Back in 2008 at the University of Louisville, there was a pretty big shift about to take place within a long-standing office on campus. To complicate matters this office was steeped in tradition, and had long served the university’s African-American student population in many important ways. At the same time, there was need for a new direction and vision, one that was more inclusive of other students of color and traditionally under-represented students on campus. I was tapped to lead this important transition, and to literally rebuild a center that would both honor the traditions and work of the past, while moving boldly into the future. One need not live in Louisville, KY to understand that this was going to be a challenge.
When working within the “diversity and inclusion space” there is an analogy used that I can only imagine is borrowed from the budget and finance world. Groups of people (typically clustered around race/ethnicity) will often speak about and vigorously defend their “piece of the pie.” This piece of the pie refers to their slice of the college’s resources that are committed to “diversity and inclusion.” As you can imagine, this is problematic on so many levels, and it showed up during this important transition that I was asked to lead. The prevailing question I was faced with, very loudly from those in the community, alumni, students, and faculty, was; “what about our piece?” Underneath the surface of that questions, was this: “how are we going to get ours, if we let all those other people get theirs?” And, “we don’t have enough already, how are we going to share with them?” These are real questions, born out of real oppression and frustration, and I understand it all too well. As a Black man, raised in the southern part of the U.S., I know well how this “pie” is often doled out by some faceless entity(ies) that expect the recipient(s) to make it last. This can be in the form of public assistance, quality education, financial aid, space, or other resources. The problem is, I think we continue to ask the wrong question. Which leads us to have to ask the same questions time after time.
By way of providing a solution to this dilemma, I would like to offer advice that Dr. Marc Lamont Hill shared during his keynote. We need to reframe the questions that we ask. Instead of saying “what will happen to my piece of the pie,” let’s instead ask:
This shift is beyond mere semantics. As Dr. Hill said in his keynote, this change literally requires an epistemological shift. Asking “what will happen to my piece of the pie” is a deficit way of seeing the world. It assumes limited resources, perpetuates siloism in our lives, and necessitates competition in and amongst communities that are intersectional and oftentimes similarly marginalized. Furthermore it ignores, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that “injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” Even if the injustice is being committed to someone different from you. And as if that isn’t enough, this deficit thinking ignores the fact that people are, by design, interesectional beings. I am Black AND (Christian, male, cisgendered, able-bodied, etc.). We force people being oppressed already, to oppress other parts of themselves and pick a “side” to defend. This is the worst kind of torture.
Sometimes I come across a regular, common sense post on social media that is profound because of it’s simplicity. This is one such post – that is pasted below in its entirety – from one of my former students at the University of Louisville. Thank you Tyler (AKA Fish) – for schooling us on how it should be done. And let me add that this process doesn’t have to be laborious, it just takes longer than the few seconds it takes most people to word vomit on their page. Don’t be lulled by the thought that you have to respond immediately to anything; you don’t! Think before you speak, even when you’re not speaking…
From Tyler Lance Walker Gill on Facebook:
“This is my advice for everyone when it comes to getting involved in political discourse, which I believe we all should do: The next time you are tempted to watch the “news”, don’t. Instead, go turn on C-Span (1 or 2). You’ll notice the extremely boring nature of this programming. You’ll also get to hear all the bullshit without the “media” filter, straight from the horses’ mouths. This, my friends, is politics. Beware: this is no place to find truth or facts of any kind. After you’ve gone straight to the source, do your best to find a good secondary source or two – just be careful, and pay attention to where their money comes from; all it takes is a google search to find out whether or not a source should be trusted. Now, see if you can find a good study reinforcing what you heard from our representatives. Find something that uses math and numbers to reinforce findings. Politics should not really be entertaining, and this method of ingesting information is not fun. It’s actually a lot more like homework. But, you have to stop trying to find something that sounds good to you and reinforces your opinions, and go searching for some facts. This is the only way to really get involved in the discussion, and I promise, you’ll feel empowered by information, and you’ll find yourself caring a lot more about whatever issues you find most important. When we all know the facts, we can stop wasting our time arguing over our opinions – two very different things. Then maybe, if we’re lucky, we can more easily hold our representatives accountable.”
Please, share this with someone that may need it!
- Bullshit and Bathrobes: The State of Our Civic Discourse (civinomics.wordpress.com)