Are you familiar with Luther?
I'm talking about Luther, "the anger translator" by actor and comedian Keegan-Michael Key.
Because, y'all. That is certainly what doing diversity, equity and inclusion work feels like.
Now, I'm not talking about the necessary and exciting discourse and disagreement. It is important that we disagree and it is important to have people disagree with me. It is important that we seek people who are different from us, who have different ideas, and who challenge our own ways of thinking. My own friend group (and I'll include social media friend groups in there, too) are filled with people from different religions, faith traditions (or none at all), gender and gender identities, class and socioeconomic backgrounds, races and ethnicities, countries of origin, and political beliefs.
Yes, even political beliefs. Yes, even during these times.
These different identities are found among people in my own family, my work friends, folks I've met out on the road, high school classmates, graduate school scholars, lifelong friends I've made through my children, and friends who I've met through different life experiences.
Rest assured, while many of my close friend circle do share similar views as me (give or take a few degrees to the left or right), I also have many close friends in my life who couldn't be more different ideologically, who are so far on the right or left of the political spectrum that it's hard to even see each other sometimes. But, they are in my life, and I love them. (I admit, I did draw the line with anyone who was openly cheering for some of the most vitriolic phrases or sentiments we have heard in the past year. Those people had to go.)
How are we able to coexist? (1) We listen to each other. (2) We disagree respectfully. (3) We have taken the time to explore why we think the way that we do. (4) We have learned how our individual life journey's have brought us to where we are today. (5) We know that, though we may disagree on a few powerful issues, we hold each other's humanity at the forefront of it all.
Now, I don't know all of the details of all 1,400+ Facebook friends; but I do know that they are all people who, in their own lives, have dedicated themselves to those five practices. And, among my friends in this circle, we disagree on some very personal issues: we disagree on abortion issues; we disagree on gender identity; we disagree on sexual orientation -- all three topics that can find their foundation in powerful faith. Recently, I had posted on Facebook that I wanted to start the new year knowing who of those 1,400 I was actually engaging with. I read tons of posts by at least a few hundred different people, and I wanted to get a sense of who was interested in what I was writing. I heard from lots of folks, predictably, who shared similar ideas as I had. But a few had written, "Liza, we disagree on most things. And, that is important. Hoping to stay on and reading your posts because it's important for me to know different perspectives." #loveit
But, what happens when I'm faced with someone who cannot bring themselves to a place of understanding about difference. It may bring you hope and comfort to know just how rare I run into this scenario. I mean, in 20 years of doing very visible work in areas of justice, I've certainly "seen it all." But, in 20 years, I have only run into a dozen or so people who have escalated their dismay for discourse into hatred.
And, you may be surprised at this: in my 20 years of doing this work, of the dozen or so who I have encountered, I have only run into 1-2 people who I would say were true racists or homophobes or who were just legitimately anti-diversity. I have only run into 1-2 people who were there to prove their point that Whites were superior or that gay people were going to hell.
So, who are the other 10? The other 10 have been people who have started with "I'm not racist.. but..." or who have told me that their "daughter's Asian boyfriend" or "former roommate who was gay" or "because I grew up poor" and then jumped into racially loaded or homophobic or classist rants. They have said, "I love that my child has classmates of other races, but I just don't want my child learning about them." Or, they have said, "I know being colorblind isn't a good thing, but neither is talking about diversity so much." Or they have said, "I have wonderful gay friends who are good people, but I just don't want my child to know about those other kinds of gays."
See what's happening there? They like diversity; they just don't like inclusion or equity. And, see how there is a predictable pattern of speech? Say pro-diversity thing then say anti-diversity thing.
Those are the days my inner dialogue is Luther.
Those are the days, as a professional, when I have had to let people get closer to me than I am comfortable (a woman once put her hand so close up to my face, she was within an inch of striking me in the nose). Those are the days, as a professional, when I have to restrain myself from telling a person to "fix her face" as she glared at me, pursing her lips to hard that I was convinced she was building up enough spit to send one nasty ball hurling towards me across the conference table. Those are the days, as a professional, when I have to meet the anger with the greatest basket of compassion, knowing full well that the same courtesy is not reciprocated to me as woman of color. Those are the days, as a professional, when I have to silently repeat over and over again in my head "She lacks information" even when the person is questioning my very credentials and perpetuating myths and falsehoods. These tend to be folks who know enough not to be a human resources liability and who know enough to fit in.
I wake up every day recommitting myself to this work. I know that, despite hearing every so often that another person is "tired of diversity" or thinks we "put too much diversity in the curriculum" or that "talking about race actually makes people more racist," I know firsthand of the successes of inclusion. I carry 20 years of stories with me of people who have felt validated, heard, and who feel like they belong because of something good we had done for them.
There isn't much I can do for the 1-2 people who are so firm in their anti-diversity beliefs. My hope and prayer is that they'll come to it in their own time and that no one gets hurt in the process. I'm never really sure what to do with the folks who speak in such strong levels of contradiction -- who know enough to sound like they are committed to diversity but who simply hate the notion that diversity and inclusion take work.
I will say that, of those 10 or so, their friend group is largely homogenous.
I travel around the country talking a lot about identity and sense of self. And, much of what I emphasize is that who we are is important to what we believe.
I'll end by saying I'm grateful for the folks who have invested lots of time in exploring their own relationship to identity. I have experienced your ally behavior and am encouraged by communities that you contribute to each day. I am grateful for people who seek to understand differences in opinions and approaches and who are willing to engage in productive dialogues.
I'll continue to be professional in times when I'm required to do so. And, I'll continue to keep my good sense of Luther-the-Translator humor as I ride this bumpy ride called justice.