There is a problem that plagues our society that has remained unaddressed at its core: segregation. Not just the kind of segregation that resulted in the Suffragette movement of the 20s and the racial divide that led to the abolishment of slavery, and shaped the Civil Rights movement but rather the underlying cause of this social symptom. Humanity’s efforts rely heavily on the need to place everyone and everything into a box, be it a stereotype, archetype or trope. It is this kind of segregation that leads us to discriminate innately based on what we know and fear, exacerbating the incidence of hate crimes. Since when being different became a crime? Apparently since the dawn of civilization.
Generational and cultural diversity came about in the 70s, and have taken hold of the rethoric of the modern corporate world. The last three decades have relied on implementing cultural change through Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Employment (EEO) laws. Ammendments to the laws resulted in initiatives like the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), paving the way of reform that resulted in changes to existing public infrastructure and employment practices. This was all done to make sure that this group could have better accessibility to buildings, commodities and jobs that hadn’t been available to them before due to their physical or mental limitations. As recently as 2014, the LGBTQ community has been granted certain protections and rights under new legislation to ensure they are protected under the constitution, allowing states to create their own laws to support those decreed at a federal level. Yet we see that there is a subset of people that, either knowingly or ignorantly, clamor for harsher segregation laws based on their religious convictions. The separation of State and Church is being called to the mat by the God’s children. This is frightening.
What should not be surprising to us is that we tend to segregate ourselves since we are kids, before we are programmed to discriminate based on gender or race. Researchers have conducted many studies that conclude that children devoid of racial or cognitive bias always manage to segregate themselves be it by skin color, eye color, accent, where they live, how many siblings they have and by gender. I heard once of an experiment where they left kids alone to play and later observed how the children divided themselves into groups. It was no surprise that kids with similar characteristics banded together and shunned or ignored those that were different. Even in a room where all the kids were blond and blue eyed, the subjects managed to segregate themselves by the shade of blond or eye color! What use could this type of behavior have? Does it ensure we make better friends? Does it give us a social edge? This is all baffling to me.
If we still lived outdoors, or in nature, these innate discriminatory instincts that may have helped our ancestors survive and procreate would come in handy. If you couldn’t blend in, or had a deformity or genetic mutation that made you stand out, predators would go after you first. But in the concrete jungles of the Americas, camouflage and gene conservation should not be driving your conscious choices. We have evolved. We can work through the disadvantages of not being “normal” and equalize the playing field. Robots and other machines enable us to do things that are humanly impossible to do based on our constitutions alone. We can create the building blocks of life. As a species, we are more knowledgeable and intelligent than our ancestors. Why are we still so adamantly discriminating?
Unfortunately, all the diversity, inclusion and cultural awareness efforts have been thwarted by a flaw in the way statistics were and continue to be presented. Even though it is clear that employers and citizens need to understand the cultural and racial make up of their workplace, the awareness of the upcoming changes in the 2020s and beyond, the aggresive way in which we told Boomers to get out of the way and let others lead caused a bit of a backlash. On the verge of retiring and giving up control of public and private institutions to their offspring, the media has used their age and experience against them to claim that most of them are useless because they never adapted to technology. It is sad to hear this because they were the ones who created the advancements that led to our technological marvels. They were portrayed as a majority that had to be catered to but now we have ditched them to focus on the Millennials. Not even the Gen Xers got justice when we divided the spoils of war.
Enter the constant analysis of “the deadbeat” Millennials which made the elders see the younger tribe members as unreliable. With the shift to “younger and more culturally diverse is better” paradigm, the aging White Man is cornered and deemed obsolete. On top of that they feel threatened by all the women and minorities gunning for their jobs and taking away their opportunities. The United Nations recently decreed that only having 5% of your CEOs be minorities or women is not good enough nor representative of employees’ realities; these groups are underrepresented thanks to your lack of foresight, white dude. The animosity grows and expands aided by more numbers and research. Some of the differences are too hard to ignore.
Considering that by 2040 the majority of the people in the United States will not be of Caucasian descent, I can’t blame the core of the heartland for being upset that their time as the dominant race is near its end. It was the only advantage they had. I wonder what the end result will look like. Are we going to allow Caucasian minority teams the courtesy of existing? What message will they convey?
