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Aug 28, 2013

Well, call me a “Negative Nelly,” but I fear we are smack dab in the middle of a good old-fashioned diversity backlash.

What’s a diversity backlash? It’s that thing you’re in when you mention the importance of workplace diversity and people roll their eyes.

Only this backlash is a little different.

People are OK talking about diversity in general, they just don’t want to talk about racial diversity.

Is traditional diversity diverse enough?

I think I know a little bit about diversity backlashes. When I entered the profession back in ’97, whaddaya know? Diversity backlash!

Back then, every other article I read about diversity centered on how the “traditional” way of viewing the issue — through a race lens — just wasn’t diverse enough. In fact, suggest that your organization could benefit from “diversity training,” and you were liable to get a dirty look, or perhaps a lecture about how you weren’t being progressive.

Not everything is about race, you know.

What’s more, the literature began referring to how white people (especially white men) were gosh darn sick and tired of being characterized as the “bad guys” who needed to get “fixed” via “training.” Another approach to this issue had to be found.

Okay, fair enough.

An ongoing problem

So, the net was widened, and diversity began to include differences in marital status, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, caregiver status, political affiliation, religious affiliation, and other characteristics.

And then, the net got even wider, and we started talking about diversity of thought and diversity in learning styles, communications styles, and styles of resolving conflict.

And all of that is great. I’m a total fan. It’s fascinating stuff, and there’s a lot we can learn from each other by being open and watchful.

But none of that changes this …

People, we still have a race problem.

Last week, I had a little email chat with attorney and employee advocate extraordinaire, Donna Ballman, she of the website Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home, and author of Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired: Resolve Workplace Crises Before You Quit, Get Axed or Sue the Bastards.

“Every type of discrimination imaginable”

I’d asked Donna for some insight on racism from the perspective of white people (for another article I’m writing), but Donna had so much to say I might be quoting her all week!

For now, however,consider  this:

In my 27 years of law practice [I’ve seen] every type of discrimination imaginable. I can say with 100 percent certainty that racism still exists. I had a guy in my office today whose boss used the “n-word” and other racial epithets. But, I also see white employees who are victimized by non-white bosses or coworkers. I also see color discrimination, that is, people of the same race but a lighter or darker shade discriminating against each other.”

It’s a race problem, people.

Yes, we still have issues

So, by all means, let’s continue to attempt honest conversations about differences in personality and religious affiliation and sexual orientation or what have you.

But let us not forget — we’ve still got race issues. Big ones.

And gathering all of our differences, and then tying the whole bunch with a big old “diversity” bow, isn’t going to resolve them, either.

In fact, I’d venture to say that some of us are actually taking the opportunity to bury our racism weeds deep within that bouquet, hoping nobody will notice them amongst all the pretty flowers.