Tag Archives: tokenism

Elements of Diversity: How Change Agents, Activists, Advocates, and Other Do-Gooders Seem to Not Get It Right After 40 Years of Trying

by Guest Contributor Hugo Najera, originally published at AmericanPupusa


I am disappointed in the still inconsistent and unfinished definition of the “D” word applied by mainstream spaces and do-gooder change agents. The word is a bad choice to describe the ideal we seek, and the most incomplete to describe the cure my social anger. “Diversity” has been tainted before I got a chance to play for the team, it’s the jersey we wear on the court, and few in the team know this.

This problem came to light when I attended “New Models in Media and Activism” sponsored by Campus Progress. The event was a panel discussion with Amanda Terkel – Senior politics reporter for The Huffington Post, Amy Austin – Publisher for Washington City Paper, Latoya Peterson – Editor of Racialicious.com, and Melinda Wittstock – Founder, CEO, and Bureau Chief of Capitol News Connection about the intersection of women, activism, and social media. The 80+ attendees comprised of about 90% 20-something white females, a sprinkle of Black females, drips of white males, and one Latino Albino (guess). The panel provided good insight, suggestions, and anecdotes on their experiences and contexts, showing a spectrum of voices from Print, Web 1.0, 1.5 to 2.0 media. The event also provided examples of the ineptitude of many change agents to grasp what diversity means in real-world situations. One panelist painfully tried to keep up with the others by saying things like “Well, that’s why women are better at getting along because we communicate better than men, which is why diversity is important” and other lovely words of wisdom. Throughout the event, audience members and moderators mostly framed issues of diversity in simple terms like getting more African Americans and women in the media. A white male student from American University correlated diversity troubles at his school with what was happening in the media, as Black candidates who run for student government president never win, asking “how can we combat that so we can be more diverse?”

Such comments assume that diversity is measured only by the number of Blacks, women, and Latinos in the room, without considering the structural reframing, process, and competencies that can make the term usable. “Diversity” as shorthand for a tally of physical bodies and archetypes is one of the major issues this term faces for validity and understanding. This incomplete definition makes whites feel apart and not responsible, targeted groups into tokens who feel responsible for carrying the burden in get-togethers, and ultimately diminishing collective knowledge. And for those who accompany the word with action, process, and competency, it annoys us when others in the choir don’t sing with the entire range of notes true diversity asks for. Continue reading