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  • August 13, 2009

Featured Post: What’s Behind the Post-racial Society Debate

Flip the channel, launch the browser, turn on the radio and diversity and inclusion issues are popping everywhere.

We see them explicitly as in Sonya Sotomayor’s confirmation as US Supreme Court Justice in Congress or the racial profiling controversy involving Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley at the Harvard Yard or subtly as in the successful crossculturally competent negotiation of the freeing of two captive U.S. journalists in North Korea. And in these and other headlines, the issues polarize with vehement opposing opinions flying on the Blogosphere and in corporate cafeterias.

While for each of these there are important political and policy issues at stake and different points of view to engage in debate – and plenty of sites to go to for that debate — at my goal is to create a forum to better understand the why for the debate from a cultural perspective. And in that, better understand its implications for diversity and inclusion work.

For example, after Barack Obama’s election as president of the United States, there was plenty of debate about whether this event marked the beginning of a post-racial American society. An important conversation and one that I address in the book, (starting on page 146). But there is an important story as well in why this debate is happening in the first place . Until we understand the why our inclusion strategies may be limited in their impact.

So why the debate? In his August 7, 2009 column after pointing out the current heated debates cemtering around race, Roger Simon asks, “What Happened to Post-racial America?” The limitation with the question, and in the answers of “Yes we are!” “No we aren’t! “ is that they don’t constructively explore why there is such a divergence of opinion in the first place on the answer.

Culturally, the contours of the debate reveal three distinct worldviews about the U.S.

The first is a U.S.-as-Founded worldview that sees the U.S. identity as a modern-day extrapolation of the demographically defined culture as exemplified by the Founding Fathers who brought into being the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. In this worldview those who are not descendants are guests at best. The change of the skin complexion and cultural background of the Commander-in-Chief is as an abrupt a challenge to this worldview as I can imagine.

The second is a U.S.-as-a-Melting-Pot worldview. Those who have this national identity fully embrace the belief that the U.S. experience is one of assimilation. The fact that Barack Hussein Obama could be elected president of the United States and needing white votes to do so, only confirms that the US society has transcended race as being a difference that makes any difference.

The third is a U.S.-as-a-Multicultural-Nation worldview. Those who embrace this worldview see the U.S. as a place where peoples can be part of a larger common national identity (American) without having to give up their unique cultural background. In Obama they see proof that American culture is in fact this way. They point to Obama’s appeal to various different demographic groups while at the same time continuing to emphasize his wildly diverse KenyaHawaiiKansasIndonesiaIllinois biography as he speaks to different constituencies.

These three different worldviews are fully found in our organizations. And each of us personally embrace one of these worldviews as well. Worldviews are deeply held beliefs shaped by our experiences and our understanding of how the world works and why. And for the most part we will be consistent in addressing whatever issue comes before us through that core belief. So we cannot debate people out of their worldviews.

To move the work diversity and inclusion forward, we must be able to effectively enter in dialogue with those with different worldviews without polarizing as what happens in such a tired way in the media and the public square.

How have you done this?

  1. I believe I have moved our work forward on a number of occasions by first being aware of others differing worldviews and clearly expressing mine while acknowledging theirs in discussions and interaction. This takes patience and also tolerance because others often give no credit or acknowledgement for the recognition of their worldviews in an attempt to clarify and espouse one’s own. Many times in my experience, there sadly is no appreciation on the part of many individuals of a differing view or experience. Thus an attempt at an exchange merely hardens some individuals resolve to view the world solely through their lenses, particularly if they operate in a homogenous priviledged environment where their view is never challenged.

    • Bob,
      There is a common thread found in the books about strong leadership and in various faiths about a soulful person. And that is that it all begins with self awareness. So much of the judgment of others that plays out in so many of society’s great debates comes first from a deficit in self knowledge. We often can lack an awareness that whatever views we have are influenced by a worldview that leads to certain logical conclusions that seem so right and yet could be so wrong. They could miss the mark because we haven’t taken the opportunity to truly try to see things from someone else’s perspective and, in that, better understand why that perspective could be so different to our own. In environments where more and more people practice this discipline of self awareness, the greater the possibilities for inclusion.

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