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Thursday, March 4, 2021

En Comunidad: The myth of ‘diverse’ social networks in white America

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In my last few columns, I touched on what it means to lead a school during 2020 amidst two societal pandemics: racism and COVID-19. If you missed the most recent examination of the role of school principal in 2020, you can read it here.

In this column, I’d like to re-visit this quote: “An antiracist treats and remembers individuals as individuals,” states Ibram X. Kendi in his 2019 New York Times bestseller text “How to Be an Antiracist.

Let’s call a spade a spade here. If we are not interacting with individuals outside of the race, in which we personally identify, our perspective will be limited. In fact, I might argue that humans seek out more individuals that agreewith their own beliefs, values, dispositions, etc. because it feels comfortable. Recent research also supports this, specifically for white Americans.

The data point I’d like to reference resurfaced in a 2014 article authored by Zack Beauchamp. He selected data from the 2013 American Values Survey(AVS). Now, you may be wondering what constitutes a social network and I must be clear: the AVS does not define this as Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or Facebook. Rather, questions are posed about who you have had held discussions with regarding “important matters” in the past six months.

“The findings are pretty staggering. As Jones explains, the vast majority of White people simply don’t talk to Black Americans about ‘important matters’ — including, presumably, racial discrepancies in the U.S.,” writes Beauchamp.

Overall, the findings from the 2013 AVS survey indicate that approximately 75% of white Americans have social networks that are completely White. No minority presence. Nada. Zilch. Zero.

This phenomenon can actually be attributed all the way back to birth.

Says cultural neuroscience researcher and professor of psychological sciences at Winston-Salem State University, Michele Lewis: “The other-race-effect is described as a perceptual narrowing developed due to having primarily same-race interactions within the first year of life.”

In her 2020 text, “Our Biosocial Brains,” Lewis further details that by 6 months old white babies have narrowed recognition to white and Chinese facial features, dependent upon human exposure from birth to 6 months.

What does this mean? Intention, intention, intention. We can bridge communities — despite racial and ethnic differences. However, it goes back to the intentionality. Of parents. Of CEOs. Of school principals. Of politicians.

As organizations seek to “diversify” their workforce (often referring to surface-level diversity), there should be strategic efforts to primarily address the current working environment. If you find that employees within your organization do not regularly interact with racial or ethnic groups outside of their own, this can help you begin to gauge the readiness levels of your organization to even engage in authentic conversations about important topics, such as race and racial equality. Before you jump to auditing your policies or attending career fairs specifically searching for a specific color or gender of candidate, it is important to engage in a data-driven process to determine your organization’s readiness levels and necessary inputs for the long-term goals you have in relation to diversity, equity and inclusion.

When we each, as individuals, begin creating, holding and embodying space to be honest about our biases and the injustices that have plagued our country for centuries, a country built on the dehumanization of Black people and genocide of Native persons — when we accept this reality within ourselves first — then healing can begin within our communities. 

Before I commit to partnering with any organization, I like to ask them: “Why do you want to engage in this work?” I would challenge any reader to ask themselves this question honestly before engaging in your own education process.

En Comunidad is a column that aims to unify communities through showcasing the power of human stories that share the heartbeat of leadership legacies in Indianapolis and the Midwest. For experiential learning resources related to culture, equity and inclusion, subscribe to EducatorAide’s resource kits here

Justine González is an Indiana native and first-generation college grad having served in both Chicago Public and Indianapolis Public Schools. Her consulting firm, EducatorAide, partners with organizations to help cultivate culturally connected, equitable, and inclusive environments.

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