As I perused through the news sites the other night, I read a headline about an article by Robert Huber in Philadelphia Magazine that was receiving alot of backlash. The article is entitled, “Being White in Philly” (available at http://www.phillymag.com/articles/white-philly/). This seemed like my type of article. I quickly googled the writer’s original piece and read through it in its entirety.
As a former Philadelphia resident, I understood the writer’s perspective– and I was excited about it! Not only is Philadelphia the perfect place to host a Diversity Lunch and Learn discussion, “Are We There Yet?”, but it is about time someone had the courage to speak up.
In September 2010, I posted a LinkedIn discussion entitled, “There’s an Elephant in the Room! Why the Lack of Discussion About Race is Taking Away from Diversity.” This particular post received more comments than any of my previous or subsequent discussions.
Indeed, race in America is still a huge issue that won’t seem to go away. The EEOC’s 2012 year-end data shows that retaliation (37,836), race (33,512) and sex discrimination (30,356), which includes allegations of sexual harassment and pregnancy were, respectively, the most frequently filed charges.
What does this mean? It means that we can’t move forward as a nation until we acknowledge the elephant. Diversity is always going to be a program for blacks until someone other than a black person acknowledges that diversity includes me, you, and everyone else. Diversity will continue to be a term that is viewed as “overkill” until people can be brutally honest about their feelings and not receive “backlash”, or be called a racist because they are telling the truth.
Let’s be frank here. There are pockets of black communities where some of the negative stuff is true. Welfare, drugs, crime…yep, true. There are music videos to back it up. Recently, I was flipping through the channels and I saw two different music videos with images of dead people in the streets. It’s not a matter of Hollywood showing the videos on TV– it’s a matter of influential artists making a decision to “get paid” by promoting these images as their brand.
Nevertheless, what we see on TV is not representative of the entire black community. Yes, we have a higher unemployment rate– but what about all of the folks that are hard workers (which is more than 80% of the population)? Yes, we have more broken homes– but what about the families that are whole and happy? Just as white people don’t want to be viewed as racist, black people don’t want to be stereotyped as the worst in society. Additionally, aren’t there other groups that we systematically exclude when we view America as a place for blacks or whites?
Our ability to talk openly and honestly about the things that make us uncomfortable is a necessity. We have to move past the fear, the stereotypes and the name-calling though. We need to reward courage– and not ostracize people for sharing their opinions. And we need to do our part to learn about and understand others, regardless of the color of their skin.
Maybe I’m the eternal optimist, but I believe we can do it. Let’s kick this elephant out of the room.
By Leah Smiley, CDE
Leah Smiley is the President of the Society for Diversity, and is a global thought leader and speaker. For more information about the Society for Diversity, log onto www.societyfordiversity.org, or follow us on Twitter @DiverseSociety