As a teacher at Humber College and a veteran communications professional, one of the great joys and privileges I’ve had in my career is the ability to mentor young people starting out in the industry. A recent conversation with a 25-year-old friend, however, has me frustrated, as we talked about racist barriers he’s experiencing that are too similar to what I faced years ago.
It’s easy to get discouraged, especially in this time of backlash. Though the racist murder of George Floyd in 2020 seemed to make the world step up and demand real change, many of the promises made that summer have now evaporated in this time of economic uncertainty and a strong, coordinated pushback from those who disproportionately benefitted from the previous status quo. It’s what New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow has called #TooFar, "an intense gravitational tug to pull back to a previous position."
"Now we're starting to see that it's like the progress that was made over the last three years has essentially been wiped away," says the Uplift Agency’s Jerome Tennille in this interview posted below, "I've been somewhat surprised at the complete reversal by companies that I thought were actually like 100% in, and on board, and doing these things authentically."
Diversity and Inclusion educators are frustrated yet unsurprised. In a great conversation with Kim Clark, Deborah L. Johnson points out that every great social movement has been met with resistance. Hatred aimed at gay and transgender people has spiked since the 2015 US Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, the election of Barack Obama in 2008 spawned a wave of racist conspiracy theories from Donald Trump and what was then called "the Tea Party," and I remember Susan Faludi’s 1991 book BACKLASH detailing the harsh conservative pushback against the 1970s feminist movements. And new campaigns to prevent any of this from being taught in schools or discussed in DEI programs are growing in number.
"It’s an ongoing struggle to roll back anything that’s perceived as diminishing white power,” says UCLA history professor Robin Kelley: "They want to convince white working people—the same white working people who have very little access to good health care and housing, whose lives are actually really precarious, as they move from union jobs to part-time, concierge labor to make ends meet—that somehow, if they can get control of the narrative inside classrooms, their lives would be better. Racism actually damages all of our prospects and futures."
I recently spoke with a white man at a conference who said, "But what does all this diversity stuff do for me? Nothing. I’m treated like the enemy." This attitude is as sad as it is untrue. Straight white cisgender men, I told him, are part of the diversity. It’s not about replacing one group with too much power with another, it’s about sharing power equitably. And working alongside people of other races, faiths, genders and abilities makes us all smarter, more adaptable, more interesting people. Inclusion is a win-win and I’ve lived long enough to see people benefit directly from it. And I’ve seen the proof that more will benefit from it, even if it feels some days that it’ll happen for my younger friends in decades to come, if not me. To find hope in this time of backlash, I'll be taking the long view.
Breakfast Culture's approach improves workplace cultures, creates empathy in business, and drives new sources of revenue. Schedule a talk on Calendly with me today to learn more: https://calendly.com/jefferson7/30min Let's Break Some Eggs! – Jefferson Darrell, Founder & CEO, Breakfast Culture™ Inc.