I just came across this column when I was reading about the “MLK Black Party” that an Arizona State University fraternity threw over MLK, Jr. weekend. Yeah, let that one sink in. (You can read about it here: http://www.diversityinc.com/news/frat-suspended-mlk-black-party/?utm_source=SailThru&utm_campaign=newsletterLuke&utm_medium=DI&utm_content=2014-01-27&utm_term=news.)
Then I noticed “Ask the White Guy,” a regular column on the diversityinc.com website, and this particular post caught my eye: “Can a White Man Speak With Authority on Diversity?” (http://www.diversityinc.com/ask-the-white-guy/can-a-white-man-speak-with-authority-on-diversity/)
My answer is, Of course! Yes! but I wanted to hear what the White Guy Luke Visconti had to say. Here are the highlights for me:
- “I recently spoke to a group of 900 police and fire chiefs in Oregon—97 percent white men. I made the point that they might not think they have diversity as they sit around the fire house or police station and see nothing but white men—but some of those white men grew up in single-parent households, some grew up in large families, some went to college on athletic scholarships, some worked their way through—and some didn’t go at all. Some have a gay brother, some are gay themselves (and perhaps closeted). I told the chiefs that they could utilize the diversity they already have to gain new perspective on problems and in doing so would better fulfill their missions: to save lives. My point is that it is not skin color, gender or orientation that makes one ‘good at’ managing diversity but mindset.” Fist bump, White Guy. Diversity is about all of us: not just who we are, but how we can fulfill our missions.
- “Anyone can become ‘authoritative’ about diversity. Nobody comes to the table that way. How you get there, in my opinion, starts with understanding history.” In other words, having an opinion does not make you an authority. This is a no-duh in fields like law and medicine. Yet somehow, people presume that diversity is just about how each of us feels. I’m with the White Guy on this one: expertise in diversity requires historical, contemporary, normative, alternative and fringe education.
- “History is important, but what I’ve found transformative is personal involvement in organizations that do not serve you directly (by ‘you,’ I mean loosely you as defined by gender, race, orientation, etc.). For example, I’m a trustee of Bennett College for Women, a historically Black college, and on the foundation board of New Jersey City University, a Hispanic-serving institution. At Rutgers University (where I am also a trustee), I co-chair the fundraising committee for Rutgers Future Scholars… The life experience I’ve gained by serving these institutions has been invaluable.” What? You mean diversity isn’t just about advocating for self-interest? High five, White Guy! Equity and inclusion (the why, in my opinion that we talk about diversity in the first place) aren’t zero-sum propositions. More equity for me means more–not less–for you. We’re in this together for mutual benefit, and it’s not that your issues are more important than mine–it’s that they, and we, both matter. And we can choose to ignore each other, focusing each to their own, or we can lean in together, redefining “our” best interest.