White Guy on the Diversity Committee

“I’ve been wanting to introduce you to Steve,” she said. “He’s the guy I think should be on our diversity committee.”

I blushed. She had mentioned this a few separate times, and I’m still uncomfortable about the idea. I don’t want to be rude – I respect the woman suggesting it – but it feels distinctly weird. It is pretty rare to see a white male on a diversity committee – regardless of ideas or intentions. I’m not entirely sure how good of an idea it would be.

There would be good points – I’m making the assumption that said white male is me, or someone even more aware of diversity and prejudice than me. When a while male starts talking about minority and women’s issues – especially if the white male presents as a typical conservative white male – it’s harder to ignore and dismiss their complaints. Quite simply, more minds might be convinced and changed more quickly.

But that’s also the bad point as well. Diversity committees are sometimes used as a way to promote minorities. The call for a diversity manager here implied strongly that one should be a woman or minority to have a significant chance of getting the position. It’s pretty well documented that minorities – particularly women – are typically socialized to avoid confrontation. Throwing a historically privileged person – e.g. a white male – into the mix could quickly lead to his domination of the group, whether intended or not. It could also take up a place for a more deserving candidate of color. It’s not too hard – since people tend to select for others like themselves – to envision this being the first step on a road towards a diversity committee headed up by white males.

Which brings us back to the good point – if there’s historically marginalized people in charge of promoting diversity and fighting prejudice, that might in itself imply an unwillingness by those in power to actually *listen* and *implement* such change. Whether vocalized or not, is there a subtext of “well, yeah, but everyone in group X whines all the time”? As I remember one author putting it, “White people have to also renounce the privilege they have to effect change. If change could be solely accomplished by minorities, don’t you think they would have done so by now?” I’ve noticed this myself. Women’s emotions are sometimes dismissed as “it’s just their time of the month”. This kind of sexist statement was questioned by women in my workplace without getting any change in behavior. Later, I spoke up twice – and didn’t back down from the resulting argument – and change happened. As the graffitti so accurately points out: Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.

Perhaps diversity committees and the like have two goals – achievement and status markers for minorities, and the removal of discrimination and prejudice. Those goals might not always work well together. The question is, which one is more worthwhile? Can one be sacrificed for the other? Is there a third way? Or am I completely off-base with all of this?