Diversity, Inclusion and the “Naïve Offender”

It is very easy in today’s complex multi-cultural world to inadvertently offend someone. (graphic from wikiHow)

When I hold a diversity and inclusion workshop with a client, early in the discussion, I ask people to think about where they may be on the “diversity spectrum” when considering this subject. I assert that people generally fall into four categories. Where are you?

Change Agent. These are the leaders on the diversity subject. They are full vocal supporters of diversity and inclusion, and are often the leaders within their organizations on this subject. They may teach workshops, are not afraid to initiate discussions with other leaders and employees, and are adroit at articulating the business case and value of diversity.

Active Supporter. These people “get it.” They understand the value and importance of diversity and inclusion and seek to grow in their knowledge. They take steps in their daily work to assure diversity and inclusion is a component.

Hopefully we can all aspire to be change agents or at least active supporters in terms of diversity and inclusion (photo from Plays-In-Business.com)

Neutral. These are people who most likely have not given the subject much thought, and simply go along with the flow in their areas. Often, they may not have been educated on this subject.

Deliberate Offender. These are people who can do quite a bit a damage within an organization. They are anti-diversity and often ostracize or criticize diverse groups or constituencies within the enterprise. They may even go as far as to spread false information and fear about others.

But in addition, there is a fifth category where even those of us who are change agents and active supporters may find ourselves from time to time – the naïve offender.

What is a naïve offender? This is a person, who on occasion, unintentionally makes an error or a misstep in terms of some aspect of diversity. Often a person may even have good intentions, but accidentally say something offensive to someone else. Frequently these missteps simply come from a lack of knowledge.

What are some examples of a naïve offender?

• Using a word or phrase that is offensive to the hearer. For example referring to sexual orientation as “sexual preference,” which is used by those people trying to perpetrate that gay people chose to be gay and can change, or an older white man, who calls all younger men “boy” addressing an African-American man as “boy,” which conjures up cultural references to slavery.

• Saying something in jest which can offend certain hearers. Examples could be taking about how you are going to party it up and drink tequila and eat tacos to celebrate Cinqo De Mayo, or making reference to nooses or chains with African Americans.

• Speaking more loudly and raising your voice to someone who does not speak English fluidly. Simply slowing down and avoiding complicated words and idioms would be helpful instead.

• Treating all Hispanics or Asians as collective groups and not appreciate that Latin America and Asia are comprised of dozens of countries with their own distinct culture.

• Unknowingly referring to a transgender person or a gender fluid person by the wrong pronoun.

Even as a diversity trainer, I make mistakes as a naïve offender. I was presenting some material that was 3-4 years old using the terms “hearing-impaired” and “sight-impaired” when those communities now prefer using the words deaf or blind. The word impaired connotes that someone has a fault or is not capable.

What should you do if someone “naively” offends you? I would think that based upon your past relationship with someone and their body language and tone of voice, you can discern if the person is making an honest mistake or is truly belligerent, e.g. a deliberate offender. If you sense the person is a naïve offender, turn it into a learning moment and graciously point out their error. Lashing out at the person or ostracizing them will not be helpful to them, nor your community.

And what are some hints and tips for the naïve offender? How can you continually improve in this area?

• When you make a misstep and realize it, immediately and sincerely apologize.
• When someone points out a diversity mistake that you made, thank them for pointing it out.
• Continue to educate yourself about diverse communities you interact with, especially those you may be less familiar with.
• Think of ways where you can grow more as an active supporter or change agent of diversity and inclusion.

May we all be gracious and continue to grow in building a world where all diversity is fully understood, respected and included.

The below closing graphic illustrates these categories of people in regards to diversity and inclusion, along with another graphic sharing that effective diversity and inclusion training needs to incorporate the mind (business logic), the heart and taking action. Read my other blog about these components of diversity and inclusion training.

Facing the Truth: Racism Still Persists in the USA

African Americans in the USA are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of Whites

African Americans in the USA are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of Whites

In my work as a diversity consultant, I often run into people who assert that racism no longer exists in the United States; that this is an issue we have completely addressed and that we are indeed living in a “color-blind” society where people are no longer judged based on their race. And these same people say that everyone in today’s USA has truly the same opportunity to succeed, and some even further claim that with equal opportunity laws, Blacks may even have an advantage of over the White majority.

But as a white man and a diversity consultant, I strongly disagree. Yes, there has been tremendous progress in racial civil rights over the past 50 years, but truly there is so much more hard diligent work needed to continue to address and eliminate racism.

What is racism? One simple definition I like is that racism is “the belief, often accompanied with behavior, that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” And racism can be categorized in two ways: personal racism and institutional racism.

Personal racism is when an individual acts maliciously against another individual or groups of individuals primarily based upon their race. Two examples of personal racism:
• The very well publicized recent story (link) of fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma exuberantly singing a racist song which included the N-word and references to lynching.
• A professional black colleague of mine recently shared that earlier in the year, when stopped at a traffic light, a car of three young white men pulled up beside the car, rolled down their window and repeatedly yelled the “N-word” at her. I supposed they were obsessed that a Black professional could work hard, succeed, and drive a nicer can then they.

Institutional racism occurs specifically in institutions such as governmental bodies, corporations and universities where systemic policies and practices within the institution have the effect of disadvantaging certain racial or ethic groups. Evidence of institutional racism across the USA includes the facts that:

The poverty rate among Black Americans is nearly double the general population, and particularly impacts women and children

The poverty rate among Black Americans is nearly double the general population, and particularly impacts women and children

• The 2010 US Census showed that 15.1% of Americans live in poverty, but the rate is almost double for Blacks (28%). Over the past two decades, there are been virtual no improvement in income disparity between Blacks and Whites.
• African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rates of whites, and even though Blacks and Hispanics only comprise 25% of the American population, 58% of all prisoners are Black or Hispanic. Causes of this include a racially bias justice system and the lack of economic opportunities for Blacks. (link to details from the NAACP).

Not all racist acts are as blatant or intentional as the example provided above. Many racists acts come as a result of unconscious bias or the naïve offender who may not even be aware of what they are doing. Unconscious bias and naïve offenders who are open to learning and personal growth provide opportunities for great teaching moments and constructive dialogue that enables understanding in these sensitive areas.

This short blog only briefly touches on this issue so I encourage my readers to admit that racism certainly is still present in the USA and that we all need to continue to advocate and diligently strive to build a more just and fair society that truly treats and values all equally.

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Additional Links:

Blog on “The Growing Culture of Poverty in the USA.”

A blog on how businesses can align with the community to address poverty issues.