“This moment is a conjuncture between the COVID-19 crisis and the increasing awareness of the structural nature of racism. Moments like this do arise. They’re totally unpredictable, and we cannot base our organizing on the idea that we can usher in such a moment. What we can do is take advantage of the moment.” — Angela Davis, on our current moment
Ban on Federal Diversity Training
Last week, the White House issued a memo ordering federal agencies to discontinue any training that suggests “(1) that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or (2) that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil.” Trainings related to white privilege and critical race theory were characterized as “divisive, anti-American propaganda.” Upon hearing the news, law professor and critical race theory scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw said, “This is McCarthyism 101.”
The White House memo perpetuates many misconceptions that people who are unfamiliar with diversity initiatives may have. Research-based diversity programming does not tell white people that they are inherently racist or evil. It teaches that when we begin to understand how racism operates, including how it benefits white people, we can then work to combat it and build a more inclusive community, together.
How It Affects You
Scholars have identified the most common strategies employed by people arguing against progressive race policies. These include, among others, denial of a prejudiced stance, downplaying race as a source of inequality, and using liberal arguments for illiberal ends.
For instance, the memo claims that diversity programming teaches that it’s racist to believe the most qualified person should get the job. What diversity programming actually teaches is that, because of race bias, the most qualified person may not get the job. By implicitly denying the reality of racially biased hiring decisions, the memo misrepresents this common learning point as illogical and overzealous. When you encounter arguments against diversity programming, look out for these common strategies.
Disability Representation in Publishing
Disabled people are the biggest minority in the world, making disability a mainstream political issue. Yet disabled people are severely underrepresented in many industries, including publishing. Frances Ryan describes the challenges of being a disabled writer in an industry that regularly sidelines people like her: “…like many minorities, we are often expected to only write about our identity, then dismissed as niche if we do.” She points out that including disabled writers is good business because “their inclusion will create richer storytelling.”
As more disabled writers and publishing professionals enter the industry, the less likely it is such writers will experience the challenges laid out by Frances Ryan. For instance, she reports that a publishing executive asked if they could film her moving about her home in her wheelchair. Ryan doubts they would have asked an able-bodied writer to do the same. She writes, “The more frequently disabled writers are given a platform, the less likely it is their disability will be fetishised.”
How It Affects You
Frances Ryan’s advice for improving disability representation in publishing can be applied across industries:
- Ensure internships are paid so that everyone has equal opportunity.
- Offer remote options or flexible schedules to everyone who needs it.
- Post job ads that explicitly ask for disabled applicants, and express the value disabled workers bring thanks to their unique skills and perspectives.
- Use social media to spread awareness, like a group of authors did recently with the #publishingpaidme campaign.
Georgetown Black Cemeteries
The Georgetown neighborhood in Washington, D.C. is now a predominantly white tourist attraction. However, Georgetown was once the home of thousands of freed and enslaved Black people. A three-acre plot shared by the Mount Zion and Female Union Band Society cemeteries contains their damaged headstones.
Garrett Lowe, a Washingtonian tutor, came up with the idea of enlisting the help of local youth to uncover the stories of the people buried in the Georgetown plot. Local high school students, and other residents, signed up for the class offered by Lowe. After researching the names on the headstones, students presented their findings at a libation ceremony.
One of the effects of systemic racism is that Black stories are often erased from the dominant narrative. When Black history is left out of the classroom, students are taught “a skewed understanding of history.” By investigating the Black history of Georgetown, students gained a greater understanding of marginalized stories, and corrected misconceptions about slavery and the Georgetown neighborhood.
How It Affects You
Teachers and faculty can develop creative ways to bring Black voices into the classroom. Highlighting diverse voices and histories will:
- Make your classroom more inclusive.
- Give your students a fuller perspective on class material. Students who are not given the opportunity to learn about Black history may not realize the significance of Black stories and voices.
- Help you combat unconscious racial bias among students.