Some Thoughts on Diversity

Thursday, February 21, 2008
My DU class for this quarter is on Organizational Behavior, and as previously mentioned, for the most part, it's been a huge waste of time and money. One of my books should actually be entitled "How To Become a Manipulative SOB in Ten Easy Steps!" and the other "The Ultimate Cure for Insomnia!"

One of my assignments for this class is to interview individuals on an organizational behavior topic of my choice. I selected diversity, because I have an interest in it, and I was curious about how other people viewed diversity in my company.

The results have been fascinating.

The most obvious result is that people who are in non-management positions, regardless of their minority status, believe the company does a really poor job of managing diversity. People in management positions, regardless of their minority status, believe the company does a fabulous job of managing diversity.

Quite the disconnect, huh?

When I ask for details surrounding these views, the non-management types usually cite the complete lack of people of color above a certain level. The management types usually cite how very sensitive they are in terms of their own commitment to diversity.

Hmm.

The non-management types have a point. When I attend our yearly convention, I look over the auditorium during the general sessions and see a sea of white faces, with a very occasional sprinkling of color. When the leadership teams take the stage, you even lose the sprinkle. While I'm not a proponent of quotas, I still have a hard time believing that in every case, all the most qualified candidates for these top tier positions are white, and most are male. It stretches the bounds of coincidence, at least in my mind.

Another dichotomy is the effort that's made between divisions that are primarily blue collar versus those that are white collar. The organizational efforts made to manage diversity seem to be much more evident in the blue collar divisions than in the white collar divisions. Almost as if the white collar jobs are above such things, while we'll throw diversity bones to the proles.

The other aspect of my research that I find interesting is people's awareness of unearned privilege. The Angry Black Woman has done a stellar job of explaining both White Privilege and Male Privilege, so I won't get into it here, other than to say that the term "privilege" in this context doesn't refer to your socioeconomic status or stereotypes, but the assumptions the world makes about you based purely on your race and gender. It's a fundamental aspect of how you interact with the world, whether you're aware of it or not.

Which brings me to the "awareness" aspect. In my interviews, individuals who fell into a protected class, either by virtue of race or gender, were aware of unearned privilege, even if they weren't aware of the technical term for it. Individuals who did not fall into a protected class were not aware of the idea in any form. In some cases, they were not only not aware of it, they denied its very existence.

I found that last part especially telling. These individuals lack the basic empathy to even consider the idea that our society will view and react to someone different from themselves...differently. And people wonder why race and gender relations are still an issue in this country?

Everyone I interviewed was shocked to learn of the study Anne pointed us to that men think they're smarter than they are, and women think they're dumber than they are. The shock only deepened when I pointed out this type of assumption is a classic example of unearned privilege, especially when applied to other people. Amazing how that works.

My own viewpoint is a work in progress. The more I learn, the more my views evolve. I can say that I self-identify first as an American. By accident of birth, I'm a white American, and I'm now keenly aware of the advantages that accident has given me. I've purged my white liberal guilt, because I consider it an insult to people of color. I make more of an effort to inform my decisions and actions with the idea that my norm is not everyone's norm. I've worked through the idea that I'm glad I'm white. I'm grateful for the unearned privilege my accident of birth has given me, and those two feelings don't make me a racist. I feel like my privilege obligates me to be aware of it, and to make an effort to extend that privilege to others who do not fall into the same demographic.

Do I still have work to do? Of course. Do I believe I have a good idea of what it's like to be a black man, an Asian woman, a gay American? Hell, no. But I'm trying.

19 comments:

Nathan said...

Damn you Janiece,

I hate it when you post something that requires actual thought before I can post a response.

I'll get back to you later.

Janiece Murphy said...

I understand, Nathan. It took me a bit of time to write, as well.

Thoughtful answers are always appreciated!

Anne C. said...

Wow, great post, Janiece. I'm glad the link I posted was helpful (if unintentionally).

I'm still working on not feeling guilty, mainly because I wish everyone had the advantages I've had -- not so much ones of wealth or gender, but of color, yes.

One thing I've noticed in myself is that I feel happier when I see diversity around me, and correspondingly, I feel worried when I'm in a highly homogenous group. My first college experience was in a small liberal arts college that used to be a women only, and therefore only had women residents (men were commuters). Even though there was a decent amount of color diversity (this was in Maryland, which has white rural areas and black urban areas), I felt like I needed more diversity. Happily, I moved to the U of MD, which has diversity galore (not just color and gender, but sexuality and religion too).
I have to admit, that Denver's lack of diversity is one of the few things I mark in the "negatives" column about living here.

Janiece Murphy said...

Anne, The more I think about your comment about being happiest in a diverse environment, the more I think it's true for me, as well. Homogeny is just so...boring.

Tania said...

I'm with Anne - people different than you are so much more interesting.

Working at a university was a great way to find yourself surrounded by people that have only one thing in common - the pursuit of education.

Carol Elaine said...

Janiece, the nerve of you! Making us think and stuff. Harumph!

Growing up a Navy brat in the '70s, I think I grew up in pretty diverse environments, so the thought of racism is still kinda freaky to me, as is an homogeneous town (I currently live in the Los Angeles area, which is very mixed). Doesn't mean I'm not still working through my own white liberal guilt. I agree with you, Janiece, that it is an insult to people of color, but it's become deeply woven though my makeup and hard for me to kick to the curb. I'm working on it, though.

