My daughter came home from preschool with dots of blue paint on her forehead from an art project. As I looked at the dots, I thought of a diverse range of possible responses (beyond the obvious washing off of the paint):
Environmentalist: You have blue paint on your forehead just like the blue sky and blue seas which we must work hard to preserve.
Political (Democrat): You have blue paint on your forehead. That is a wonderful color; there are things called blue states and the more there are the better.
Political (Republican): You have blue paint on your forehead. That is a horrible color; there are things called blue states and the fewer there are the better.
Patriotic: You have blue paint on your forehead, one of the three colors in the American flag.
Celebrity Aware: You have blue paint on your forehead. Did you know there is a child named Blue Ivy?
Multicultural: You have blue point on the forehead. That paint reminds me of Vishnu an important figure in Indian culture who is often blue in pictures.
I went with the last one, probably because we are getting ready to teach The Ramayana.
I live in the world of children’s Halloween costumes witch for the most part are fun and innocuous, so I had forgotten about all the possible bad, offensive, stereotypical costumes that adults have on occasion donned. That is until various blogs I follow started putting up preventative educational posts on costumes to avoid and how to gently inform the individual in blackface, or wearing a poncho and riding donkey, or sporting a sexy Indian princess costume that such cultural misappropriation is not right.
The best summary I have seen is a slideshow on The Root which goes over all sorts of arguments made in favor of insensitive costumes and refutes them.
The best immediate visual response to these costumes comes from a campaign by STARS (Students Teaching about Racism in Society) at Ohio University.
Gallaudet University put their chief diversity officer, Angela McCaskill, on leave because she signed a petition in favor of placing a gay marriage referendum on the Maryland ballot. I would think that this would be free speech issue, and she should be free to take political action as she sees fit outside the workplace. Besides, it is rather ironic to limit political diversity while promoting other kinds of diversity, and, besides, universities are supposed to promote the healthy exchange of opposing ideas.
I could imagine that if part of McCaskill’s job is to work with the school’s LBGT community the signing of this petition might make it harder for her achieve her goals in that area. However, one cannot automatically assume that would be the case. Would not a potential problem along those lines be something to be addressed quietly in a later performance review involving feedback from constituents not with a public suspension?
There may be more to the story. The news brief was just that. Still, given what I know, I hope the university backs down on this one.
Face It, the campaign to diversity Facebook’s board. The website is certainly in your face (pun intended). It is not intended as a nuanced argument, instead an appeal to emotion. The group expects a viewer to have a visceral response thinking how awful it is that in this day and age in this diverse country, the board of an iconic company is all white.
I actually prefer the “why” page on the website where there is actually an attempt to make an argument that diverse companies provide more income for shareholders although this point does not receive as much attention as the idea that Facebook is a good target being used to start a conversation about diversity on corporate boards in general.
As a diversity blogger, I certainly think organizations and groups should be diverse; however, when it comes to groups like corporate boards that have clear missions (i.e. maximizing profit) I understand that they can only be diverse if diversity helps them achieve their mission. Then one again could see boards and companies as having a grander moral purpose or responsibility, but that is an argument for another day.
A clarification on the idea that the cheering incident at Emory shows that diversity work is never done. On the one hand, if one has a numerical target, say having the percentage of students of color and faculty of color at a school reflecting the percentage in the larger population (city, state or local), one can reach that goal. Yes, I know that numerical targets have constitutional issues, but this is an example not a policy suggestion.
However, achieving certain targets does not mean diversity work is done. First, one must maintain the system that enables one to achieve the targets so that the targets are consistently met.
Second, one must always look at the numbers more and more deeply. If one achieves certain targets for overall population diversity, but surveys show some majors, teams, activities are not as diverse as the community as a whole, then there is research and work to be done (consider a school where the gender balance is 50/50 but the percentage of women in science is lacking).
Lastly, one must consider the quality of community interactions. If one achieves numerical targets but segments of the population either do not interact or interact in ways based on stereotypes (see the fans chanting “USA” at the Asian-American students of Emory), then more work has to be done. There is a difficult, long progression from tolerating diversity (you don’t bother me, I don’t bother you), to celebrating diversity. The development of empathy across identity boundaries is an ongoing process that in my mind never ends. This is especially true at educational institutions where community members arrive and graduate creating constant turnover and an ongoing need for education. On the one hand, these facts may make diversity work seem like a Sisyphean task, on the other hand these facts do make diversity work constantly challenging and rewarding.
It is not enough to have people of different backgrounds in the same place. If they interact based on stereotypes, there is work to be done.