The murder of Heather Heyer, the deaths of two police officers and injuries that happened to 19 people on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, VA were a direct consequence of an act of domestic terrorism perpetrated by White supremacists who believe that people in other groups are sub-human and not fully evolved. There is no other way to put it. The fact that our nation’s leader isn’t addressing the issue or holding the racist terrorists accountable for their actions, while a problem in itself, is also symptomatic of the larger problems of inequality and instability that we are facing in many aspects of our lives as Americans. What happened in Charlottesville wasn’t an issue of conflicting political ideologies; rather, it was the distortion and dehumanization of the equality of all people. Similarly, what happened at Google with its viral manifesto, and, what is happening in many other cases of inequality and mistreatment around our nation are also fundamental human problems that affect all of us. What we do now as a society – the ways in which we collectively decide to confront these inequalities and address them – will permanently alter the trajectory and growth of our nation. Our responses to these crises will determine the legacies and burdens that we will leave for our future generations, and will decide our place in global society. So, how do we even begin to address these overwhelming problems? We start by once again focusing on inclusion.
What is inclusion?
Inclusion is the ideology that espouses that while people are different from each other in a countless number of ways (based on their sex, gender, nationality, ethnicity, native language, economic status, sexual orientation, political ideology, and a number of other things), we are all essential to ensure a healthy, functioning society. It is important to note here that inclusion, as an executable action, is very different from diversity. While diversity only addresses the existence of differences in people and ideas, inclusion tackles the problem of giving importance to these different perspectives and worldviews by increasing engagement and participation. Inclusion is about cultivating the advantages we can see in our differences, so that we can all enjoy the richness and benefits of our diverse lives. If our society is like a machine with a number of diverse parts, then inclusion is the oil that would make sure that these parts would work together, to collectively move us forward.
More than two years ago, I wrote a post on how inclusion is the only viable diversity initiative for us to adhere to, if we want our communities to become more stable and socio-culturally evolved. In it, I pointed out that inclusion is the only option we have as people because it promotes greater empathy and compassion, both of which are critical for us to be able to relate to others; it allows for more diversity in thoughts, viewpoints, and ideologies; it decreases automatic and unconscious reliance on faulty assumptions about people; it decreases violence within and between various social groups; and, it develops our sense of self-awareness, allowing us to master our attitudes and our emotions.
Our biggest threat to an inclusive society right now.
Just a few months after I wrote this post, a politically unqualified classist, racist and misogynist, Donald Trump, declared his candidacy to run for the President of the United States, and won on the promise that he was going to “Make America Great Again”. Yet, since this man entered the political arena, and especially since he took office, our social structures, institutions and communities seem to be crumbling right in front of our eyes. He used absolute hatred and violent rhetoric to communicate with his followers. He consistently kept (and still keeps) dividing us into groups and alienating the different groups from each other instead of making the smallest efforts to unify us as a nation. His penchant for flip-flopping on important issues is so well-established at this point that three-quarters of our entire nation feel that they cannot trust most of what comes out of the White House. As a result of this horrible leadership, the sociopolitical climate in this country has become very turbulent for its citizens. Clashes are happening in almost every aspect of our lives. This environment of conflict is further being fostered by the current administration’s complacency and unwillingness to guide our nation towards stability, inclusion and unity.
We are moving away from inclusion.
What do I mean by this? We only have to take a look at what has happened in our country in the past year or so, to see undeniable evidence that as a nation, we are socially, culturally and politically moving away from unity, equality, equity and inclusion. Within the last 12 months alone, many people’s fundamental right of access to affordable healthcare has been threatened. Women, children, people with disabilities and many other vulnerable segments of our population are now terrified with uncertainties about their health issues and their futures. In many work places across America, more instances of discrimination and harassment of women are being reported. Reports of hate crimes against minorities have also increased. The recently won rights of transgender people are being peeled back. And at the same time, there has been a tangible uptick in movements that are fighting for the “superiority of the White race”.
