Dear Cultural Coach:
My comments may sound racist on the surface, but I am trusting that you are as open-minded as your writing. I have been wondering why having all-African-American clubs or associations is not racist but having something all-white is. Actually my question is not limited to race. Women are quick to rail against men’s clubs but seem to have no problem with all-female groups. I feel that it is rather hypocritical. Intellectually, I understand that African-Americans have been, and in some areas, continue to be treated unfairly, but I can’t help wondering if (having) segregated groups promotes divisiveness.
– A Houston reader
You asked this awkward question with great diplomacy and tact. Unless we make the effort to understand why cultural groups see situations so differently, we will never have the crucial conversations that can unify us.
This is a puzzle that appears to be so simple. Only after we start trying to put it together do we realize how much effort and skill is required to connect the oddly shaped pieces.
It is important to note the distinction between organizations with goals to exclude others, and organizations that seek to address the issues of a particular group. In our nation’s capital, a pipeline of special interests fuels the decision-making process. Corporations lobby their issues — as do retirees, educators, union workers, environmentalists and even owners of professional sports
Therefore, it seems unfair to single out women or people of color and say, “Hey, if you guys stopped pushing for your own self-interests, and forming your own groups, America would be better off.” Sorry, but all people and organizations must be given the same basic rights even when the end result is a new social barrier.
Many white Americans and men are quietly making strides to help us sidestep this challenge. Many years ago, I met a former colleague of mine, a white man, at the Unity: Journalists of Color convention. I asked why he was there.
“I joined the National Association of Black Journalists because I felt it would help me to better understand the issues that I so often am asked to write about as a journalist,” he explained. “I’m here to acquire new cultural insights.” By the way, more than just a few savvy white journalists attended the event to pass out résumés and meet with national recruiters.
We need to push firmly against the door to see if it pops open before we holler injustice or complain of mistreatment. Too often, people of color decide not to apply for promotions because they assume that white managers will discriminate against them. Most of us have the power to become effective change agents, but it’s far less work to blame others for the spot we are in.
A few organizations intentionally work to exclude ethnic groups and women from their ranks. We know who they are. If we value inclusiveness, we cannot embrace arguments for separatism. Principled, centered people also should decline memberships in social groups and country clubs that say they are searching for diversity yet always fail to find people of color, whites or women who measure up.
In the same vein, business leaders who can’t reach diversity goals should be fired. They are letting society and our nation down.
To them, we must say: “No more excuses. “
(Linda S. Wallace is The Cultural Coach. Contact her at [email protected])