A Good Conversation About Inclusion

Last week Jeffrey Cufaude wrote a post about a struggle he was having–a struggle with being one of four totally awesome people selected for a conference panel who all happened to be white. He struggled because it seems like the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the diversity in our community, but we were putting forward four white folks. Some of the first comments he got were a bit angry. Jeffrey posted an update to the post and then the comments kept flowing, including a long one from me. Please read the whole post and ALL 27 (yes 27!) comments.

I call this a good conversation about inclusion for a few reasons. First, people get mad. This is one of the reasons we avoid these conversations (getting mad has been deemed unprofessional), but in fact we need people to get mad about this stuff. We need people to disagree. Particularly when it comes to white people and conversations around inclusion. We don’t have them enough, which is part of why I think we keep having the same conversation over and over again. We don’t push through the hard places.

Second, it got personal. That’s something else we are typically taught to avoid in professional conversations (and I agree in the sense of not hurling personal insults at each other), but I think issues of inclusion are inherently personal so we need to go there. In my comment to Jeffrey’s post, I reflected on how I need to do a better job at connecting to people who are different than me. I have the opportunity to do it, yet I tend to retreat back to the familiar and comfortable. Not ALL of diversity and inclusion is personal, but a big piece of it is individuals changing habits, as Jeffrey said, in “meaningful yet manageable ways.”

Third, it featured white people talking genuinely about privilege. This one could be just me, but in the years that I have been engaged in conversations about diversity and inclusion, the biggest transformation for me personally was when I really “got it” about privilege. This actually relates to last week’s post about culture and moving from “subject” to “object,” but for the longest time I really didn’t understand what white privilege was, or at least how very deep and wide the privilege is. When I finally understood it and could see how it was operating in my life, it was really kind of liberating. But I only got to that place after a lot of conversations, so lets just keep talking about it (even if it doesn’t make sense to you fully at first). (And if you haven’t read it, there’s a classic article by Peggy McIntosh on white privilege. Here’s a video of her introducing the concept and listing the privileges she named in the article)

Thanks, Jeffrey, for starting the conversation and thanks to all the commenters who put themselves out there to keep the conversation going. We didn’t “fix it.” And there are more conversations to be had, but I think it’s an important part of making our community more human and more powerful.


  1. 29.08.2011 at 9:33 am

    Thanks for keeping this conversation going Jamie and reminding me that people getting mad and getting personal are what’s required for real change to occur. Coming from higher ed, these conversations are more embedded in the culture, more ongoing in nature, and more visible in our professional gatherings. I have to remind myself they are going to have a different feel and texture in the association community.

  2. 07.09.2011 at 4:26 pm

    On the other hand, Jamie, it looks awfully contrived when panelists appear to have been selected because of their demographic qualities.

    The problem with the situation Jeffrey presented isn’t that everybody was white or that, because of it, they were “privileged.”

    The question to ask is, “Were the most qualified panelists all white (or male, or Christian, or young, or old, or whatever)?” If not, why weren’t others asked? If so, is that the fault of the organization or profession, and, if it was, what could be done to change that?

    Also, does it matter? Yes, this was an opportunity to display diversity, but was there a need to present a diverse panel?

    Jeffrey’s post triggered a lot of knee-jerk responses (mine included), but really deserves a more objective discussion, not just a boatload of white guilt.