What “Inclusion” Means to Me

Dedicated to Earl

Although I lean left on many political issues, I’m a staunch centrist.

Thus,  I must open with the obvious, which is not easy to say in today’s social climate: I’m often irritated by terms like “diversity” and “inclusion.”

Too often either is used only in a racial context, especially the former used to mean “racial diversity.” We’ve all seen this: a team adds a rainbow icon and peppers the word/s a few times to an existing blog post, document, or message, and calls their job complete!

Their real meanings are much deeper.

Diversity:

Diversity means a wide range of factors both natural (set mostly at birth) and environmental (influenced somewhat by choice)*. The natural include ethnicity and race, biological gender, sexual orientation, and age. The attributes we have a large influence on include work history, abilities, location, religion, and political views. But even then, culture and educational status are much more intertwined with both nature and nurture, because we can change our present relative to where we were born, but are always highly influenced by our origins. (Many people have been educated in the actual meaning of the word, but still the common day-to-day usage equates to a synonym for “racial diversity.” )

So diversity is not merely racial diversity. Give me a group of ten random Caucasian males from around the U.S. and a group of ten African males from a small suburb outside of Chicago, and the former is almost certain to have more actual diversity of character and thought. Likewise, give me a group of ten random African Americans from the whole county and a group of ten Caucasians from a small town in Alabama, and again, the former group wins for diversity. Know thyself; know thy audience!


Minority:

As another aside, the word “minority” is often misused in the same way — when speakers and authors really mean to use the two-word phrase racial minority. We’re all in the minority relative to a whole host of factors. I’m a white male, so only when I’m back home in Hawaii or in certain rare U.S. spots am I in the racial minority (and obviously very often when overseas outside of Europe).

But just the single-word minority, without the prefix racial? That can mean a great many things! Consider — I’m in the minority in all these areas and more:

  • I use the computer keyboard layout DVORAK;
  • I speak Spanish;
  • I love the initial Matrix sequels, especially Revolutions!;
  • I served in the military;
  • I’ve never purchased anything in my life on credit (without immediately paying it off);
  • I’ve ran a marathon and I generally exercise shirtless, whether it’s snowing or >110F outside;
  • I like Vibram’s five-fingered (toed shoes) and detachable cargo short/pants (!) ;
  • I spent 7-years in a mini-retirement in midlife, decades before most people “retire”;
  • and I seriously believe I could win a Presidential election.

In each of those areas, I am in the minority. I am only a racial minority relative to the current racial makeup around me — so this is not common for me while in the continental U.S. But each one of us is in the minority in a whole host of areas. We best use the proper terminology!

So if you mean to say racial diversity, say that! Otherwise, diversity can come from a huge group of factors, and racial diversity on the outside says very little of internal diversity.


Inclusion:

Inclusion means actively including those diverse people and opinions in a given group of people.

Inclusion is much, much more difficult. And here this post/essay breaks down a bit, a combination of two factors — first, I haven’t clarified my thinking enough, and second, inclusion is so difficult to define and execute.

To be fully inclusive is to be anti-bias. However, we evolved to make snap judgements and retain (even solidify and fight for) our biases! After all, any successful adult exists in part because of the prejudices and ideas that led to her nurturing and growth. Why challenge the beliefs that led to my survival and success as an adult today? Moreover, our innate biases help us see the world as functioning members — not as a 3-month baby or as a human under a strong psychedelic: a red hexagon is probably a stop sign, a tall woman in business clothing is probably benign, a large truck with a moving cylindrical housing at its rear warrants extra space for safety.

These instantaneous “prejudices” keep us alive and functioning throughout the day. But they’re also the source of continuing biases which drag us down and harm our society.

So why challenge that which got us here?

Because it actually helps us grow further. Because it’s increasingly necessary in the modern world. Because if we’re in the minority, we’d want to be included as well. Perhaps most importantly, because it’s the right thing to do.

Being inclusive is challenging, but worth it.  

I’m reminded of an older African American I knew long ago when I first started at the University of Hawaii.

Earl R. was not long to live, but I knew him a little in his final years. He was a career pilot for the USAF, and we met in a religion course he audited. Growing up in Hawaii, with so few Africans on the islands and so far from the mainland, we learned far more island/Asian history than continental history; and little about slavery. But in the course, civil rights and affirmative action came up, where earl shared his knowledge and experiences. He talked about helping drive boycotters during the Montgomery bus boycotts.

More relevant, in the section on affirmative action, he talked about the US Air Force’s program to raise its percentage of African Americans pilots. The program was executed well. First, the service asked, “What percentage of pilots should be African American?” Surely not the same percentage of African American in the general population, because being a pilot required a high education, great eyesight, other physical attributes, etc. So, what percentage of African Americans meet those requirements? They found it was about 3%. Ok, so now they had a goal! Next, what percentage of USAF pilots were African Americans at that time? Only about 1%.

Great, we know where we are, and we know where we want to be. Now, how do we get there? To actively include, in this case, the USAF did the right thing. Rather than sitting around wishing that percentage would rise, they sent recruiters off to college campuses, to talk to seniors about the benefits of becoming pilots. Many had not previously considered it.

I don’t recall how many years it took the service to meet its goals, but Earl brought this up as a story of good execution on the topic of affirmative action. Today, we might call it active inclusion, or even just inclusion.

But it’s difficult to do, and we must constantly work at it. Moreover, we must not only include others — we must fight prejudice. And the first place to fight it is within ourselves.

*Herein lies the problem: nature vs. nurture. Even modern science accepts that some elements of our sexuality are shaped by our psychological environment, especially in childhood and adolescence, or via epigenetics, etc. Can most of us speak about these topics publicly and patiently? Hardly! We have a tough time when a modern commercial runs longer than fifteen seconds.


Update History:

2022-03-16 Draft work
2022-05-14 Edited personal
2022-06-18 Posted