A person I am coming to admire asked me recently if I have ever been warned of being pigeon-holed as “the diversity and inclusion” person. No, I haven’t been, but I have thought about it. Long and hard. I have also heard others voicing their concerns about being type-casted as such. Personally, I feel that it’s a label I’d proudly wear. Not that I don’t have issues about this train of thought, especially since I think diversity and inclusion are not niche matters.
In a previous post I asserted that social justice, diversity, and inclusion work is equivalent to working for belonging, as in belonging as described by Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In no way do I suggest that there aren’t any basic, fundamental, life-death sorts of struggles that are involved in social justice work. Not at all. We are all too aware of how essential needs are denied people because of characteristics they may have that have been labeled by others as less desirable, more dangerous, less worthy. The seeds of this ranking of people from good to meh to deviant/pathological/undesirable are things we are all caught up in, whether we decide to acknowledge them or not.
Life and social justice work would be so much more easier if bigotry (and bigots) wore labels and signs, maybe a scarlet letter, for everyone to see. But, obviously, they don’t. Besides, other-ing bigots and bigotry might not be the best tactic.
Since we’re all products of our environment, it’s really important to acknowledge the effects of inequity within our society and within ourselves. This, however, requires us to accept that awareness and acknowledgement are fundamental to being decent human beings. Let’s face it, this type of internal work is exhausting, frustrating, and not at all fun. Confronting one’s own shortcomings and personal bigotry is extremely difficult. What to do? I’m not sure. I’m trying to figure that out myself.
While I’d really like to not be pigeon-holed (and consequently overworked and burnt-out), I believe social justice work is of utmost importance. It is fundamental to our communities, our society, and, heck, very likely, our civilization. Suffice to say, it matters a lot. It is work that makes a difference in the lives of individual people and to our increasingly multicultural, multiracial society. If subsequently becoming pigeon-holed is the consequence of the work I am currently doing, I gladly accept. Really, it’s a very small price to pay.
However, social justice workers need trustworthy, loyal, committed allies and friends. Better yet, coworkers, comrades, and companions. The tasks that need to be undertaken are huge. And, oftentimes, the path leading to our goals of equity and inclusion is narrow, treacherous, and lonely.
Of late, I am learning that people who say they are pro-social justice are actually people who just say they are, believing they are competent allies because they’ve checked boxes off of a list or have sympathies for the truths committed people declare. But working for social justice is something that requires repeated action, demonstration, and a hefty share of sacrifice. When commitment exacts a big-enough price, the rationalizations and justifications abound. How do we know who are the truly committed and who are paying lip-service? There’s no easy, singular answer to this question. Membership in a disenfranchised or underrepresented community doesn’t preclude one from this question, either. Personally, I think we should all be asking ourselves this question repeatedly.
The checking we are so often invited to do is not the checking off of items on a list. It’s actually the internal checking of one’s own personal views, beliefs, strengths, and flaws. The focus is on the process, not necessarily the product. Labels and signs don’t work for these sorts of things, unfortunately.