A taxonomy of diversity speak

25 Sep

A Ph.D. student recently contacted me to talk about my work and intersections with her field of research, and once again, I found myself doing that initial lexicon dance that’s so vital in this field to verify whether I’m talking with someone about the same or different ideas.

As someone who is perpetually involved in this dance (and occasionally adding new moves to it), I offer this taxonomy of diversity terms as an example of research-based and intentional language that I use consistently and systemically in my work. I’m not proposing these definitions as the right ones, or the ones you should be using. I’m offering them as a well-founded reference point, with the question: so what do you mean when you talk about diversityequityinclusionculturalcompetencyandsocialjustice?

Diversity refers to differences in those aspects of our identities that on a group level impact access to resources and opportunities, privileges and disadvantages, and status in communities. Diversity includes normative and majority groups. Diversity is not a synonym for minority groups or people who are stereotyped as being disadvantaged. Thus, if you want to talk about a specific group of people, it’s clearer and simply accurate to just say so.

We talk about diversity because it both enriches our lives (more on that in an upcoming post) and because it correlates with social inequities among groups of people that are predicated on accident of birth: that is, whether or not they happened to get born into the right, good, favored, normal or simply default social group (see Steven Jones’ “The Right Hand of Privilege” thoughtpaper for more: http://www.jonesandassociatesconsulting.com/The_Right_Hand_of_Privilege_ThoughtPaper.pdf). This is privilege: unearned social advantage in the form of entitlement to resources, opportunities and preferential treatment; and freedom or immunity from stigma, presumption of deficit or additional hurdles–just because of how you got born. Guilt and shame don’t negate privilege; they often just disable us from using that privilege to effect greater equity. (And if we don’t use our privilege intentionally, it still has a social effect.)

So we talk about the fact of diversity because we care about equity, which is fairness, not just for individuals, but for whole groups of people who co-exist. Equity isn’t making things equal for everyone, or making everything nice and perfect for each individual. Equity is dismantling norms, practices, attitudes and policies that unfairly favor some over others–not just for the good of those who are disfavored, but for the collective good: a society benefits when everyone in it has a fair shot at thriving.

If we care about equity not just as a concept but as a social possibility, then we define, enact and create accountability for cultural competency, which is the understandings, skills, habits of heart and mind, default practices, tools and discernment that help us shift the natural tendency of social inequity toward an intentional set point of fairness that benefits our community’s vision, goals and members.

In this process of grappling with equity and articulating cultural competency, communities necessarily reckon with their diversity bandwidth and actual or preferred limits of inclusion. This is to say that most groups don’t really intend to be 100%, all-around welcoming and empowering of all identities. (The difference between just welcoming and being inclusive is that you welcome someone into your home, and it’s still your home. When you include someone, you share ownership and accountability of the space you cohabit.) The truth is, most organizations and groups define and perpetuate themselves in part by exclusion, whether intentional or not–for example, workplaces that are friendly to liberal but not conservative politics (or vice versa), or schools that only communicate with families in English. I bring these up not as examples of right or wrong practice, but to suggest that part of equity and inclusion work is recognizing what your group’s operative biases, exclusions and inequities are, and then discerning how helpful or bona fide they are in fulfilling your organization’s mission.

Social justice is both the vision and the inclusive process of cultivating equity for individual and collective thriving, through individual, community and institutional understanding, communication and discerning action.

… or maybe “Yes, and…”

22 Sep

People sometimes understandably think my consultancy, Blink Consulting, is an homage to Malcolm Gladwell. Not so, even though I draw from his work and have all his books. For the record, I also appreciate critiques of Gladwell-ian journalism: I think this perspective (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/30/we-need-to-talk-about-ted) from Benjamin Bratton is spot on–and his delivery is a great example of the medium is the message.

