Last week, I published a post about why, as Americans, we need to refocus on inclusion as an initiative that promotes equity and stability among our social groups. But to understand the “why”, it is necessary to fully realize the “what”. Especially in the midst of the social turmoil we are experiencing, some of us might think or even argue that it is important to consider the perspectives of those who are spreading hatred. Or we might say that this problem is far beyond us to handle, and that in order for our problems of racism, sexism and inequality to get resolved, we shouldn’t say anything. We may try to rationalize this as being inclusion. But, it is not. This is why we need to realize what inclusion is and isn’t. It is critical that we understand this immediately, so that we don’t make the same historical mistakes that we made in the past, and end up right back where we are now, or worse.
I need to add here that there are many things that inclusion is and isn’t. To give complete justice to such a highly nuanced topic is beyond the scope of any single blog post or article, in my opinion. I am going to focus only on the immediate and urgent lessons that we can learn from the very recent Google’s diversity incident and the Charlottesville terrorist attack.
It is also very important for me to add here that I am not by any means equating the social media uproar that happened in Google’s diversity incident to the horrors and grievous harms that neo-Nazi, supremacists perpetrated in Charlottesville. In so many ways these two cases are incomparable. But, they have one big commonality: White supremacists used both cases to dehumanize groups, and to damage and distort the idea of inclusion in different aspects of our lives. James Damore’s memo, his termination from Google, and his subsequent engagement with a larger national audience were all done from the conservative perspective, spreading the message of the “alt-right”, which does argue for White male supremacy. And, it goes without saying at this point that the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville were fighting for White supremacy in America. Their protest centered on the removal of a statue that was specifically installed to reinforce Jim Crow laws of the time, and to intimidate Black people in the community. In the Google case, the arguments were in the context of sexism, and in the Charlottesville attack, arguments were in the context of racial superiority. With both these cases however, it is important to note that the core of the arguments, protests and attacks boil down to human rights of equality and inclusion. So, what is not inclusion?
1.) Inclusion does not mean condoning, promoting or perpetuating harmful negative biases against people and groups.
The controversy sparked by the Google memo is a prime example of how negative biases are spread. . It’s criticism of Google’s diversity and inclusion practices might be fair and debatable points, especially by those who are directly affected by these practices. But, in these arguments, the memo (and, by extension James Damore) was inherently biased against women.
The memo argues that any biological differences that affect men and women’s interests translate into cognitive abilities that affect performance and growth at work in tech fields. This is a logical fallacy, as has been pointed out by others. The fact of the matter is that our interests don’t automatically and fully translate into our abilities. Our abilities are also affected by how much time and training we invest into them, the resources that available to us, our educational opportunities, the culture and climate that we are embedded in, and, many other factors. But, Damore argued that women’s biological differences affect women’s performance at work in the tech sector. Using scientific findings that only confirmed his biased opinions, he perpetuated a very harmful prejudicial attitude that if women aren’t growing in their jobs, it might be because they are less capable than men. In doing so, he changed the conversation from being about real discrimination and inequity. This is not inclusion.
The neo-Nazis in Charlottesville outright claimed that America belongs to White people. They weren’t trying to argue or fight for equal rights for everyone. Their exact point was to protect and promote the dominance and superiority of the White culture/race. This is because they believe that other groups are not as evolved as they are; that they are subhuman. That is definitely not inclusion.
2.) Inclusion does not mean creating or condoning an environment of hostile threats and danger, even subtle ones.
When we look at the examples of Google and Charlottesville, we see that hostility and threats are definitely more visible, and thus easier to recognize in Charlottesville. The use of torches, para-military gear and assault weapons, Nazi flags and symbols, and racist Nazi slogans are obvious enough signs of the aggressive and terrorizing nature of the attack. The hostility and threat of danger spread by White supremacists in Charlottesville was so extreme that the majority of our citizens, regardless of their political affiliations, have had no problem identifying, denouncing, and standing up against the racist and destructively violent nature of the protest. Yet, the idea of White supremacy still has enough supporters to make it an urgent national problem of exclusion and racism.
The Google manifesto was subtler in its hostility and in the threatening environment it created for everyone in that space. Damore created an uncomfortable and intolerable environment for his coworkers with his manifesto. He created an environment where his female coworkers would have to worry about being wrongfully judged as having inferior skills. He presented incomplete arguments about biological differences that could be used as ammunition by those people who do believe that women are inferior. He enabled very real stereotype threats (a threat that poses the risk of someone conforming to negative stereotypes about them) that women and minorities fight against in their lives every single day. He also created a negative environment for all of his male coworkers who may from now on feel like they are being judged as silent advocates of his viewpoints (also a stereotype threat). He demolished basic trust and respect that is necessary for any kind of teamwork or collaboration. He damaged the very things that group interactions need to be healthy.
3.) Inclusion does not mean conforming to existing structural inequalities and biases.
