Diverse…But Not Included

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I was at a university situated in Toronto to speak to youths on the importance of pursuing post secondary education. After a long morning of speaking and fielding questions from high school students, I had the opportunity to play a little “hooky” and wander the busy university halls near the auditorium where the youths huddled for their final pep rally on education success. During my meandering, I came across a booth that was set up to address racial diversity and equity. The young woman working the booth was possibly in her late twenties. “Terri” as I will call her – was culturally mixed of West Indian origin (but predominantly an Indian background). As a university non-faculty employee, she engaged me about her work on diversity and racial equity, which I found fascinating. As she pulled me over to her booth to show me more information, I felt compelled to converse with her to understand her background and passion about this important area.

Suddenly and without a moment’s notice, there was a loud blare of hip-hop music. The heavy-bass sound came from rowdy hall where the youths were unwinding for the day. My impromptu lecturer ended class on me prematurely by strutting to meet her female friend to hear what was going on. As I stood there – a little caught off guard and feeling small because I couldn’t compete with the swagger of tunes from Jay Z and the like – I thought Terri would return to finish the conversation. If that was too difficult, I thought maybe she would say excuse me, politely end our conversation and perchance, include me in the conversation about the raucous. Unfortunately for me, she did not return; but lapped up the excitement with her colleague leaving me EXCLUDED from the fun. As I rode the afternoon train home, I pondered the morale of that odd situation. I arrived on the fact that she advocated for diversity but did not practice the art of inclusion.

Inclusion should be the goal of diversity. Contrarily, exclusion of inclusion makes diversity an ends in itself but not a vehicle to develop dialogue and build community. As virtues precede ethics/legality – analogously – inclusion precedes diversity. You cannot build an embracing community on social ethics but on virtues (some might even call it grace). Ethics only sets the parameters of relationship but not the temperature as virtues would provide. Inclusivity, the virtue of love in expression, would be the warmth for cultivating relationship.

What is the difference between inclusion and diversity you ask? Diversity, simply, is the state of having plurality of company (age, gender, race, ability etc.) within a group of people. Inclusion is the ability to create a home within your heart for that plurality of company. It is the ability to create space for the heterogeneity of values /experiences in others, and allows that person to come in and sit so to speak. You are mindful of their uniqueness and are willing to engage them for greater level of understanding. The byproduct of this inner exercise is the plurality of the company you keep – hence social diversity. In fact, the plurality of company is a condition for diversity of age, gender, race, ability etc.  I fear that diversity that is practiced by many ardent subscribers is one of ethics and not of relationship.  They practice diversity to feel good about themselves, because they are part of the ‘movement’ of social change. Unfortunately, this is self-centered and not other-centered, which is the real goal of loving inclusion.

When Terri walked away and carried out her fun without me, in my presence, she reminded me that we all practice exclusion in subtle ways. This happens daily I would say. It could be predominantly a group of men, which focuses on male talking points excluding women from engaging. It could be predominantly a group of white women that focuses on their issues, which excludes minority women from inputting. It could be predominantly group of Indians or Asians that excludes other co-workers from understanding through language.  It could be even certain activities or events we coordinate at work, at church or in the community, which inevitably eliminate those who we do not want to include. (It is covered up with the word Oops or “I’m sorry”.) Was I shut out from the aforementioned discussion with woman and her friend because I was a man? Or was I shut out because I was outside of their age group and social sphere?

Did I approach Terri at the end to let her know about her poor manners? I did. The only thing she said was sorry, she did not seem concerned to re-engage in our conversation. I recognized she said enough, and I should move on. I will not find inclusion in her space – at least not now.

Now you may be saying that I’m being hard on Terri. Possibly, but her unique role as advocate for diversity/equity lent well to the illustration and its morale. Diversity is not enough, but we need inclusion as well. We must practice inclusion by being aware of the fences that we erect around the presence of unique company. If we do not care, we will just have a force-and-synthetic mixture of people with no organic-and-genuine connection to each other. Simply put, diverse but not included.

~ Denley W. McIntosh

 

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