As Americans celebrate their democracy in the wake of an extremist assault on its very seat, they’d do well to remember that this democracy didn’t come to be by complacent worship of the status quo, but by the ceaseless struggle for progress.
Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman
Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in this country’s history, crystalised the call for national unity Wednesday as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were inaugurated. Gorman’s poem sent a message of unity that doesn’t brush over our individual differences. She writes: “…it’s prudent to understand that to fight for one group of people is essentially to fight for all people…All communities are interwoven and affect each other, either directly or indirectly,” adding, “I think it’s important to recognize that it isn’t necessary to erase our differences to be united.”
We teach in our courses that we cannot brush over differences if we intend to build inclusion in our workplaces or on our campuses. Brushing over differences makes people feel that their experiences and identities aren’t valued—the opposite of what an inclusive environment should feel like. Gorman skillfully calls for a discerning type of unity, one that acknowledges our differences and our similarities, our country’s history, and its potential.
How It Affects You
If you haven’t already, consider taking a moment to read Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb.” Can Gorman’s work help set the tone for the diversity and inclusion work in your workplace or on your campus?
President Biden and Racial Justice
Activists are cautiously optimistic about President Biden’s commitment to racial justice. Even in his powerful new position, addressing racism is a massive undertaking. Activists are curious to see what the president will focus on because they know race impacts all aspects of our society. The fact that he is a white male is also important to keep in mind. As activist Jeanelle Austin explains, “…Vice-President Kamala Harris is huge in terms of being able to advise the president as to an experience that he has never had; he has never lived in a black body…But it’s also going to be crucial for her to listen because she still doesn’t embody everybody’s experience.”
We are also curious to see how President Biden approaches the goal of racial justice, and what he will focus on first. Activist Dreisen Heath says Biden should 1) study reparations for the Black community and 2) work on decreasing the footprint of law enforcement in our daily lives. We hope to see more discussion of and action toward these goals in workplaces and on campuses across the country.
How It Affects You
This is an exciting and challenging moment. We have a president who has stated his commitment to racial justice at a time when more people than ever are calling for it. Now we have to see how he will turn his words into actions, and take it upon ourselves to voice our concerns and goals along the way. We can also use this moment to work in parallel with the federal government, addressing racial inequality in our workplaces and on our campuses.
Indigenous People and the Inauguration
While the inaugural events featured tribes across the country celebrating, some Indigenous people were disappointed by Jennifer Lopez’s performance of “This Land Is Your Land.” The song, “called to mind the nation’s long history of land disputes involving tribes” as well as the current Land Back movement. The Land Back movement is an effort by some tribes to reclaim ancestral lands. Cherie Tebo, a Winnebago tribal member, claims the song choice demonstrates how little some Americans know about Indigenous people and their struggle to be included in the full American proposition. Despite this, Tebo “sees an opportunity for tribes to have a seat at the table in Biden’s administration.”
This story is a good reminder that when we work to include some groups we could be inadvertently excluding others. Woody Guthrie’s song is meant to be a call for full inclusion, and featuring it during the inauguration was meant to be inclusive as well. So what can we learn from this? Listen to and amplify Indigenous voices, and stay informed about issues affecting Indigenous communities, such as the Land Back movement.
How It Affects You
Here are some ways you can include the perspectives of Indigenous people and other people of color in your school, campus, or workplace events:
- Be proactive by learning about BIPOC issues and terminology from BIPOC experts and scholars.
- Involve a diversity of perspectives in your event planning so that all voices are heard and acknowledged, and no perspectives are overlooked or sidelined.
- Continue to amplify BIPOC voices and raise awareness of these issues before, during, and after an event.