The foundation of America was based on structural inequalities created by White (European) colonial men to further their interests and wealth in the New World. And they executed it with their divide and conquer strategy, where they positioned themselves as “superior” people, and everyone else as “inferior”. Societal structures like our housing market, our job market, our banking and loaning systems, our educational systems, our marriage laws, inheritance laws, and many other systems were all created and maintained to augment the power and privilege of the governing group –rich, White men and their families. These structures and systems not only helped those who created them, they also specifically penalized people in other groups who were already disadvantaged by virtue of their non-membership in the White social group. The power and privilege these systems created, enabled White people – rich and poor – to become the dominant group and shape social and cultural education, norms, laws and policies. Thus, they became the baseline, or the accepted standard of American society. Minorities and women became tokens of acceptance, and their lives were largely dictated by what the White culture thought was good for them.
While a tremendous amount of energy and effort has been spent by many groups of people to try to equalize these societal structures, it has always been from the perspective of integrating (making a part of, while keeping it separate) the “others” into the dominant White culture. That is not inclusion. That is just conforming to existing inequalities. And, these inequalities hurt all of us, White people included. Inclusion entails giving value to people and issues, independent of the “majority” culture. It means addressing the needs of various groups based on what they actually need, and not on what “the powers that be” determine they need. Anything else is a situation where members of minority groups are still tokens. The Google memo and Charlottesville terrorist attack, both minimized various groups of people into token representations, and because of that, were non-inclusive in nature.
The Google memo tried to justify existing inequalities of the representation of women in organizational structures by highlighting “biological differences” in men and women. In doing so, it misrepresented the reality of all other cultural and social factors that also helped in creating an inequitable environment for women in the workforce. In addition, it also made men’s traits the baseline for job performance, and compared women’s traits to that. This isn’t inclusion. It is just conformity to the “White male” standard.
The supremacists in Charlottesville went even further by stating that the American society “belongs” to White people. They claimed ownership of an entire nation of diverse people, and they threatened and engaged in violence to assert their dominance. They believe that Americans aren’t meant to be equal to each other. They continue to practice and preach the historically and scientifically faulty notions of race superiority. They believe that diversity has actually hurt the White culture, and that if they don’t fight for it, it will be lost to American society. This definitely isn’t inclusion.
4.) Inclusion DOES NOT means ignoring or condoning injustices against individuals or entire segments of the population.
In this particular point, Google management’s handling of James Damore is more complicated but more revealing than Trump’s bad leadership. Once Damore’s memo got leaked and went viral, he was fired by Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, who said that the memo perpetuated negative stereotypes about the abilities of Google’s female employees to do their jobs. There have been many people who railed against the CEO’s actions, claiming that they were not inclusive and that they were sexist against Damore. But by terminating him, Google very clearly and openly declared that while freedom of speech is a fundamental human right, it has consequences. When this speech harms others physically or psychologically, it is the duty of the authorities in question to address the situation by removing the perpetrator of this harmful speech from the group, and holding them accountable.
Some wonder if Google did in fact shame Damore into silence. When we look at the notoriety that he gained after he left Google, and what he continues to use his fame for, we see that there was no “shame” involved. Since his termination, Damore still continues to give lengthy interviews, op-ed pieces and talking tours, all promoting the conservative, “alt-right” perspective of men. He still continues to argue to conform to the “White, male” standard, a perspective that decidedly makes him un-inclusive. Pichai’s actions in firing Damore were an unpopular but healthy way for a leader to use his power to stop a situation of inequality and instability. In this particular regard, the man currently responsible for the about 350 million or so Americans has much to learn.
Donald Trump’s pathetically weak actions to address the atrocities that happened in Charlottesville last week are perhaps a future textbook example of “what not to do” in situations of terrorism and hatred. Trump thought that he was being inclusive and rather magnanimous in declaring that “all sides” need to come together in the face of the horrors that unfolded in Charlottesville last week. What happened was racism, terrorism and violence. His unwillingness to denounce the actions of those who perpetrated death and injuries as hate crimes has only further emboldened the neo-Nazis to continue their agenda of hatred and division, and has created an incredibly unstable race-relations problem in American society. Tensions across social groups have magnified exponentially as Trump continues to ignore his own advisors and claim that those who protested for Nazi values are “fine people”. This is not inclusion; it is denial and cowardice in the face of a real threat of destruction to society.
Inclusion does not mean enabling destructive thought or action with silence. There is always a time and a place for silence. Our silence can be a very powerful tool that can teach us beautiful things about ourselves and other people. But, this is neither the time nor the place for it.When faced with hatred and terrorism that threaten to rip our nation apart, inclusion means using whatever privileges we do have to join our voices with those protesting against hatred. Listening in a discussion because you don’t want to impinge on someone else’s right to have an opinion is inclusion, but staying silent in the face of overwhelming evidence that the other person’s attitudes and actions are directly harmful to entire groups of people, is not inclusion. It is ignorance and complacency, and many of us are guilty of it.
So, what can we do to make our voices count towards inclusion? I will talk about that in my next post, coming soon!