Race: The Real Reason Why Diversity Is Failing

Louis Byrd
Written by Louis Byrd

This article was originally published on LinkedIn

The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line…~ W.E.B. DuBois

Race is a concept we humans created. It has very little to do with the biological pigmentations of one’s skin and levels of melanin, but more to do with power. We can’t deny nor should we ignore how race relations correlates to the power structure in many of our institutions.

Look around any major city and you will find that in many instances blighted and neglected communities are often associated with the black and brown people. “Urban children” are often referred to being “at-risk” making the suggestion that suburban kids are not when that is far from the case. Gentrification and white flight remain in a constant waltz, switching lead every few decades.

In America, one of the helix in our nation’s DNA is its obsession with race. From the moment Columbus et.al “found India” by traveling west in 1492 to the first time stolen Africans who were forced to set foot in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619— this country has been engulfed with race.

Yet here we are almost 100 years after W.E.B. DuBois said, ” The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line…”, in the twenty-first century, we refuse to address race head on, especially in many of our workplaces, systems of governance, and institutions.

Inherently many of us know that diversity is more than just race and gender; however, these two categories may be the most prominent of all.

Every day I read some article talking about diversity and inclusion and the importance of both, but I find myself wondering if it truly is all that important?

I’m over white feminist women and men yelling from the mountain top about gender parity and equality, but they rarely speak out about race.

I’m sick and tired of CEO’s and other executive leaders taking bold positions on diversity in the workplace, but the majority of their initiatives are focused on the advancement of women.

Let’s be honest, we know that the majority of the women who are benefiting from these “movements” don’t look like my mother, aunt, grandmother, and wife.

It’s sad and pathetic that here we are pushing the diversity paradigm to full throttle, yet we remain trapped in a movement that is non-inclusive.

Although I am a firm believer that true inclusion will only be met at the intersection of all diversity—if I had to prioritize which “category” should be addressed first, without too much thought, it would have to be race.

I admit, this is my personal bias, being a black man and all, but looking around all I see is how race plays into everything, yet as of lately it is being downplayed in the conversation of diversity. Was it ever truly a major topic of discussion?

Did you know that 84.6% of the global population identifies as a person of color? I guarantee that there are plenty of women that fall into that category. Yet here we are in the United States, pushing for diversity, often emphasizing gender, and refusing to fully address race.

As a black man, running my own business, working as a consultant with mostly medium to large companies, I recognize the subtle micro-aggression when I walk into a board room and meet senior executives. I notice how I am strongly encouraged to join the “supplier diversity” program when my services will never be tapped in that type of underutilized procurement program. Do you know how demeaning it is to be denied the opportunity to provide a service because your company is not a certified minority business?

I have to prove my competency much more than some of my white colleagues who are granted the benefit of being competent in their skills. What’s even more disappointing is encountering this obstacle from my own people as well at times.

I know that feeling of not bringing my whole self to the table because that may make some white person uncomfortable.

So yes, I have a preferential bias toward addressing race in the scope of achieving diversity. My experience has yet proved me otherwise.

We all have a race problem whether we want to admit or not.

When it comes to many of the challenges faced by humankind, no matter where you go in the world, at some level you can draw a line directly back to race.

We all suffer…

As Dave Chappell said in his Netflix stand-up special, “we all suffer, but your suffering is not exactly like mine.”

Diversity is not a unilateral issue as much as we pretend it is, some people are subjected to more discrimination than others. This isn’t to say that one person’s challenges do not matter, but our challenges are not all the same— kinda that “all lives matter” versus “black lives matter” war.

In the tech realm, we hear about the “Women In Tech” movement, but women of color face far more barriers and challenges than their white sisters. In the LGBT community, while they continue to fight for equal rights, many “minority” gay and lesbian people are met with blatant racism, all underneath that same rainbow banner.

While the fight for anti-ableism is prominent in the disabled community, minorities with disabilities face higher unemployment and poverty rates, as well as less access to services, than their non-minority counterparts.

