Most diversity, equity, and inclusion consultants are good at defining these terms, drawing attention to homogenous educational and corporate cultures, and helping to build environments where diverse populations assimilate into a shared institutional “mission” and “vision.” However, our institutions still struggle with human multiplicity, especially in higher education and corporate American. This is due, in part, to our contemporary yet antiquated understanding of “difference,” particularly “race.”
Institutions can formulate inspiring mission statements and visions, but this does not mean that they will be interpreted similarly. Individuals see the world through their unique ocular and cultural lens, and their distinct lens frames their observations and ignites, if they are appreciated and supported, or extinguishes, if they are not, creativity and innovation. This is why most consultants often examine hiring priorities and patterns, after creating a common language, because diverse populations are the handmaidens of creativity, and creativity drives modernization.
Hiring POC, however, is just the beginning. Colorful hands on deck do not themselves engender inclusion and heightened productivity. No matter what color they are, students and employees need to be highly motivated. Understanding is perhaps the greatest stimulus, and comprehension leads to appreciation. Show me a school or office of misunderstood and unappreciated students and workers, and I’ll show you mediocrity, discord, and repressed productivity. POC are not just colorful faces, they are the embodiment and reflection of their heritage and communities. Being Asian-Pacific, Black, Latino, or Native, for example, is not simply about skin color.
How then is being a POC constructed? Consider the “Three Cs,” culture, consciousness, and custom. Being Black and Latino, for instance, which are not antithetical by the way, have little to do with skin color. How could it, when Black people like me are 34% European? How could it be when Mariah Carey, Vin Diesel, Snoop Dogg, Idris Elba, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Barack Obama, all self-identify as Black and/or bi-racial? How could it when Jennifer Lopez, Laz Alonso, Rosario Dawson, and Giancarlo Esposito and all self-identify as Black and/or Latina or Latino. It has little to do with color because to be Black and Latino is to be multi-racial. Our self-identification is rooted in our history and cosmology, our social organization, religious beliefs, traditions, arts and literature, language patterns, cadence, stride, and the social, economic, and political lens through which we view the world. Indeed, theoretically speaking, one can have White skin and be Black or Latino or have Black or Brown skin and be White, for all intents and purposes.
Attitude reflects leadership, and leaders who wish to embrace and effectively operationalize diversity and inclusion, must learn the Three Cs. Race does, in fact, matter, but understanding the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of the cultures in your midst, and the way they are situated and recognized in your institution, is a major factor in the viability and success of our schools and enterprises.
Dr. Matthew C. Whitaker is the Founder and CEO of the Diamond Strategies, LLC (DSC). He is also an award-winning educator, author, community engagement specialist, motivational speaker, and founder the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, winner of the 2014 Arizona Diversity Leadership Alliance Inclusive Workplace Award, at Arizona State University. He can be followed on Twitter at @Dr_Whitaker and DSC can be followed on Twitter at @dstategiesllc