This is not to say that our country is completely broken, or that it was perfect until this current administration. It is a well-established fact that systemic racism, genocide, misogyny, classism and the idea of White supremacy have been built into the very fabric of American society, because of its colonial roots. From its very inception, America has been created and sustained on the real sweat, blood and lives of Native Americans and slaves. For more than 200 years now, minorities (historically, predominantly Native American, Black and Jewish people) and women have fought and died to give our voices some power to defend against the hatred spewed by those people who believe that only one group should have a say in how society functions.
Their efforts and sacrifices led to the emancipation of slaves, to the abolishment of slavery as an institution, to women having the right to vote and work, to immigrants being allowed to expand our society and culture, and, to many people being able to take part in our workforce, society and government to varying degrees. But we haven’t achieved our ideal of giving equal importance to every group in our society yet. Even after this progress, we are confronted every day with the reality of minorities and women who face overt and covert racism and discrimination across all aspects of their lives. We still hear about minorities being disproportionately targeted by law enforcement officials, disproportionate and discriminatory hiring practices, and many other anecdotes of mistreatment, verbal attacks and abuse. When we look at all of these occurrences, it becomes obvious that we need to make more progress towards egalitarianism and inclusion, especially in the digital era.
The effect of technology on inclusion
The invention of the Internet and the development and proliferation of social media platforms have had a humongous impact on social interactions and dialogues. The Internet allows us to freely connect with like-minded strangers from almost every corner of the world, while it also exposes us to the entire spectrum of diverse thoughts and ideas. Gone are the days of going to libraries and poring through the archives for research; these, researching something on Google or even Google Scholar takes all of 30 seconds. The speed and convenience at which a vast part of human knowledge is available to us, has forever changed the way we think and operate as individuals and as groups. Nowhere is this clearer than in the conversations about social and political issues – especially about equality and inclusion.
Until the era of the Internet, like-minded people from all sides had to put in considerable physical effort to join social causes and movements. Marches and protests would take months to organize, and when people got together after all that planning, they did so with an established sense of community and common goals. Since the Internet became a phenomenon however, anyone can say anything (with privacy and anonymity relatively intact) with just a few clicks of buttons on their screens. Entire groups, protests and movements can be formed and joined within a matter of hours. There are no real physical labor or income requirements needed to support social causes, and there is no physical presence of a community of faces. We are usually alone in front of our computers, engaging in debates. We process encouragement from our supporters and hate from our dissenters all on our own.
So, while these technological developments may have given us easier access to conversations and sentiments that support inclusion, they also leave us exposed and vulnerable to the vitriol spewed by those fighting to exclude and divide people (after all, they can also form groups just as easily on the Internet). To deny them the right to voice their opinions would be excluding them, but to allow them their hateful speech would be to risk the stability of our entire system and the wellbeing of individuals. As a result, we are faced with a dilemma. Should we include these types of harmful actions and thoughts? Or should we denounce them because prejudicial attitudes and discriminatory actions are not what “inclusion” really means?
I think the current state of affairs in America can serve as extremely important lessons to all of us about exactly what inclusion does not mean. Especially when we look at the national uproar caused by the harmful and unprofessional stereotypes perpetuated by the recent Google manifesto, followed by the domestic terrorism perpetrated in Charlottesville, Virginia by White supremacists, what inclusion is not, becomes crystal clear. In my opinion, it is absolutely critical that we pay attention to the lessons these social examples can teach us and correct the course of our actions immediately. Otherwise we might keep repressing and regressing into further states of violence, conflict, unrest, and ultimately, into the total deterioration and destruction of society. It is critical that each one of us realizes what inclusion is not so that we can defend against actions that while superficially seem to be “inclusive” are actually quite divisive. We need to be able to figure out what inclusion really is and isn’t so that we can counter the effects of prejudice and discrimination with actually inclusive practices that negate, or at least reduce the hate and inequality we may face.
So, what is not inclusion? Please click here to keep reading!