And sadly, our men and women who serve in our nations’ military, history showed how racism veered its ugly head and even to this day, race plays a major part in discrimination for our minority troops.

Recognizing that many of us have varying aspects of traits and characteristics that make us who we are, some people call this intersectionality, I call it being a dynamic human or simply, human.

How utopian it would be for people to not see color and only treat others based on their actions and character, but ignoring color is why we are still struggling with addressing it, today.

At this point, you should see how race should be our main priority when it comes to addressing inclusion, but it’s not and likely will never be.

Why? I believe it comes down to three reasons.

Race is hard

First, addressing race is hard because of the historic nature of the subject matter. Because of race, millions of people have been murdered, pillaged, raped, hated, castrated, imprisoned and discriminated upon for no other reason except them not looking a certain way. That is a heavy burden our forefathers left, and we are dealing with it, subconsciously, today.

We know that our society is systemically built on race and taking advantage of others. Which leads to the second reason, power.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely

In his 1965 masterpiece, “The Fire Next Time”, James Baldwin wrote:

“Color is not a human or personal reality. It is a political reality.”

Politics is all about power. There is too much power to be had in keeping certain people oppressed. The American slave period was nothing but a huge power frame. How else can you explain how a handful of white masters could control dozens of black slaves on a plantation? Even the emancipation was a power move for the north to take over the economic surplus of the south. It had very little to do with the morality of treating people as human beings and not property.

We see that same power dynamic take place on our modern plantations—the prison and judicial systems.

Fear

Lastly, fear is what ultimately stops us from addressing the race issue head on. Those in power fear what would happen if they lose power. Those without power fear what will happen if they were to fully speak out. To be honest with you, I somewhat fear how I will be viewed because of this writing. Will people not understand my sentiment? Will I be viewed as a misogynist? Will some of my clients, business leads, and associates read this and not want to do business with me for being so transparent?

How can we move forward if we choose to continue to ignore the very thing that impacts us all? It’s far past time we face the fear of fully addressing race.

I can no longer sit around and not be willing to talk about the realities of race and I hope you don’t either.

What are your thoughts? While I know this is highly subjective depending on your perspective in the matter, but do you think race should be the leading focus on diversity?

Louis Byrd is the principal and cultural brand strategist at Mellie Blue Branding, a cross-cultural brand consultancy that helps engineering and tech companies enhance their brand systems with cultural competence and intelligence. He is also co-founder of Awari.io, an enterprise app built with cognitive technology, designed to discover hidden biases in performance management and appraisal reviews.

This article was published with the permission of the author.

 

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About Louis Byrd

Louis Byrd is the Principal & Cultural Brand Strategist at Mellie Blue Branding, a cross-cultural brand consultancy that helps engineering and tech companies enhance their brand systems with cultural competence and intelligence. He is also Co-founder of Awari.io, an enterprise app built with cognitive technology, designed to discover hidden bias in performance management and appraisal reviews.


View Comments
  • Louis, great article. Thank you so much for sharing it.

    I agree that the matter of racial diversity in tech is one of those issues that gets danced around unapologetically. It’s labeled “hard,” and not given more explanation than that. I’ve been feeling this, and saying it privately, for a while.

    But, much like problems I face at work (I work in tech as well), I have to look at it from an angle that might suggest some solutions.

    To agree on the problem even is difficult; is it numbers of minorities in tech we’re aiming to increase? Pay equality? Training more minorities to work in tech?

    Of course the answer to that is “yes.” All of that. The problem is crawling with opportunities to spin your wheels, and it’s felt so daunting I haven’t done much to try to understand it or address it, personally.

    I figure a start is to talk about, at home and at work, and to be the change I seek, and reach out to other minorities with job opportunities and mentoring. So, I’ve been trying hard to do that.

    I’d love to read a follow-up post to this one about how we can start to chip away of the digital divide and gap of minorities working in tech.