All that said, I frequently cite Gladwell’s coverage of the “10,000 hour rule,” which is why a colleague forwarded the article “New Study Destroys Malcolm Gladwell’s Famous ‘10,000 Hour Rule'” (http://www.businessinsider.in/New-Study-Destroys-Malcolm-Gladwells-Famous-10000-Hour-Rule/articleshow/37721084.cms) to me. Clearly a must read!

Based on the title alone, I thought: oh no. I’ve cited completely erroneous research for my clients. Not good for them, not good for the validity of diversity as a field, not good for my legitimacy as a professional.

But I should also have known from the title that this article was going for a bit of drama. If you haven’t read it, please do, and here are some of my thoughts:

  1. It’s not Gladwell’s rule. He’s just (as always) writing about other people’s research, including: K. Ericsson, D. Levitin and R. Weisberg. In fact, as far as I can tell, it’s Levitin whom the article should call to task, as he’s the one who asserts, “The emerging picture from such studies [as those conducted more narrowly by researchers like Ericsson and Weisberg, who studied professional v. amateur musicians, and the Beatles, respectively] is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert–in anything” (Gladwell, Outliers).
  2. Making this about “destroying Gladwell’s rule” is recklessly and inaccurately positioning the dialogue as an either-or, (the “No, but…” upon which intellectualism is all too often based and perpetuates). I’m not suggesting that we thoughtlessly embrace all bunk theories that precede us (the moon is not made of cheese, and the world is not flat); I’m suggesting that thoughtless rejection or acceptance of any knowledge, established or newly pioneered is not only unhelpful: it’s a dangerous habit of mind and heart that threatens our discernment as it rusts our capacity for complex integrative thinking. The fact is that sometimes what new research brings to light is a “yes, and” rather than total destruction, as Brooke Macnamara, the principal researcher of this allegedly Gladwell destroying study, herself concludes: “There is no doubt that deliberate practice is important, from both a statistical and a theoretical perspective. It is just less important than has been argued. For scientists, the important question now is, what else matters?”
  3. What Princeton researchers have added to the work that inspired their study “Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports, Education, and Professions: A Meta-Analysis” is an unsurprising and welcome perforation of Levitin’s absolutism about 10,000 hrs of practice. In their words “We found that deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions. We conclude that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued” (http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/06/30/0956797614535810.abstract). One of the important insights this study provides is that the importance of deliberate practice varies, depending on how “stable” (i.e. having fixed rules) a domain or industry is. In other words, what to practice and how much is less clear for entrepreneurs than it is for marathoners.

Where this all leaves me, is not at all torn between studies. This body of research, which is thankfully still growing and unafraid to examine its inherent assumptions and biases, gives me more ability to articulate why 10,000 hours of individual and collective cultural competency practice is a good idea for schools and other organizations that care about inclusion and equity. Cultural competency isn’t alchemy, magic or an innate state of being. Cultural competency is a fairly stable set of skills, habits of heart and mind and default practices that it can only help to practice deliberately–and that’s key: deliberate, not just presumed or unexamined practice. Because I imagine there is or will be research to back up the theory that 10,000 hours of malpractice matters when it comes to mastery, too.

**Thanks to SM for the article.

A professional learning community for educators of color

4 Sep

Welcome (back) to the new school year! A quick post this am about an opportunity for leaders of color in education. I’m teaming up with Steve Morris, Head of the San Francisco School, again this year to facilitate a professional learning community for educational leaders of color.

You may be wondering… Why a group specifically for leaders of color? And isn’t white a color?

To the first question: We learn best in a variety of occasions, including groups that offer different experiences of affinity and diversity. And the thing about any affinity group is that it still includes tremendous diversity of all the other aspects of our identities, which for this group include: sex, socioeconomic status, position/role in schools, professional goal, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, family, education, gender, size, abilities and background. To start.

Why a racial affinity group? Because race is one of the aspects of identity that shapes our interactions with others and our experiences in communities, including: status, access to resources and opportunities, and privileges and disadvantages. Research bears this out at a group level (which is to say, individuals, of course, have unique experiences; and, there are trends and patterns at the group level that indicate normative experience for different racial groups socially, professionally and publicly). Anecdotally, the response to this affinity offering (last year and this year) seems to confirm that this is a valued, useful experience.

