I majored in Linguistic Anthropology in my undergrad. It’s all about culture, right? And language? How people can be different, how they can be the same. I did two (one an independent study) classes on the philosophy of race. Every program I’ve done has had a requirement for diversity training. Every class in my graduate program has at least a section on diversity. It’s cool. I like diversity. I like it a lot.
I did a certification program in interpreting for medical interpreters. In the end, I didn’t have the cojones to try to interpret in such a high stakes environment, but I learned a ton of really good stuff doing the classes. Some of the program was, as you can imagine, about being a cultural broker. At least half of the students were immigrants. We shared a lot about how people of different cultures can have trouble communicating, even when they don’t have a language barrier.
I live in a diverse neighborhood which borders a neighborhood where white people are the minority. I am conscious of racial, sexual, economic, religious and many other kinds of diversity in a very real way. I have said before, I am a racist person. I know it and I struggle with it. I believe anyone in our country who says they aren’t racist has little personal insight, little contact with people who are different from them on a daily basis, or is an extremely rare kind of person.
My last course in my Masters program is a class on diversity. As a liberal, I don’t mind being in the class. I understand why it’s a good idea for people to learn about their unconscious biases and do battle with them. There are conservatives in the class with me. I can’t help listen to the whole course as if I were one of them.
There are holes in the class.
I mean to say, if you ask a class full of adults to think of a way in which gender could be a liability in our society, it’s fair to expect someone to mention the whole ‘women are paid less than men for the same work’ issue. But when someone says that being male is a liability as far as life expectancy goes, you’d better be ready to accept that this is also true, because it is. And when someone mentions that girls’ math scores drop in middle and high school, you’d better be willing to acknowledge that boys and men consistently get lower grades and higher disciplinary referrals from kindergarden through college. Because they do. This is how gender can be a liability.
You should also be willing to acknowledge that every time a woman is assumed to be the best primary caregiver, or teacher, or nurse, it assumes a man isn’t the best primary caregiver or teacher or nurse. These are liabilities for men and women.
In my diversity class, when I suggested one of the above in answer to the question about gender liabilities, the professor was confused at first. He asked me to say more, which I did. I described some of the other liabilities of being male in our society. We were missing each other. In the end I said, “Did you mean to ask for examples of gender bias against women? Because forgive me, I have sons and their liabilities come to mind first.” He said yes, that’s what we were talking about, gender bias. But gender bias against women isn’t what he said.
He assumed we would all know that gender bias could only apply to women. Which is not only ridiculous, but dangerous and bad for his cause. Not just because we all need to be more aware of how hard it is to be a boy or a man in our society (it is), but because this professor has a captive audience consisting of liberals and conservatives.
I feel like I walk that line between the two because I’m a critical thinker who is acutely aware of the voice of my conservative friends and family members in my head. This guy has a chance to make some people aware of things they haven’t considered in the past. He can’t do it if he blows off some of the facts as not relevant.
If he doesn’t acknowledge that diversity is a complicated issue with at least two sides in every discussion about it, the conservatives will know he’s not telling the truth and stop listening before he even gets the chance to open their minds.
It’s ok to tell the truth, even if it seems like it calls your ideas into question. Especially if it seems like the truth doesn’t match your contention, you should acknowledge it and maybe even question what you think the real story is, because someone else might be waiting in the wings to call you on the details. And the truth matters. And the truth will eventually help the right cause. Don’t be scared.