Diversity: Seeing in Color

Cross-posted from McKinney & Associate’s ‘Comm in the Storm’ blog, where I write about Diversity every Thursday.

Do a Google News search for “diversity” and the results are as varied as the word itself implies. But one thing most of the resulting articles have in common is the acknowledgement that for whatever reason, in whichever industry or field being discussed, diversity is lacking.

Why is that? If so many people, communities and leaders are talking about diversity – more specifically about improving diverse racial representation – why are the results not there?

One answer may be that too many people are adopting a form of enlightened ignorance: The idea that ignoring race equals approaching everyone with equality and therefore eliminating racial bias and discrimination.

It’s not hard to find examples of this – take a look at Forbes contributor Bill Frezza’s response to the recent NIH grant study, for instance. Frezza argues that, among other things, because the “peer-review process is entirely colorblind, with reviewers having no indication of an applicant’s race,” there is no reason to cry foul. Even as he admits that Blacks are underrepresented in the medical and science fields, and that the community “would be well served if many more students graduated high school, went to college, pursued advanced degrees and considered degrees in science,” he asserts that it would be utterly preposterous for the NIH to “fall for” applying such advances as Affirmative Action and other racial quotas to its review processes.

Frezza’s viewpoint, as common as it is, misses the mark in a major and extremely detrimental way. Given the sensitive history of minority populations suffering abuse at the hands of the majority, popular culture’s attempt at making amends by way of strengthening pride in racial diversity cannot be attained by simply adopting colorblindness. Putting a car in neutral after driving it in reverse doesn’t mean it’s all of a sudden moving forward. Diversity must be consciously driven.

True diversity can only be attained through a sincere effort to see and acknowledge race and then act against the abounding disparities that accompany it.

Frezza is right about one thing: it is a downright shame that minorities remain underrepresented in such advancing industries, and the Black community would most definitely benefit if more of its members had access to higher educational and employment opportunities. But that very notion serves to explain why ignoring race won’t do much to mend discrepancies.

How can we expect the members of our minority communities to truly reach equal levels of potential – including receiving government grants and funding – by ignoring the fact that they often begin with an opportunity deficit in many steps along the way?

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