When I used to work in the corporate world, it was required that every year or two we would have diversity training. It was usually the same thing each time. An “un-diverse” team of people would show up and they would take us through some exercises that were supposed to teach us all to be tolerant of each other. I would hear the word, “tolerant” more in that training than I had the 6 months before the training. Usually, I would leave the training more frustrated than before it began. The main message of tolerance enrages me. When I hear that word that someone created to put a positive spin on diversity I only see negative images.
“He tolerated the pain well.”
“They were able to tolerate the noise.”
“She managed to tolerate the harsh weather conditions.”
Being a person of color, I don’t want to be “tolerated. ” Whenever I have had to tolerate something, I am counting the minutes until I am relieved of whatever it is that I have to tolerate.
Any diversity training that uses the philosophy of tolerance will never gain my support. When I hear that verbiage, what I hear is, “Just put up with the minorities until we don’t have to.”
As adults in the corporate world and in society, we struggle with how to manage diversity. Often times the training is done so someone in a corner office can put a check mark in a box and communicate to their investors that they are now a diverse corporation who believes in tolerance. Year after year I went and tolerated this politically correct movement. Typically, the training would speak to someone else and then they felt the need to come to me(the only person of color in the office) and do one of two things. They would run down their racial resume, which usually started with, “You know my best friend is black.” Or they would now feel comfortable asking me a very uncomfortable question, like, “How come you can call your friend the “n-word” but I can’t?” There was even a time when one individual actually said, “nigger,” and I’m not too sure he wasn’t just using this tolerate environment to say the word aloud to see how I would react. We found out he doesn’t tolerate pain too well. Just kidding! It is in that environment as a minority you learn to let a lot pass through your ears as if nothing was said so you don’t get labeled the “sensitive one.”
It is interesting that we as adults struggle mightily with diversity and how to navigate in a diverse world. We spend millions of corporate dollars to try and figure it out, and although we fail, we at least try to highlight the advantages of different cultures. Yet, in our schools and communities we ignore the need to manage diversity. Diverse communities and schools will flaunt and publicize that they are diverse but often times they do very little to address the diversity. It is assumed that if we bring a diverse group of people together this will be better for all involved. Unfortunately, that is often where it stops. I argue that this is irresponsible at best.
In many diverse schools what is being done is the gathering together of different cultures, beliefs, and races and it is left up to the children to work it out. The adults expect the kids to solve problems we struggle with as adults. So in the end what happens is the majority sets the standard. The beliefs of the majority become the norm. Everyone else is then expected to operate as the majority does. When they don’t they are seen as abnormal. The result is that we bring a bunch of different people together, with different backgrounds and try to make them all function as if they all have the same backgrounds.
The message becomes very clear that the way of the majority is seen as the accepted way and anything different is bad. Instead of learning from the different cultures that come together, it is expected that all the cultures conform to the ways of the majority. This creates resentment from the minorities and the feeling of being oppressed and unable to express who you are. It creates a system where the minorities in a diverse setting hover in a constant state just below boiling. In this environment, the majority feels justified in pointing out to the minority how they are different. It comes across in comments about dress, hair, skin color, or as blatantly as name calling.
In talking to children of color today who are in diverse environments, I have found that nigger is used just as much if not more than it was when I grew up in the ’70’s. Recently, I heard a comedian say, “You keep calling me a nigger and one is going to show up.”
That is so tragically true. The children of color I have talked to tell me often the day comes when they can’t take one more insult, slight, or silly question and then they explode and then they are the ones in the wrong.
When incidents like this happen, then we hear the comments like, “Boy, where is that coming from?” “We sure didn’t see that coming.” You’ll never see the train coming if you never look down the track.
Diversity that is not managed in a setting with young people is like giving each child on the playground a loaded gun and then being surprised when someone gets shot. We must do a better job of creating a place where everyone can be heard and all cultures are celebrated, CELEBRATED, not merely tolerated.
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