Once upon a time I lived in Simi Valley and I hated it. Though not as white as nearby Thousand Oaks, it was still pretty damned white-bread. Now I live in a community which is predominately Armenian, which is also odd for me - I'm just not used to homogeny of any kind.

Like anne c., I'm also happiest in a diverse area. It's just much more comfortable for me because that's what I'm used to. And, as you said, Janiece, homogeny is just soooo boring.

Jim Wright said...

Homogeny is just so...boring.

Exactly.

Having lived all over the world, I love diversity, and strange cultures (strange to me), and different food, and music, and languages. I can think of nothing more boring than if everybody was just like me.

Carol, I thought you lived in San Diego?

Janiece Murphy said...

Jim, if everyone was your bug-eating bitch-girl, then who would you argue with?

hehe.

Michelle K said...

One of the things I love about working where I do, is the incredible diversity of people here.

Yeah, WV is the whitest state in the nation, but Morgantown, because of the university, has people from all over the world: China, Japan, India, all over Africa, plus Europe (though not as much).

It almost makes up for the fact that I don't travel myself.

However, the state being as it is, there are a lot of people who think of themselves as bring a privileged, and in a sense, they're right. If you're poor in WV, and weren't that good in school, your job opportunities are very limited, regardless of your race.

Because of this, I've seen opposition to affirmative action. Because people don't see the effects and after effects of racism themselves, they think it doesn't exist.

Of course, these people are also surprised when told that sexism exists, so it might just be them.

Nathan said...

OK,

Here's my stab at this. Growing up in North Florida in the 60's and 70's, I led a pretty insular life. Up to and including Third Grade, I went to a private Jewish day school. I knew exactly 5 black people. They were: our maid, Elnora, the school bus driver, Moe, the school cook, Annie Mae, the school custodian, Tim, and the doorman at the downtown cafeteria we went to almost every Sunday. I never knew his name, but he always winked at me and smiled.

Notice any pattern here? As a child, up until about the age of nine, I referred to these different adults by their first names. On the one hand, the fact that I can remember their names 40 years later indicates that they had some impact on me. On the other hand I can't remember any of their last names, if I ever knew them.

Conversely, I don't remember the first names of almost any of my adult acquaintances from that time.
My reaction to this is...interesting. I know I was raised to think of racism as a bad thing, but apparently things must have been somewhat relative. While I'm certainly aware of my white privilege, I'm not going to waste time feeling guilty about it. (Incidentally, I do recall a conversation with a kid in Jr. High School in which he told me that since I was Jewish, I wasn't really white.)

My parents were very progressive in that time and place, but not so much by today's standards. A lot has changed in America since 1960 and I'd challenge anyone to say things aren't better than they were then. That doesn't mean we don't have a ways to go.

I could probably go on for quite a while, but I'll stop there.

Carol Elaine said...

Jim, I've lived/gone to school/worked in the general L.A. area since 1981 (when my dad retired from the Navy and got a job in aerospace), but my tween-early teen years were spent in San Diego (1978-1981). I've been back a few times since and like the city, but I still prefer Los Angeles.

I've lived so many places (and gone to so many schools) that I've started to use my toes to count. At least I haven't progressed to my second foot. Yet.

Janiece Murphy said...

Nathan, I agree. We have absolutely made progress - I don't think anyone disagrees with that.

It's interesting that you were told that being Jewish means you weren't "white." One of my interviewees is a young Jewish man who until very recently wore a Kippah* to work every day. His comments included his experiences surrounding the stereotyping of Jews, although his experiences at our company were positive.

In short, there's always some asshat who thinks that your difference is the one that makes you "less human."

Francis Crick, anyone?

*For some reason I can't pronounce the word "yarmulke." The young man I refer to above taught me the Yiddish word "kippah" so I could strike "yarmulke" from my lexicon and stop sounding like an ignorant goy.

Cindi in CO said...

I once heard the Irish referred to as "The Blacks of Europe".

Asshats everywhere need someone to feel superior to, or their lives are meaningless.

Janiece Murphy said...

And yet the Irish saved civilization...

Michelle K said...

Asshats everywhere need someone to feel superior to, or their lives are meaningless.

That's why WV, Kentucky, and Mississippi are allowed to stay in the union.

We make everyone feel superior

Nathan said...

I've always thought 'yarmulke' was retarded, especially since everyone I know pronounces it 'yamaka' ('ya' like 'LaLa' / 'ma' like muh / ka like kuh) Kippah, btw is pronounced "Kee-pah" and is actually Hebrew.

There I'm done educatin' all the goyim for the day.

Janiece Murphy said...

Nathan, I understand how to pronounce it - my mouth just can't. I have a mental block, or something.

Thanks for the correction on the word origin, BTW - my buddy told me it was hebrew (and also how to pronounce the word correctly), but I got the yiddish and hebrew backwards.

A work in progress...

MWT said...

As you might imagine, I have lots and lots of thoughts about this topic. I do now, and I did back when Scalzi made all those posts last summer on the same topic.

Unfortunately I've yet to figure out how to articulate any of them. So... I'll get back to you later too. Probably much more later than Nathan managed.

John the Scientist said...

I have lots of thoughts not yet ready for prime time, too. My kids will have an even different perspective, because they are going to take shit from white and yellow bigots for being half-breeds.

Knowing that, and accepting it as inevitable, and then facing it as parents, helps me and my wife prepare them for it.