“I have to be honest, James, I hate the word inclusion.”
James looked at me with a mixed reaction of shock, disappointment, and confusion. After all, he was the leader of the newly formed diversity and inclusion group at a very large organization. They were doing great work creating safe places for people to have conversations about realities present along racial and gender lines that are present within a predominantly white and male-led organization.
I replied, “Let me explain… you know I love the work you guys are doing. Keep up your good work. However, I hate that word because of the implications that go along with it.”
“Ok…I’m intrigued,” he said as we jumped into a wide-ranging, genuine conversation about racial and gender inequality.
I hate the word inclusion because it implies a dominant group of people (this can include one dominant race, economic status, gender, etc.) is allowing a minority group to participate in the dominant expression of the organization. That doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?
It’s easy if you are a member of an all-male and all-white executive team to just tune me out right now. Remember, I’m a white guy that’s been in a lot of these rooms. We’ve got to do better because we’ve missed out on so much brilliance and beauty by filling rooms with people that look and act like us. I can’t stop thinking about the fact that Jesus said that loving God and neighbors is the most important commandment that we could follow (Mark 12:28-34). In order to truly love each other well, we need to take the time to understand and see each other.
A dominant group has a certain expression of the way they see the world, experience their faith, and make decisions. When a person of color or a woman is invited to be included in an organization that is led by a predominantly white and male leadership team, many times that simply means that they have been invited to help the dominant group continue to express their monotone worldview without genuine input from the person being included in the final decision-making process.
If a person on the margins is not given the genuine opportunity to make decisions or give input that would be deeply considered, inclusion comes off as disingenuous at best, and grossly oppressive at worst.
In order to truly experience the beauty of diversity, there has to be decision makers in the room that come from various backgrounds. How can an all-white board of directors make decisions that truly make people of color feel like their organization is allowing them to operate from their true center if no one that looks like them is even in the room? How can an all-male executive team make a well-informed decision without any women present that is genuinely for the women in that company?
Let’s dig in a bit more to church culture. Simply diversifying the racial representation of the worship team does not actually mean that you’ve created an atmosphere that is creating space for people of color to truly worship from their true center. If every song that is played on a Sunday morning is from the same general genre from the dominant culture the expression of worship from folks that have lived on the margins may never genuinely connect on a heart level.
We’ve got to learn how to sing together, even if the songs aren’t familiar or preferred.
We have to become more committed to filling executive teams and board rooms with women and people of color that are brilliant, qualified, and bring much-needed perspective to a white and male-dominated culture. If you have a position of influence within an organization that is dominated by a single ethnic or gender group, how can you use that influence to highlight the qualification and brilliance of people that have been pushed to the margins?
Inattentional blindness is the psychological phenomenon that causes you to miss things that are right in front of your eyes. This means that you genuinely may have never even realized that your organization was dominated by one race or gender. This phenomenon means that you get so used to your surroundings that you miss things in that context that are obvious to others.
Where do we start? Great question.
There are brilliant women and people of color everywhere. That being said, start by analyzing the context of your life and friendships. Who are your friends and the people that join you during your lunch break? Who are the friends that surround you in your home at the dinner table? This will take time, but starting with auditing your own life and friendships begins to open your eyes to the reality that there’s a much broader expression of beauty and brilliance than what we have experienced in our majority white and male-led culture.
Inclusion does not equal diversity. I don’t want to invite people of color and women to express life from the perspective of a white man. I want to experience the beauty of God like I see in the bible. Revelation 7:9 (MSG) says, “I saw a huge crowd, too huge to count. Everyone was there—all nations and tribes, all races and languages.” An entire community was singing and worshiping God with one voice. We all don’t have to sing the same part to sing the same song. Harmony – the combination of different parts of a song – is what makes for a beautiful song.
Is your church, nonprofit, or business singing a beautiful song or have you invited a group of talented singers to sing the same part you learned? I can hear a song that will be sung in the future and the melodies and harmonies are breathtaking and beautiful. It will take some practice, but let’s choose to sing together.
James and I finished our conversation and he smiled as he said, “I see you, David. I didn’t know where you were going with that one, but I see you. Let’s sing together.“