White privilege is an absence of the consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost.
― Reni Eddo-Lodge
Every Monday I stare at a blank page and write. Sometimes it is obvious with work demands driving my thoughts in a very focused direction. I’d love to be there right now. Work is pissing me off, and providing no such inspiration, only anger. It’s especially unfortunate because I ought to have something to say on differential equations. Last week’s post was interesting, and the feedback has provided wonderful topics to pick up. One comment focused on other constraints and invariants for modeling that equations commonly violate. A wonderful manager I had from Los Alamos argued with me about nonlinearity, and integral laws with respect to hyperbolic PDEs and causality. Both of these topics are worthy of deep exploration, but my head isn’t there. The issue of societal inclusivity and the maintenance of power structures looms in my thinking. The acceptance of individuality and personal differences within our social structures is another theme that resonates. So, I take a pause from technical to ponder the ability of our modern World to honor and harness the life work and experience from others especially those who are different. The gulf between our leader’s rhetoric and actions is vast leading to poor results, and maintenance of traditional power.
Why am I concerned?
It does strange things to you to realize that the conservative establishment is forcing you to be a progressive liberal fighter for universal rights.
― Brandon Sanderson
This whole topic might seem to be odd coming from me. I am a middle aged white manwho is a member of the intellectual elite. I’m not a racial minority, a foreigner or part of the LBGTQ community although I have a child who is. Of course, my (true) identity is far more complex than that. For example, my personality an outlier at work. It makes many of my co-workers extremely uncomfortable. I’m an atheist and this makes people of faith uncomfortable. Other aspects of my life remain hidden too, maybe they aren’t germane; maybe they simply would make people uncomfortable; maybe they would result in implicit shunning and rejection. All of this runs against the theme of inclusion and diversity, which society as a whole and our institutions play lip service to. In the backdrop of this lip service are entrenched behaviors, practices and power that undermines inclusion at every turn. Many forms of diversity have no protection at all, and the power structures attack them without relief. The talk is all about diversity and inclusion, the actions are all about exclusivity. Without genuine leadership and commitment diversity and inclusion fail. Worse yet, a great deal of our leadership has moved to explicit attacks on diversity as a social ill.
A great democracy has got to be progressive or it will soon cease to be great or a democracy.
― Theodore Roosevelt
Let’s pull this thread a bit with respect to the obvious diversity that we see highlighted societally, race, gender, or sexual identity. These groups are protected legally and the focus of most of our diversity efforts. The discrimination against these groups of people has been pervasive and chronic. Moreover, there are broad swaths of our society that seek to push back progress and reinstitute outright discrimination. The efforts resisting diversity are active and vigorous. In lieu of the explicit and obvious discrimination we have plenty of implicit institutional discrimination and oppression. The most obvious societal form that implicitly targets minorities is the drug war and the plague of mass incarceration. It is a way of instituting “Jim Crow” laws within a modern society. Any examination of the prisons in the United States shows massive racial inequity. Police enforce laws in a selective fashion letting whites go, while imprisoning blacks and Hispanics for the same offenses. Prison sentences are also harsher toward minorities. Other minority groups have been targeted and selected for similar treatments. In these cases, everyone is claimed to be under the same legal system, but the execution of the law lacks uniformity. At work we have policies and practices often revolving around hiring that have the same effect. They work to implicitly exclude people and undermine the actual impact of diversity.
Equality before the law is probably forever unattainable. It is a noble ideal, but it can never be realized, for what men value in this world is not rights but privileges.
― H.L. Mencken
Other practices hurt women in an implicit manner. These practices are relabeled as “traditional values” and are reflected through health care and sexual harassment. The implicit message is that women should be barefoot and pregnant, second class citizens whose role in society is child rearing and home making. Young women are also there to provide sexual outlets to men, although those that do are sluts. They are not worthy of enjoying the same sexual pleasure the men are free to pursue. The whole of the behavior is focused on propping up men and the center of society, work and power. None of their needs or contributions in the realm where men traditionally rule is welcome. Our health care coverage and laws completely reflect this polarity where women’s needs are controversial. Men’s needs are standard. Nothing says this more than the attitudes toward reproductive and sexual health. Men are cared for; women are denied. The United States is a nexus of backwards thought with labor laws that penalize women in the name of the almighty dollar using religious freedom as an excuse.
If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.
