Since entering the world of education some twenty something years ago, I’ve always noticed that there has inherently been something taboo when talking about diversity. This was even truer once I entered high school and beyond. One of the reasons people have always been so wary of addressing the elephant in the room is the fact that many people feel like discussing diversity is “hard” or “uncomfortable.” My question is how are you ever supposed to learn anything if you learn away from discomfort?
My life thus far has been all about dealing with adversity and overcoming it. This is never an easy thing to do when you feel that the world is against you. At every turn, I have had individuals tell me how “lucky” I am or how great it is to see someone like me succeed. Now I know that not all of these comments were intended to be rude, but they are. What I’m gathering from these comments and other like them is that I am an anomaly. That I am a unicorn in a field of horses and that because of the color of my skin in addition to the perception that come along with my melanin, that I am somehow less than.
This has become even more so as I began working at a private preparatory school. As I have been traveling for work and making connections with people, I have started to recognize “the look.” When I say the look, I believe that any person of color who has ever been the only minority in the room knows what I mean. For me, it initially causes a moment of panic that I cannot manage to control.
I have noticed that since my name is Edwin, people do not expect that a 5’5 black man will answer to such a name. When I make appointments to meet with potential marketing opportunities for the school, I have seen the surprise on people’s faces when I extend my hand and introduce myself as the director of communications. Part of me believes….or wants to think that some of this surprise derives from my age. Not many 24-year olds can say that they are a director of communications for a non-profit such as the one I work for.
It isn’t until I start speaking that people fully realize that I am who they have some to meet with that the look of dumbfounding leaves their face, yet I find them questioning anything that I say. The same was said for coworkers and other individuals I interact with on day-to-day basis at work. Other young people work for this organization, yet I do not see them questioned in such an accusatory manner. One of the girls I work with who is the Director of the Annual Fund, she is greeted with smiles and warm welcomes because she is a non-threatening Caucasian female. Yes, she is often questioned because of her perceived age, but when people question her, they choose their words very carefully. When it comes to questioning the decisions I have decided to make, I feel like I am met with hostility and smart comments. I have overheard people talking in the halls about how I was only hired to fill a diversity quota. Since I am a black gay male, many of my coworkers feel like I am not equipped to do my job, which baffles me because the person who had my position prior was a female.
At first, I thought all of this was in my head, but when my boyfriend came to visit, he quickly picked up on this dynamic. “Why do they speak to you like that,” he asked, genuinely curious. All I could do was shrug and say, “I don’t know.” Now if a seemingly cisgendered white male is picking up on these micro-aggressions, something has to be wrong. (No offense baby) The students have even picked up on these exchanges, yet I do not feel like I can voice these concerns to the other members of the administrations for fear of being labeled the “angry black guy.”
This is why I make the case that most of the world, especially in corporations or educational setting always likes to refer to their efforts surrounding diversity and inclusion, but do little actually to provide a safe and inclusive environment. I call this the diet diversity effect. Yes, a place may look diverse, but so many minorities within these environments still feel like they are being left out of the diversity conversation.
I also would like to clarify that diversity doesn’t just mean one’s race or ethnicity. There is a whole slew of diversity representations that never get noticed by mainstream media.
Just some thoughts….
Until Next Time…
Take Chances, Make Mistakes….Get Messy!