The New Moniker: Diversity

Perhaps the biggest “teachable moment” from the Henry Louis Gates Jr. saga was for President Barack Obama: If you want to improve race relations, you have to enter the fray.
(By JESSE WASHINGTON, AP National Writer)

Somehow the term “diversity” snuck  into corporate policy regarding affirmative action and equal opportunity employment. Companies hail their diversity training, diverse audiences,  diverse workforce, and form diversity committees to oversee their diversity policies.

While corporations are busy dealing with their main focus, the bottom line (i.e., making money), they’re obligated to follow those pesky government regulations and one of them is diversity. How do companies put up a face of diversity while maintaining the workforce they desire–young, peppy, and predominantly caucasian? Like so many things, they make things up.

The statement “We are committed to a diverse working environment” means “Since we really don’t want any lawsuits, we’ll do our best at keeping up the appearance that we care about diversity even though we, like so many  people, have no idea what it is and really could care less.”

I know this subject intimately, not only because I’m black or African American or whatever the proper term is now, but because my sister was the first African-American female ranger  in the State Parks of California. The pictures of her with her fellow rangers are now humorous reminders of her pioneer status. After  31 years rising through the ranks, the picture remained the same–her and one or two caucasian women surrounded by a throng of white men. When the state parks “reorganized” several years ago, she was reorged into a diversity committee–the first place for black people to go when the state ran out of money as it seemed to threaten every year.

She didn’t like it, but she made the best of it and did her job with gusto. She served on the “diversity” committee and went around the state giving seminars to peace officers (that also includes CHP, county police/sheriffs, as well as rangers). When they weren’t yawning, laughing or complaining about what a waste of time the diversity training was (paid time, mind you), she tried to impose upon them that diversity wasn’t just about race. It was about how people perceive and judge each other just by their looks and how much everyone is the same despite deeply embedded, rich cultural traditions.

Most walked away with a story about how cute, funny and likable she was and not much else. Nevertheless, she always had the gleaming hope that she made a difference.

Time, it seems, has only made the issue of diversity more complex because it is weighed down with so much history. The only hope is that the post civil-rights generation who can experience some of the benefits of this long-fought battle will move this country beyond that. Obama tapped into that generation with his “Hope” campaign. Corporate America has no choice but to take heed.

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