Posts

The Rule of 7: Testing Your Commitment to Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

I have truly enjoyed engaging so many companies, schools, and individuals about pressing issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. I have found that most people are serious about challenging themselves on seeing where their biases lie and doing something about it. One challenge that I have seen, however, is that too often, people with whom I interact ask me what books they need to read or what terminology they need to adopt in order to not make a mistake and be called out for being racist, homophobic, etc. While the concern is understandable, this is not the way to achieve true diversity, equity, and inclusion and definitely not a way to become antiracist. It’s more of a way to check off a box saying “I did this so I’m good.” I would like to propose a simple, but more in-depth measure of seeing how serious you are on diversity, equity, and inclusion. I propose The Rule of 7.

Rather than checking the box or reading an assigned book, The Rule of 7 is personal. Only you know the answers to these 7 questions and therefore only you know what you are supposed to do about it. The real questions is do you have the will to actually do something about it or are you going to stay comfortable and not rock the boat? You can come up with your own list of 7 questions or you can do it as a group of friends or even at your job. The goal is not come up with an easy list. This should be a list that challenges you to become better on this journey. The reason why The Rule of 7 can be powerful is because it speaks to what you’ve already done versus what you’re doing. The 7 questions could include:

  1. What do your 7 closest friends look like (or the 7 closest friends of your children)?
  2. Who are the authors of the last 7 books you read (or books bought for your children)?
  3. What do your 7 closest neighbors (in terms of proximity) look like?
  4. What did your last 7 teachers look like (or the current teachers of your children)?
  5. What does the cast of the last 7 shows and movies you’ve watched (or that your children watched) look like?
  6. What did your last 7 hires look like or what do the 7 closest members of your work team look like?
  7. What do the last 7 toys you bought for your kids look like?

I could go into more detail about each question but they are all self-explanatory. If, for example, you’re white and all the answers to all or most of your 7 is “white,” you have more work to do. If you are black and your answers are mostly “black,” you have work to do. I would also say that if you are a member of one group, say Latinx, and your responses to the most questions are mostly “white,” you also have some work to do. For those of you with children or students in your life, this is also important because you may be programming them in way that reinforces a narrative or superiority or inferiority in their minds in the same way you may have been programmed.

If this article is too vague for you, that is the point. The goal of this article is to challenge you to work on your own or with colleagues and friends to actively challenge your biases and do the work to diversify your experiences and practices. I can give you books, documentaries, glossaries, and TED talks for days. At the end of the day however, you have to do the work to challenge yourself on your thoughts and experiences with diversity, equity, and inclusion when nobody is watching. Lastly, if you want to go to a deeper level, spend time exploring why your neighbors and teachers all look the same or why you do not work with anyone who does not look (or think) like you. That is an entirely different reading list for you. Are you ready? Let’s go!

Should schools also speak separately to white students, parents, and staff?

I have been really impressed by the steps taken by schools to speak to the racial tensions engulfing America right now. I have had the honor in my work to also lead some of these discussions as well and will be leading more. As a parent of K-12 children, I have also watched my own school’s response to the crisis in America today. Moreover, I have spent a great deal of time reviewing the responses of schools at the university level. While I have appreciated the fact that so many of these institutions have initiated or renewed a commitment to ensuring that black lives matter, I have found myself asking one question over and over again: what direct message is going out to white students, students, and staff?

            Across the country, many social media posts have popped with some form of @blackat… handle. These are accounts where black students as well as alumni have posted their negative experiences being black at their schools. These stories started to really trend in 2016 after incidents of racism at schools like American University, where I teach. I was inspired by this movement to finally write about my own “black at” experience from 7th-12th grade at Boston Latin School. I believe the @blackat… postings are also a large part of the reason why schools have been feeling more pressure to respond to their black students in ways they have not before. I wonder if, in some unintentional way, that this is leading to black students being singled out in ways that might do more harm than good despite the best intentions of schools. Let’s look at an example.

            One high school I was watching sent out an email that they were having a zoom call for black students, another call for multiracial students, and a third one for all students. I have spoken at enough schools to know that this can backfire. While many black students can be vocal and will speak up on issues, this type of action can lead to black students feeling they have to be the representative for all black people, which is an added burden, particularly in schools where they are not in the majority. Furthermore, not meeting with the white students separately can make it seem like they’re being brought in as allies and not as partners. I have writtenabout how this concept of “allyship” can create more problems than it solves. Another reason this is problematic is because many of the challenges black students face come at the hands of white students in addition to other issues, such as curriculum and staffing. Did I expect the students who wore white hoods in protest of my running for class president to really care for a call to all students about racial unity? Those students needed separate interventions, which never came and made me feel more marginalized. Schools therefore need to create environments where white students can be organized and spoken to directly about the antiracist work they must be doing amongst themselves. Robin DiAngelo speaks in White Fragility to the work white people must do to challenge racism. The book is primarily for adults but much of the work can be instructive for students as well.

            This takes us also to white parents and staff. I have appreciated the calls I have been on and led with parents of all backgrounds, and oftentimes the white parents and staff outnumber the black parents and staff. This makes sense given the makeup of these schools but if the black parents and staff are going to be separated or addressed in separate conversations, which happens, wouldn’t the fight for equity and equality necessitate that white, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American parents and staff be spoken to separately as well? Are schools equipped to even have that conversation? Are they ready to discuss, for example, how many private schools always use a black child as the face for the financial aid campaigns although the school may have more white students in the school on some form of financial aid? Are they ready to discuss the social networks that often form among white parents and staff that often exclude black people unless some form of representation is needed? My wife and I have had to often think twice before sending our kids to some birthday parties because we had to be sure that our kids were really invited because of friendship and not out of a desire to have diversity at a party. Examples like these are endless.

            At the end of the day, I could write an entire dissertation on the ways in which our schools are failing its black students. Many like Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings and Glenn Singleton have already done that work and more are doing it now. What is most important now is that schools realize that black students are suffering for real reasons that go beyond lack of representation of their full history in the curriculum. Much of what we suffer as black students, parents, and staff in these schools comes at the hands of our interactions, or lack thereof, with white students, parents, and staff. If schools are going to be really serious about addressing issues related to the black lives matter movement, they must be equally dedicated to challenging white students, parents, and staff in an authentic way that leads them to understanding their role in this movement. It is obvious that all white people are not to blame and I commend the white student, parents, and staff who are out there doing the work every single day to condemn ignorance and create true equity and equality. It is high time, however, that schools directly challenge their white students, parents, and staff in ways that go beyond a book club and curriculum review. Those are good points of departure but the journey is long and must go deeper beyond this moment.