Can a White Man Speak With Authority on Diversity?

Luke Visconti, Diversity Inc., March 29, 2011

Question:

Upon returning to my office, re-energized by the DiversityInc event in March, I shared the information you addressed during your talk [when you] spoke about DiversityInc and mentioned your Ask the White Guy feature. When mentioning your feature to a group of white female colleagues, one responded by saying, what does he (a white guy) have to do with diversity; how does he create something like DiversityInc and how could he possibly speak with authority about diversity?

Answer:

I created DiversityInc as a consequence of having my consciousness raised by a friend, Tony Cato–at the time, a fellow Naval Aviator. {snip}

White men are a part of diversity and there is a great deal of diversity among white men. 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.

{snip}

Anyone can become “authoritative” about diversity. Nobody comes to the table that way. How you get there, in my opinion, starts with understanding history. I’ve gained a lot of perspective by reading books like Beverly Tatum’s “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria,” Iris Chang’s “The Chinese in America,” Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns,” Douglas Blackmon’s “Slavery By Another Name,” Ira Katznelson’s “When Affirmative Action Was White” and Taylor Branch’s trilogy on the civil-rights era.

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.). {snip}

Any executive can take the same steps to broaden their experience and cultural competence. We see how people work so hard to complete advanced degrees–and they are important–but life experience is how an executive does not become a Hosni Mubarak as our country and world change dramatically. {snip}

I will note that people who are not in the majority culture must deal with the majority culture as they try to retain their own identity, but those in the majority culture do not really have to deal with anything BUT the majority culture (doesn’t make it right, but this is the reality). In this country, the majority culture is defined as white, male, heterosexual, Christian and not having an ADA-defined disability. But just because a person in the majority culture starts out with a much wider “blind spot” than people not in the majority culture doesn’t mean it’s impossible for white men to become open advocates for diversity and inclusion. It also doesn’t mean that a Black woman (for example) comes with an automatic Ph.D. in diversity management (it’s just a lot easier for the Black woman to see the problem in the first place). We must all come to the realization that, as a reader put it nicely, “I am not different than you, I am different like you.”

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  • white is right, black is whack

    I’m sick of these self-hating white activists like this. Until they are willing to live in a nonwhite neighborhood, give their jobs to nonwhites, let their daughter date a nonwhite male, give all their possessions to nonwhites, leave all their money to nonwhites, then they can shut their hypocritical mouths. Notice how Tim Wise, Michael Moore, many white elitists who bash whites (especially white republicans), and all the ‘anti-racist’ whites NEVER live in black or hispanic neighborhoods? Next time they spew hatred against whites, say, “have you gave your job to a minority? Have you gave any money to a minority? No? Then shut your mouth and quit lecturing us to sacrifice when you aren’t.”