Diversity Is Not Enough. And It Can Be Counterproductive

A Changing Climate Means A Changing Society. The Island Press Urban Resilience Project, Supported By The Kresge Foundation And The JPB Foundation, Is Committed To A Greener, Fairer Future.​ This Post Was Originally Published In The Huffington Post

If your organization/coalition/group views racial and ethnic diversity as an endpoint, and is only ready to add another color to your crayon box, please give deep consideration to your intent and process. Below are some quotes from people/groups that have been burned by flawed processes that haven’t started with a deep, fully integrated, institutional commitment to anti-oppression:

“I only lasted for three months.” “They acted nice at first, but it quickly became clear that they didn’t really want to hear what I had to say.” “Just because I’m African American, they look at me as if I’m the oracle on all things black-related!!” “They claimed when they hired me that they wanted to deepen their work in our communities, but then they put me out in these white communities where I encountered blatant racism. It was very uncomfortable and it didn’t build on the assets I brought to the organization.” “More often than not, it felt like ‘me against them’ because they just didn’t get what I was saying at best, and were resistant/hostile to what I was saying at worst.” It was obvious they called me at the last minute when they realized they didn’t have any people of color on the panel.” When it was my turn to speak, by the time I was finished, everyone was staring in stunned silence and some people wouldn’t make eye contact.” “Always having to be the one to point out racism is exhausting.” “By the end, I was cast as the stereotypical ‘angry black woman.’” “Now I have this smudge on my resume that’s difficult to explain.” “We should have been forewarned when there were no other people of color led organizations in the coalition.”

Three days ago I had yet another conversation where well-intended, but poorly implemented diversification efforts have fallen short and resulted in harm. I’ve either directly experienced, or have been the listening ear for, way too many stories of lamentation from the sole person of color employee, board member, steering committee/advisory group member, coalition member, or even panelist/speaker in various environmental organizations/coalitions/settings.

The divisions in our society, exposed and rubbed raw by recent events, urgently call for a deeper level of intent and action on building processes, organizations, movements, and systems that are rooted in anti-racism and anti-oppression. Even adding the terms “equity and inclusion” and a few extra interventions doesn’t measure up in these times when so very much more is needed to bridge the schisms and address the pervasive systemic racism and other forms of oppression that impede progress on the interconnected issues of environment, economy, health, immigration, democracy, and so much more. As the site Fakequity so well illustrates, claim of equity by “including” or “engaging” people of color with an implicit expectation that they will assimilate to a deeply flawed system is far short of the transformation we need.

Recent studies/publications/initiatives have each sought to shine a light and issue an appeal to address the underrepresentation of people of color in environmental organizations and processes. The Green 2.0 Report uncovered the subpar racial/ethnic diversity in the staff and boards of nonprofit organizations, philanthropic organizations, and government agencies working on environmental issues. The D5 Coalition launched by philanthropic organizations aimed to diversify the staff and board of foundations and focus guidance of grantees in such a way that staff and board diversification is part of the criteria for grant making. The Board Members of Color group, now called The Green Leadership Trust, is comprised of people of color serving on the boards of directors of environmental organizations and is focused on “building power and diversity in the advocacy sector.” And the Diverse Environmental Leaders National Speakers Bureau shows that there are many options out there for diversifying groups/processes!

Continue reading this article on The Huffington Post.