― John F. Kennedy
In the past decades we have seen huge strides for the LBGTQ community. The greatest victory is marriage equality. Discrimination is still something many people in society would love to practice. At an implicit level they do. Everywhere that discrimination can be gotten away with, it happens. Many people remain in the closet and do not feel free letting people know who they really are. Of course, this is a bigger issue for transgender people for whom hiding is almost impossible. At the same time the level of discrimination is still largely approved by society. Most of the discrimination is the result of people’s innate discomfort with LBGTQ sexuality and opening themselves to even considering being somewhere on any non-standard spectrum of sexuality. It becomes an issue and a thought they would just as soon submerge. This discomfort extends to other forms of non-standard expressions of sexuality that invariably leak out into people’s everyday lives. This sort of discomfort is greater in the United States where sexuality is heavily suppressed and viewed as morally inferior. Our sexuality is an important part of our self-identity. For many people it is an aspect of self that must be hidden lest they suffer reprisals.
This is a global issue
Hate and oppression are rising Worldwide. This hate is a reaction to many changes in society. Ethnic changes, migrations, displacement and demographics are undermining traditional majorities. Global economics and broad information technology/telecommunication are also stressing traditional structures at every turn. Disparate people and communities can now form through the power of this medium. At the same time disinformation, propaganda and wholesale manipulation are empowering the masses to both good and evil. Some of these online communities are wonderful such as LGBTQ people who can form greater bonds, and outreach to similar people. It also allows hate to flourish and bond in the same way. The technology isn’t bad or good, and its impacts are similarly divided. It is immensely destabilizing. Traditional culture and society is also rising up to push back. The change makes people uncomfortable. Exclusion and casting the different out is a way for them to push back. They respond with a defense of traditional values and judgements grounded in exclusion of those who don’t fit in. As with most bigotry and exclusion, it is fear based. Fear is something promoted across the globe by the enemies of inclusion and progress. The same fear is being harnessed by the traditional powers to solidify their hold over their hegemony. This fear is particularly acute with the older part of the population who also tend to be more politically active. These two things form the most active implicit threat to achieving diversity.
In many cases this whole issue is framed in terms of religion. Many traditional religious views are really excuses and justification for exclusion and bigotry. The aspects of the religious traditions focused on love, compassion and inclusion are diminished or ignored. This sort of perversion of religious views is a common practice by authoritarian regimes who harness the fear-based aspects of faith to enhance their power and sway over the masses. This is true for Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, … virtually every major faith. It is manifesting itself in the movement to authoritarian rule in the United States. The forces of hate are cloaked in faith to immunize themselves from critical views. Hatred, discrimination and bigotry are justified in their faith and freed from much critical feedback. They also complain about being repressed by society even when they are the majority and ruling social order. This is a common response when the forces of inclusion complain about their institutionalized bigotry. In the United States the minority that is truly oppressed are atheists. An atheist can’t generally get elected to office and in many places needs to hide this identity lest be subject to persecution. It is among the personal identities that I need to hide. At the same time Christians can be utterly open and brazen in self-expression of their faith.
In virtually every case the forces against inclusion are fear-driven. Many people are not comfortable with people who are different because of how it reflects on them. For example, many of the greatest homophobes actually harbor homosexual feelings of their own they are trying to squash. Openly accepted homosexuality is something that they resist because it seems to implicitly encourage them to act on their own feelings. In response to these fears they engage in bigotry. Generally, gender and sexual identities will bring these attitudes out because of the discomfort with possibilities the identities offer people. These sorts of dynamics are present with religious minorities too. Rather than question their faith, gender or sexuality, the different people are driven into their respective closets and out of view.
Getting at Subtle Exclusion
‘Controversial’ as we all know, is often a euphemism for ‘interesting and intelligent’.
― Kevin Smith
I’m writing this essay on diversity as a white middle-aged male who is seemingly a member of the ruling class, what gives? I represent a different diversity in many respects than the obvious forms we focus on. Being discriminated against happen without consequence. I’m outgoing and extroverted in a career and work environment dominated by introverts who are uncomfortable with emotion and human contact. I’m opinionated, outspoken and brave enough to be controversial in a sea of committed conformists. Both of these traits are punished with advice to blunt my natural tendencies. You are expected to toe the line and conform. The powers that be are not welcoming to any challenge or debate, the mantra of the day is “sit down, shut up, and do as you’re told” and “you’re lucky to be here”. The message is clear, you aren’t here as an equal, you need to be a compliant cog who plays your role. Individual contributions, opinions and talent are not important or welcome unless they fit neatly into the master’s plan. Increasingly in corporate America, you are either part of the ruling class or simply a disempowered serf whose personal value is completely dismissed. In this sense any diversity is discouraged and squashed by our overlords.