And yes, white is a color. We’re not consistent with that understanding, though. And while I stand by the fact that “diversity” includes everyone and all identities, including the majority or norm (without whom there is no perceived “other”), I challenge applying that inclusive definition only to create greater access to the parts of the conversation about diversity that are desirable to participate in. We’re all in all of this together. And what that entails is sometimes affinitizing to help us come together as a diverse community with more awareness, skills and discernment. To that end, Steve and I have added this professional affinity space to BATDC’s other affinity offerings (for new leaders, experience administrators and women). And I hope to see more affinity opportunities for more of the identities that shape our social and professional experiences in education.

About the LOC PLC (Leaders of color professional learning community):

Offered through the Bay Area Teacher Development Collaborative, this dialogue series is an opportunity for educators of color to explore their leadership visions, opportunities, and aspirations within and beyond independent schools. For experienced, emerging and questioning leaders of color at all stages of their careers, this yearlong series will offer participants time and support to:

  • Clarify their visions and goals as educators,
  • Identify core leadership competencies and challenges,
  • Design their own professional growth plans, and
  • Network and build vital personal and professional relationships.

With the intention of knowing and sustaining ourselves in our careers, we will lean into case studies; reflect on our own experiences; talk frankly about the challenges, opportunities and expectations for leaders of color; recognize our personal growth edges; and drill down on the skills and knowledge we have and need to thrive on our diverse professional paths.

For educators of color who want to be effective, transformative, and ever-growing in their profession, these working conversations will include all aspects of who we are as leaders and the complexity of the communities in which we work.

Meeting dates: October 22, November 7, January 14, March 11;
Meeting times: 10:00-2:00  (Additional Social Networking Event: February 5, 5:00-6:30)
Location: The San Francisco School
Cost: $1450 per participant; ($2100 for non-members)

To register, please go to: http://www.batdc.org/workshop/leaders-of-color/ (and click on “Register”).

This summer

24 Jun

Watching the PBS special “Freedom Summer” about the summer of 1964 when black and white US Americans (and perhaps US Americans of other races?) came together to fight for voter registration and education in Mississippi.

If you’re missing it, track it down and watch it later this summer. The courage and conviction of the folks who stood up for equal voting rights is awesome (and I do mean “awesome” in the traditional sense of inspiring awe). And the question I am now asking myself is: this summer, what am I standing up for?

Instead of “politically correct”

2 Jun

In his critique of Adam’s Sandler’s latest film, critic A.O. Scott of the NY Times, inserts a small but paradigm-shifting statement:

The politically correct scold in me — though I prefer the phrase “thinking human being” — may object to all those [racist, sexist, heterosexist, classist] lapses [in the movie] and more like them, but in my capacity as a film critic, I find myself more bothered by the sheer audience-insulting incompetence of the filmmaking and the writing (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/23/movies/adam-sandler-and-drew-barrymore-in-blended.html?smid=tw-share&_r=1).

First of all, I like that. In leaping to the excesses of political correctness, I’ve found that people all too often overlook the worthwhile kernel within PC, which is thinking. Thinking about what we assume and presume, thinking about our frames of reference, thinking about the cultural and systemic prejudices and inequities that are the context of our individual words and actions, and thinking about the impact–not just the intent–of what we say and do. So here’s to “thinking human beings.”

But even as Scott acknowledges the problem with the movie’s “retrograde gender politics; its delight in the humiliation of children; its sentimental hypocrisy about male behavior; its quasi-zoological depiction of Africans as servile, dancing, drum-playing simpletons,” he dismisses it all as secondary to “the sheer audience-insulting incompetence of the filmmaking and the writing.” This puzzles me because I see the two as intertwined.

