be that. You are sometimes looking in the wrong place. Sometimes, you are looking at things wrong. Sometimes, there is a bigger picture. In our fifteen-minutes break, I became aware of an issue that plagues the American landscape. I mean, I knew that schools were cultural producers of dominant values, but I didn’t have the research to back up my claims. So, my professor challenged me. He said, “research”.

In educational reforms, we hear about this new law or regulation, but we don’t hear about revolts. Well, I don’t think you will. Revolutions usually occur when the oppressed and marginalized are fed up. It’s very Marxist. The underdog bites back. The marginalized carves out space and occupy it.

So, I ask you, “Where are you looking?”