Thursday, August 18, 2016

What Oprah & Ava DuVernay Get Right About Inclusion Vs. Diversity

Photo Credit: familymwr
In a recent joint interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Oprah Winfrey and film director Ava DuVernay touched on diversity within Hollywood and their success as black women in what has historically been a white man's world.

Interestingly, both DuVernay and Oprah mentioned their preference for the term of 'inclusion' instead of 'diversity.' Here is what they had to say:
DUVERNAY: We aren't sitting around talking about diversity, just like we aren't sitting around talking about being black or being women. We're just being that. 
WINFREY: I will say that I stand corrected. I used to use the word "diversity" all the time. "We want more diverse stories, more diverse characters …" Now I really eliminated it from my vocabulary because I've learned from her that the word that most articulates what we're looking for is what we want to be: included. It's to have a seat at the table where the decisions are being made. 
DUVERNAY: That was your take on it. 
WINFREY: When Sidney Poitier came to my school [in South Africa], he gave a gift of 550 movies to the girls. He thought if you watch these 550 movies, they'll be your education for life. He wrote to the girls that his dream for them was to be able to sit at the table of the future where the world's decisions would be made. I realize now that what he was saying is to be included, to be valued as a person who has something to contribute.
Diversity seems to be one of those buzzwords going around that many people use but few understand its meaning.

In its best sense, diversity is when people with all kinds of differences (e.g. race, ethnicity, class, socioeconomic status, gender, age, etc.) are able to join together in a common community and everyone is able to bring their whole selves without having to assimilate to the culture of another.

However, modern diversity often plays out with marginalized people having to leave their true selves at the door and assimilate into a dominant culture in order to have "a seat at the table." This kind of pseudo-community typically means that those within the dominant group don't have to yield any power nor sacrifice their comfort in any tangible way.

Because there are those that look different in the room, those in charge can feel good about themselves while not having to make any adjustments to how they've always done things.

But what true inclusion means is that not only is there a visible diversity of people in the room, but that diversity is represented in leadership styles, values and people being able to bring their full selves for the benefit of the group. It's beyond simply having a seat at the table. It means empowerment in making decisions, receiving and allocating funds, and having others having to adjust to the preferences of those different from them.

We can fool ourselves into thinking we're part of a diverse community when what it really may be is just a group with a few people present that are different than the dominate group. If those that are underrepresented don't hold significant roles of leadership, do not have a say in setting the priorities for the group and rarely see themselves represented among those platformed, then inclusion is not being realized.

Diversity can be a good thing but don't settle for that. Strive for an inclusive environment where the contributions of people from all ethnic groups and backgrounds are valued and appreciated.

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