Yes, I realize that Scott is talking about the crafts of screenwriting and filmmaking. And sometimes craft can be strong while social awareness is not. But in this case, craft appears to suffer the same stunted, derivative, ignorant mindset that informs the film’s political incorrectness. In this film, both craft and content show all the hallmarks of the unthinking human being.

And the reason this bugs me enough to bother writing about one line in a movie review for a film I’m not even going to see is because all too often, we segregate identity, diversity and social justice issues from the presumed “real” considerations of a thing, whether that thing is a film, curriculum, admissions or a trial verdict. We presume that notions like craft, truth, beauty and merit transcend social issues like bias, prejudice and everyday sanctioned discrimination. When we should actually be interrogating how (not whether) bias, prejudice and everyday sanctioned discrimination shape those notions of ours.

That Jeopardy guy really is smart

30 May

Following today’s earlier post about violence against women, I’d like to share excerpts from Jeopardy champ Arthur Chu’s “Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds” (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/27/your-princess-is-in-another-castle-misogyny-entitlement-and-nerds.html). I can’t help but think about Katz on influencing peer culture climates, and I’m grateful for Chu, gamer/activist Anita Sarkeesian and other folks who are actively speaking up about the problems and imperative for change in our own communities.

Chu’s analysis of the problematic “get the girl” (as reward for enduring persecution as a nerd) trope includes his reflection on Elliott Rodger’s Santa Barbara shooting spree, and the media coverage of Rodger’s motivation, some of which seems to endorse his misogynist self-justification:

Steve Urkel. Screech. Skippy on Family Ties. Niles on Frasier.

We (male) nerds grow up force-fed this script. Lusting after women “out of our league” was what we did. And those unattainable hot girls would always inevitably reject us because they didn’t understand our intellectual interest in science fiction and comic books and would instead date asshole jocks. This was inevitable, and our only hope was to be unyieldingly persistent until we “earned” a chance with these women by “being there” for them until they saw the error of their ways.

… the overall problem is one of a culture where instead of seeing women as, you know, people, protagonists of their own stories just like we are of ours, men are taught that women are things to “earn,” to “win.” That if we try hard enough and persist long enough, we’ll get the girl in the end. Like life is a video game and women, like money and status, are just part of the reward we get for doing well.

So what happens to nerdy guys who keep finding out that the princess they were promised is always in another castle? When they “do everything right,” they get good grades, they get a decent job, and that wife they were promised in the package deal doesn’t arrive? When the persistent passive-aggressive Nice Guy act fails, do they step it up to elaborate Steve-Urkel-esque stalking and stunts? Do they try elaborate Revenge of the Nerds-style ruses? Do they tap into their inner John Galt and try blatant, violent rape?

… When [Rodger's shooting spree] story broke, the initial mainstream coverage only talked about “mental illness,” not misogyny, a line that people are now fervently exhorting us to stick to even after the manifesto’s contents were revealed. Yet another high-profile tech CEO resignation ensued when the co-founder of Rap Genius decided Rodger’s manifesto was a hilarious joke.

People found one of the girls Rodger was obsessed with and began questioning if her “bullying” may have somehow triggered his rage. And, worst of all, he has fan pages on Facebook that still haven’t been taken down, filled with angry frustrated men singing his praises and seriously suggesting that the onus is on women to offer sex to men to keep them from going on rampages.

So, a question, to my fellow male nerds:

What the fuck is wrong with us?

How much longer are we going to be in denial that there’s a thing called “rape culture” and we ought to do something about it?

No, not the straw man that all men are constantly plotting rape, but that we live in an entitlement culture where guys think they need to be having sex with girls in order to be happy and fulfilled. That in a culture that constantly celebrates the narrative of guys trying hard, overcoming challenges, concocting clever ruses and automatically getting a woman thrown at them as a prize as a result, there will always be some guy who crosses the line into committing a violent crime to get what he “deserves,” or get vengeance for being denied it.

