“And for Diversity Week, we’re going to have Lebanese food!”
“Ah,” I said. “We’ll do that instead of assessing the structural effects that cause housekeeping and food services to be predominately people of color and keep the technological jobs here for white people, right?”
Don’t get me wrong. I like Lebanese food – at least, what I’ve tried so far. I also realize that trying diverse foods can be a useful experience. In my wife’s classes, one of the most popular sessions is when everyone brings in some kind of unfamilar “ethnic” food… preferably one from their own self-identified ethnicity.
Those are only beginning steps, a way to acclimatize people to the idea that “different” is not the same as “bad”. Ritualizing it, repeating it with the same people over and over again (as might happen in a workplace’s Diversity Week instead of a college class the students will only take once) flips the result of the experience.
Instead of being an introduction and familiarization to unfamiliar ways, it compartmentalizes them. A ritual of “ethnic” food definitionally separates it from “normal” – that is, mainstream White culture – food. Unintentionally, these “celebrations” of diversity may cause a further separation, a feeling that people of color are “other” rather than fellow human beings.
It will be a difficult task to reorient diversity initiatives back towards meaningful change and celebration instead of token gestures. My suggestion of examining our lack of integration was met with a half-joking half-slur of being called a socialist.
I laughed, and told him I wasn’t a socialist. We went our ways, but I will bring it up again. And again. Every time we become complacent, we must challenge it.
It took nearly six years to get my co-workers to stop asking for “strong men” to help with lifting tasks. Now, people just ask for “help” or “some people”. All it took was constantly, consistently, half-jokingly calling them “sexists” or “tools of the patriarchy”.
We all laughed when I’d say it. I’d even go out of my way to be silly about it.
But their behavior changed.