Far too often, our diversity strategy consists of zeroing in on the problem, and then yelling, “Ready, fire, aim.” The chances of hitting the right mark are small, and the risk of injury to innocent bystanders is quite high.
Let me explain how it works.
Recently, a gentleman seated near me in a coffee shop offered the perfect example. His white friend had enrolled his children in local public schools; now they were being harassed by a group of minority students. “He is trying to do the right thing,” the man explained. “He really wants to support public education. But his children are afraid to go to school. When you are afraid, it is harder to learn.”
In this case, the destructive biases of a few young people are building a gigantic fence around the entire school. Even though the majority of pupils may not participate in this behavior or condone these actions, they will suffer. If this caring father opts to put his children in private schools, then other white families at the school are more likely to do the same. Lacking the support of white families, the district is less likely to have dollars for basic necessities.
Other people’s bigotries take a human toll. They do more than hurt those who are the intended targets. Otherwise innocent people end up losing in the transaction.
Let’s use another example. Biased retail clerks follow and target customers based upon race. The customers sue, and then the costs of settlements reduce the funds available for health care or raises.
When wayward youths target homosexuals, every one of us suffers. Economist and author Richard Florida argues in his books and lectures that cities with vibrant gay communities tend to attract the creative workers who are sought by global corporations.
So instead of continuing to clean up other people’s messes, let’s focus on finding ways to keep some of the dirt away from us and out of workplaces and homes.
Think of the possibilities if the African-American student leaders had stood beside the white students at that public school and helped them stand up to those bullies. When we get involved and report these incidents right away, the learning environment is safer and more supportive for all students.
Think of the possibilities if employees would refuse to remain silent when distasteful jokes were told in the lunchroom or colleagues poked fun at customers. They might ask: Where did you get your information from? Who is your source? Then they could invite the person to go to the library to do research. You would be surprised how quickly the haters will run away from you if you mention the words “collaborative learning project.”
We can continue to clean up after the haters or invest in strategies that keep our communities prosperous and tidy.
(Linda S. Wallace is The Cultural Coach. Contact her at [email protected])