To paraphrase the great John Oliver, listen up, fellow self-pitying nerd boys—we are not the victims here. We are not the underdogs. We are not the ones who have our ownership over our bodies and our emotions stepped on constantly by other people’s entitlement. We’re not the ones where one out of six of us will have someone violently attempt to take control of our bodies in our lifetimes.

We are not Lewis from Revenge of the Nerds, we are not Steve Urkel from Family Matters, we are not Preston Myers from Can’t Hardly Wait, we are not Seth Rogen in every movie Seth Rogen has ever been in, we are not fucking Mario racing to the castle to beat Bowser because we know there’s a princess in there waiting for us.

We are not the lovable nerdy protagonist who’s lovable because he’s the protagonist. We’re not guaranteed to get laid by the hot chick of our dreams as long as we work hard enough at it. There isn’t a team of writers or a studio audience pulling for us to triumph by “getting the girl” in the end. And when our clever ruses and schemes to “get girls” fail, it’s not because the girls are too stupid or too bitchy or too shallow to play by those unwritten rules we’ve absorbed.

It’s because other people’s bodies and other people’s love are not something that can be taken nor even something that can be earned—they can be given freely, by choice, or not.

We need to get that. Really, really grok* that, if our half of the species ever going to be worth a damn. Not getting that means that there will always be some percent of us who will be rapists, and abusers, and killers. And it means that the rest of us will always, on some fundamental level, be stupid and wrong when it comes to trying to understand the women we claim to love.

Indeed, the question for all of us (pardon the language) is not what the fuck is wrong with him or them, but what the fuck is wrong with us? Whoever we are. Because each one of us is both a unique individual and the confluence and manifestation the attitudes, norms and rationales of our cultures. And blaming Rodger or a girl he had a crush on is missing the blazing forest for the tree.

* According to sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein, “grok” means “to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man.”

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” —MLK, Jr.

30 May

Upworthy posted a TED talk by Jackson Katz, co-founder of MVP (Mentors in Violence Prevention: http://www.mvpstrategies.net) that’s worth watching, from beginning to end.

“Violence against women—it’s a men’s issue” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTvSfeCRxe8) takes on not just violence against women, but the way we frame violence against women: note the absence of any identification of the perpetrator in the very phrase “violence against women.”

Katz argues that our collusion in cloaking abusive men in silence and invisibility “is one of the ways that dominant systems maintain and reproduce themselves, which is to say the dominant group is rarely challenged to even think about its dominance because that’s one of the key characteristics of power and privilege: the ability to go unexamined, lacking introspection, in fact being rendered invisible, in large measure, in the discourse about issues that are primarily about us.”

He makes the parallel to whiteness, heterosexuality and other dominant identities (and dominant not necessarily through acts of violence, but through numbers and/or the simple but definitive power of getting to be the norm), which for me raises the question of how hyper-invisible some people who identify with several dominant groups get to be in conversations and action regarding social issues. And I don’t mean erased or rendered invisible the way people who are currently homeless are all too often stepped around or over without a glance. I mean given an unspoken wide berth as we politely (or fearfully) circumnavigate them in our efforts to effect social change. And applauded with deep gratitude at the merest participation when they choose to engage. (Katz addresses this personally in the opening of his talk.)

Katz is spot on when he posits that we don’t have to go running head on screaming at violent men in order to make this their issue. We can actually be more effective by addressing our peer culture climates: the norms and attitudes of our peers that facilitate misogyny, racism, homophobia and classism. (Here, let’s break down “we”: Katz is saying that women and other men need to hold other men accountable. There’s a legitimacy in a woman talking about misogyny. And another, different and complementary legitimacy in a man speaking up.)

In insisting that ending violence against women means a holistic, consistent rejection of not just outright, violent misogyny but also social acceptable sexism, Katz calls for each of us to recognize that we are gendered, that we have agency, and that we have the responsibility and opportunity to end male violence for the sake of women, agender people and men.



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