By Lewis Brown Griggs
Judgmental and derogatory words about any other human “tribe”, race, ethnic group or country of origin are exclusive rather than inclusive. Biased and disparaging languages – and even thoughts – are profoundly detrimental to our democracy, our relationships near and far, and the health of our entire planet. And with recent events in mind, selective xenophobia and prejudice is particularly pernicious and irresponsible when coming from our leaders, and especially our own President.
This country was founded by individuals seeking freedom from domination and injustice, and the words of the constitution were intended to provide safety for any and all coming here in search of democracy and opportunity. However, it seems as if our constitution’s famous words “We the people” were in the beginning only applied to “We the straight white male landowners”.
With no shame and no blame, just full recognition and ownership, we must realize that it is evolutionarily natural to feel safer and more comfortable with people of our own ‘tribe’. Because what the original white male immigrants had experienced was the version of leadership and dominance they had left behind, the best they could do after decades of such dominance was to eventually say, “OK, we give the rest of you equal opportunity”. However, not only did they arrogantly think it was white men who had the power to bestow upon others what they thought were ‘equal rights’, but what they meant by ‘equal rights’ was to become ‘just like us’ without any sense of why women and hitherto disenfranchised groups might want to be anything different, ‘just like themselves’.
Given such a reality, it remains deeply unfortunate that too many of us still fail to appreciate that most of our immigrant relatives before us (except of course those who were trafficked) came here to seek individual freedom and democracy, so therefore we must not to project our natural bias onto others who are coming here today for the same reasons our relatives first came here generations ago.
Natural bias and righteousness exist worldwide regardless of melanin or circumstance (though mostly from males). So we men of “linear left brain intelligence” in the USA felt, understandably, that the best thing we could then do to help counter all this natural bias was to legislate against all forms of racism, sexism, classism, and every other -ism that was felt and expressed by most male leaders.
With best intentions, we believe that giving fairness, equal employment opportunity, quotas, affirmative action, etc., at least helps to reverse past wrongs and over time develop experiences which will balance or even transform our different perspectives.
And yet, as every female and minority of any identity has experienced in this country, legal compliance with its boundaries and rules, while it may protect against the most egregious expressions of -isms, can never be enough to prevent the naturally ignorant and ethnocentric feelings of discomfort with difference. The energy from such discomfort daily impacts every relationship, every organization, and every government, thereby depleting effectiveness and health at every level of every organization, public or private.
Most of us agree or at least give lip service to the point that no one should be given unfair special treatment, only legitimate equal or equitable treatment. So when there are two people who are truly and equally tied in their qualifications for a particular role, and they could therefore equally fulfill the basic requirements of a job, then the candidate who brings the gifts of diversity (i.e. providing different perspectives and problem solving of greater value than the natural comfort of homogeneity) is simply the better choice. This is NOT compliance, but instead it is in the organization’s self-interest to value the human diversity – the diverse perspectives to be used in all co-created problem solving.
And even what I call “behavioral compliance”, i.e. acting in ways that seem to follow the rules, in no way minimizes the profound ignorance, ethnocentrism, and consequent discomfort we have with anyone noticeably different from ourselves. The words and actions can be 100% behaviorally and legally compliant, and yet we can feel the energy be either enhanced or depleted if what is driving the interaction is only rules and legal requirements.
Accordingly, therefore, in every team and organization, we need to learn how to recognize and value whatever diversity actually helps us achieve our shared goals. Other differences, which do not affect or are not relevant to our common goals, can be the ones we either ignore as irrelevant or even feel our own discomfort but don’t do anything with it. We do not have to ‘value’ all the differences because they are not all relevant, but all differences to be accepted.
Therefore, whether we are talking about an organization as above, or our country in the instance of our President’s language, the differences that are relevant are the ones we should consider in our decision-making. Whoever we are and wherever we come from, whatever our unique DNA or personal life experiences, if freedom and democracy are our common goals and values, then it’s not about the place from which we immigrate that can be judged positively or negatively, but it is about the individual values that we bring to the common purpose or goal.
Imbalance (too many immigrants from the same place, culture, etc.) can also be detrimental. But the source or origin itself cannot by itself justify judgment that it is undesirable, etc. Homogeneity is NOT the goal. While we all realize that it is easier to manage homogeneity in team, organization, or country, the US has the huge underdeveloped potential to benefit from the greatest gifts that our human diversity brings, if that potential is more fully utilized toward the same goals of individual freedom and democracy. Country of origin or any other differences are less relevant than whether or not the immigrant values and is wishing to fully participate in society by learning to speak the common language of English, complying with the rules and laws of this democracy, offering the very unique gifts of one’s diversity, and contributing to the common goal of maximum Inclusion and Equity with all others.
Lewis Brown Griggs is a Diversity and Inclusion Trainer, Speaker, and Coach, and has spent 35+ years working with corporations, academic institutions and government agencies, bringing increased effectiveness to individuals, teams, and organizations as a whole. Lewis lives in the San Francisco Bay area and can be contacted at Lewis@Griggs.com and at linkedin.com/in/griggsproductions/