Today, I sat with a Conservative Libertarian to discuss Diversity & Inclusion. We discussed many
issues such as conservative identity and race-based programs that promote access. I realized throughout the discussion that while we were talking about the same things, we weren't talking about the same things. We were discussing diversity, equity, and inclusion from our own positionality which caused such a barrier that it felt like we were speaking different languages.
I was surprised about their generalizations but I didn't let them transition me to a place of anger. My lunchmate quoted statistics that were skewed about Black women and BIPOC communities and I realized that they truly believed the source(s) of their information. One of the most striking comments they made was "My friend's son is a college student who feels as though they will have more support coming out gay than admitting they were a member of the Republican Party." I had so many reactions to this statement that it took me a while to unpackage the impact of those words. I thought about the work that needed to be done to distinguish gender identity and sexual orientation with political affiliation. I thought about the joys and traumas of the coming out process and how associating that experience with naming a political affiliation could impact the LGBTQIA2P community. I also explored how members of the Republican party may feel with the shift in direction with the party in 2020 and how long-term affiliation could not provoke feelings of uncertainty. There is so much to unpackage with that one statement. I felt empathy with the student who was afraid to discuss their political affiliation and also empathy with the LGBTQIA2P community whose experiences are being used to define political party affiliation. I also began to think thru the intersectionality of an LGBTQIA2P community member that is also a member of the Republican Party, how have we provided support or provided avenues to understand their positionality without labeling or judgement. Are we excluding while including? Throughout the discussion, I questioned how much I went beyond the rhetoric of my news feed to learn more about the political affiliation with my colleagues, peers, students, and community members. I questioned whether my 18 year old self who connected with George Bush and my 40 year old self that felt negatively triggered as well as personally devastated by the racist undertones (and overt overtones) of the Trump campaign has shifted so much that I am categorizing groups of people in 'All' categories. I've always felt that US politics fails to capture the essence of humanity which is multifaceted, complex and cannot fit into two categories. Yet, we push all Americans to fit into two categories for economic, social, religious, international, legal, and much more when it comes to US politics - Democrat or Republican. We can't even agree that the 40 flavors at Baskin Robbins meets all the unique flavors of ice cream preferences, so if we can't fit within 40 ice cream flavors, how can we fit into two political categories. Thus, simplifying the complexity of humanity into these categories and associating a member of either of these communities with the atrocities of race-based segregation, discrimination, hate, and violence in our country oversimplifies our intersectionality.
My lunch mate quoted Dr. King, stating "I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." and then subsequently stated, "If we are asking our community 'not to be color-blind', we are asking them to ignore the work of Dr. King". I disagree, by asking our community to see color, we are asking that you see the complexities of my identity that includes the color of my skin. My Blackness is a part of my complex identity just as is my Christianity, my age, and my political affiliation. Each of these identities make up who I am and when I can live in each of these identities authentically, we have reached the ideology espoused by Dr. King which indicates that I am not being judged by my Blackness, but being valued because of the identity characteristics I have developed because of my Blackness!
I'll be honest, the lunch was difficult as I worked hard to engage in a conversation that called-in and did not call-out. I listened with empathy to understand the perspective of my lunch mate and appreciated their listening to my perspective, specifically as it relates to advancing D&I. We all sit in positions of privilege and when we use our privilege (whether we have a lot or a little) to help other members of our community excel, just think about the dynamic world we will create. Today, dialogue helped but it is not a stand-alone cure. It took years for us to get here and it will take years for us to get there...to inclusive excellence. BTW, I hope that you took away more from this article than that I liked George Bush when I received my voting privileges. I've come a long way over the past 25 years and every decision I've made has helped me to develop the tools needed to ensure that I am more welcoming, understanding, empathetic, and embracing than I was the day before. Give yourself some grace, knowing that as you grow in D&I, you get more comfortable being uncomfortable. This simply means that when you look inside yourself like I do everyday, I consistently say "Girl, are you being more open and welcoming today". If the answer is no, I have to check myself because it's me that needs to embrace differences, not the person in front of me that is different.