If one trait defines the vast number of people today, it is disempowerment. Your personal value and potential are meaningless to our management. Do you job; do what you are told to do; comply with their requirements. Whatever you do don’t make waves or question the powers. I’ve done this, and the reaction is to punish people through marginalization and lack of access. Retribution is implicit and subtle. In the end you don’t know how much you were punished through opportunity and information denial. The key is that the powers that be are in control of you and if you don’t play ball with them, you are an outsider. A way of not getting into trouble is being a compliant, boring and utterly vanilla worker bee. If you tow the party line you simply get the benefit of employment “success”. Eventually if you play your cards right you can join the power structure as one of them. In this way diversity of any sort is punished. They see diversity as a threat and work to drive it out.
You could jump so much higher when you had somewhere safe to fall.
― Liane Moriarty
Given that the treatment of relatively benign diversity is met with implicit resistance, one might reasonably ask how edgier forms of diversity will be welcomed? Granted, one’s personality can have a distinct work-related impact, and behavior is certainly work appropriate, but what are the bounds on how that is managed? My experience that the workplace goes too far in moderating people’s innate tendencies. My particular work has promoted the aspirational view toward diversity of bringing your true and best self to work. In all honesty, it is an aspiration that they fail at to a spectacular degree. When relatively common and universal aspects of our humanity are not accepted, how would more controversial aspects be accepted? A fair reaction is the conclusion that they wouldn’t be accepted at all. To add to the mix is a broader governance that is getting less accepting of differences than more. As a result, people whose lives are outside the conservatively defined norms are prone to hide major aspects of their identity. The accepted majority and accepted identity is white, male, Christian, heterosexual, and monogamous. We still accept political differences, but to varying degrees we expect people to fall into only a few narrow bins.
It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.
― Maya Angelou
What happens when someone falls outside these identities? If one is female and/or non-white there are protections and discrimination and bias is purely implicit. What about being an atheist? What about being gay, or transsexual? The legal protections begin to be weaker, and major societal elements seek to remove these protections. What if you’re non-monogamous, or committed to some other divergent sexual identity? What if you’re a communist or fascist? Then you are likely to be actively persecuted and discriminated against. Where is the line where this should happen? What life choices are so completely outside the norm of societal acceptance that they should be subject to effective banishment. If you have made one of these life choices, your choice is often hidden and secret. You are in the closet. This is a very real issue especially when large parts of society want you in the closet or put you back there. Moreover, this part of society is emboldened to try and put gays, women and people of color back in their traditional closets, kitchens and ghettos.
We are in a time where progress in diversity has stopped, and elements of society are moving backwards. Progress in expanding diversity and acceptance has stopped, and we are making America Great Again by enhancing the power of whites hiding people of color, closeting gays, and making women subservient. All of this is done in service of those in power both to maintain their power, wealth and control. Any sort of commitment to diversity is viewed as an assault on the power and wealth of the ruling class. As a result, we see a continued concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few. General social mobility has been diminished so that people keep their place in society. For the rank and file, we see disempowerment and meager rewards for slavish conformity. Step out of line and draw attention to yourself and expect punishment and shunning. The slavishly conformant masses provide the peer pressure and bulk of the enforcement, but all of it serves those in power.
Instead of creating a society and system that gets the best out of people and maximizes human potential, we have pure maintenance of power by the ruling class. We let people act out through their basest fears to squash people and ideas that are uncomfortable. We are not leading people to be better, we are encouraging them to be worse. Rather than act out of love, we are emboldening hate. Rather than accept people and allow them flourish using their distinct individuality and achieve satisfying lives, we choose conformity and order. The conformity and order that is imposed serves only those in power and limits any aspirational dreams of the masses. The masses are controlled by fear that naturally arises with those who are different. Humans are naturally fearful of other humans that are different. Rather than encourage people to accept these differences (i.e., accept and promote diversity), we encourage them to discriminate against them by promoting fear of the other. This fear is the tool of rich and powerful to create systems that maintain their grip on society.
We are in need of leadership that blazes a trail to being courageous and better. Without leadership and bravery, the progress we have achieved will turn back and be lost. There is so much more to do to get the best out of people, which cannot happen when our leaders allow and even encourage the worst in people to serve their own selfish needs. We have a choice and it is past time to choose excellence and progress through inclusion and diversity.
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
― Rob Siltanen