As a diversity and inclusion advocate with 11+ years of experience, my beef with the generational and cultural awareness efforts is that it doesn’t serve to unite us because it has focused so harshly on the differences, especially the negative ones, that it has created a rift in the space-time continuum. The version of future events that was given to the 80s kids did not come to pass. Between losing the space program, the mission to Mars, and the promise that nerds would be cool, the signals sent were mixed. Parents never developed their progeny to take over since the majority of them were happy to parade their kids as trophies and nothing more. (Look up the statistics and you will be surprised by how much this subject has been researched.) All the kids got were participation ribbons, useless praise to avoid the heartache of failure. Oh and new iPhones…
Because of the lack of support to follow their dreams or worst, the excessive guidance and counsel in a particular direction, whether the child wanted to go there or not, we lost a generation of dreamers to the bias and mercy of their progenitors. Go to college and get a job created a group of unemployed and unfulfilled employees whose high self-esteem came crashing down once reality settled in. They weren’t unique snowflakes after all. A twist full of irony because that wasn’t the intention. For years we have been told Boomers outnumber the Gen Xers and Yers in the workplace. Guess what? That is not true anymore! The mirage has been broken and an entire generation will be left to piece the parts together.
The effects of diversity and inclusion (not to be confused with globalization) in the workforce are still hard to account for because other than a competitive advantage in certain markets, the internal group dynamics still rely on the use of segregation tactics. We give certain employees better opportunities based on perception, experience, unconscious bias, and sometimes based on looks or gender. Although we set to understand and bridge the gaps caused by the differences, I still get cat calls, racist or sexist jokes and comments, and have witnessed faux pas by management so great, people cringe because they know ethics and HR will be contacting them soon. We haven’t truly eradicated the insecurities and values that make people think and feel this type of commentary and belief is positive and should be tolerated. Are we overracting or too sensitive to what used to be the norm? I don’t think so. Many people were scared into compliance. Now that they have a voice, we are addressing their concerns. The bullies are being stripped of their power and they are pouting and throwing tantrums. We need to stop catering to the few unless it brings benefit to the many. Most social change qualifies in the latter category.
The key to any social change is not education but acceptance. You can post fliers, run seminars, change the history books and preach in every corner but that will not engage the person in the kind of introspection and contemplation needed to internalize the information unless we give them the space and time to practice what they have learned. For many, their home life or inherent values do not align with what we have inculcated and it will take effort and perseverance for them to change their mindset. If the proposed change does nothing for them, they will not support it either. That’s why in certain circles people tell you that racism, gender and sexual orientation bias is inherited becoming more of a case of nurture vs nature. There is no discrimination gene that we know of but the hatred got ingrained in the bloodlines. It runs deep in certain families.
There is also a passive aggressive element to the inclusion and diversity discussion that is easy to feel but difficult to address. Those coming off the pedestal of privilege are having a tough time realizing their time is up and that on the way out they are expected to respect, guide and accept the newly appointed ambassadors of change. The jabs this former group is sending towards the latter reeks of desperation and unsportsmanlike conduct. Instead of leaving with grace and dignity, many are throwing shade on the new generation of leaders, the Xers and the Ys they raised to be perfect puppets. As these rebel against their parents, everyone is having a hard time keeping it civil. The age of arrested development is over and it is scaring the living daylights out of those retiring because they are starting to experience the fall out of the crisis they built. It is a brave new world with no pension plans and corporate loyalty.
The growing pains of a nation engulfed by change can be heard across the globe. Now that we have finally woken up and started to reach outside of our comfort zone, the world watches impatiently to see if we are as stupid and scared as we portray ourselves to be. That’s what having to teach diversity and inclusion does to the reputation of a country; it makes us appear weak and uninviting. Who wants to live in a place where no one wants you? A country at war with itself is a house divided that cannot stand on its own. When we segregate ourselves by partisanship, race, gender, religion, creed, disability, generation or any other qualifier we lose our collective strength. In the end we are all part of the same big bucket: the people of Earth. It is for the sole purpose of making life bearable on this planet that we should band together. We owe it to ourselves to find peace, prosperity and happiness. The sacrifice necessary to achieve this goal is to exploit the differences that can become strengths. I don’t have time and bandwidth to waste sorting people into useless categories, and to navigate disparate laws from state to state because I happen to fit into one of the problematic labels. (I am a woman, and what I can do with my body and life varies from state to state. ) Do you want to waste your time as well? I didn’t think so.
Be the best person you can be. Communicate directly and openly. Help others succeed and rid yourself of the labels. Become a part of the solution and not the problem. Out of all the beefs I have this one cuts me to the core because it devalues the benefit of diversity and makes those who are different a target of bigotry and discrimination. I didn’t spend my time teaching you about myself so you could turn around and use it against me! We are all part of the same team. Embrace the change and roll with it. Resistance is futile.