What are the Terms? A look at key terms in the Diversity and Inclusion Conversation

Welcome to the 2016-2017 academic year! As we happily welcome the MODsters to New Haven we want to be sure to set the stage for conversations on Diversity, Inclusion and Equity on campus and were able to do so during the first week of MODS with the help of the Center for Whole Communities. I was lucky to join Kavitha, Delma and Samara, three amazing facilitators, at Great Mountain Forest for the first of these sessions on community inclusion and I was blow away by the insight of the FES community. Everyone’s commitment to exploring topics of diversity and inclusion left me both excited for the conversations to come and reflective of my personal impact. For those unable to attend, I would recommend exploring the resources that Maclovia Quintana (the former FES Diversity and Sustainability fellow) has put together:

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is a national network that organizes white people for racial justice; they have a local chapter, which F&ES students have been involved with in the past. If you are hoping to read more about the connection between social justice and environmental work, I recommend this recent statement from the Avarna Group. If you find yourself feeling defensive during discussions of diversity and inclusion, I suggest reading this article and this article by Dr. Robin DiAngelo. If you’re curious about work that is being done to increase diversity in environmental organizations, check out Green 2.0. And if you want to be involved with diversity and inclusion work at F&ES, keep an eye out for the EQUID job posting! And don’t forget that all of the Digests from the past 16 months are archived here for your reference. 

In addition to these great resources, I wanted to provide a quick overview of some of the key terms that we use when talking about these issues. This is by no means a comprehensive list and a more thorough glossary can be found at https://environment.yale.edu/diversity/ 

Race: A socially constructed concept used to group people with similar characteristics. There is no biological or genetic component to classifying different races.

Colorblindness: The assertion that one does not see color but rather sees everyone the same. While on the surface this seems positive, it actually invalidates people’s identities and the experience of those who experience racism.

Intersectionality: The understanding that social issues cannot be explored in isolation as different identities such as race, gender, age etc. intersect in each person’s life and produce different privilege or oppression.

Black Lives Matter: A current moment to recognize the validity of black lives. It is not saying that other lives do not matter but rather saying that there has been disproportionate bias towards black people by our institutions and government. The movement has come about in the wake of many instances of excessive police violence towards black individuals across the country.

Stereotype: An oversimplified generalization about a person or a group. These can be about both negative and positive qualities but regardless, they lump people together. Stereotypes are cognitive shortcuts and become a bias when you apply the stereotype to an action. For example: saying that white people can’t dance and black people are good dancers is a stereotype. Asking a black person to dance with you instead of the white person for this reason is a bias.

But what about when stereotypes are “true”?

There are two concepts at play here.

  1. Stereotype threat: a phenomenon where an individual subconsciously acts to fit a stereotype. Example: Women preform worse on math exams when they think that the results will show a gender difference.
  2. Empirical Generalization: A fact about a large group of people. Example: Men are taller than women. Statistically this is true but not universal to all men. This generalization leads to bias and stereotyping when women decide they won’t date shorter men. Because of stereotype threat, women are conditioned to feel this way.

Privilege: An advantage that comes from historical oppression of other groups. Privilege can be seen in race, gender, sexuality, ability, socioeconomic status, age etc. Acknowledging it isn’t meant to shame those with certain privilege but rather challenge the systems that make it exist. It does not mean that you with a certain privilege have never had challenges in life, just that there are some challenges you will not experience because of your identity. Examples: A hearing abled individual can watch TV and know what is happening because they can hear the sound. A heterosexual couple can walk together in public more comfortably than a homosexual couple. A white person can buy a bandage in their skin color where a black person’s flesh color bandage doesn’t match their skin.

Check your Privilege: Since we know that we all have privilege in different ways, being told to check your privilege is a way of saying take a step back and look at the privileges you have and how they impact your perspective. Reflect on how your social identities may have given you advantages and given others a disadvantage. 

Microaggression: These are small common occurrences that demonstrate bias towards a certain group. They are insults, assaults or invalidations that presume one group is superior to another. While they seem small in isolation, overtime, microaggressions impact an individual’s mental health and emotions. Examples: Asking someone from Asian decent where they are really from (implying they cannot actually be from the United States). Stating that everyone can succeed if they try hard enough (this both implies that people of color don’t work as hard and invalidates the abundance of institution racism in our society).

Institutional Racism: Also known as systemic racism, this is forms of racism that are engrained in our society, politics and organizations. It is typically less obvious that overt racism and is when entire racial groups are discriminated against by a larger entity than an individual person. Example: Standardized test questions have been proven to favor white students however we still use them as a measure of merit in our school systems. 

Cultural Appropriation: When dominant groups borrow from marginalized groups who have been stigmatized for their differences in society. One group is penalized for something that another group is praised for. It is when a privileged group misrepresents and further marginalizes other cultures. Example: Using tribal tattoos to sell a product. This takes something that has meaning to Native American groups and strips the meaning from it to be something “trendy”.

Whitesplaining: When a white person explains why something is offensive to a person of color. It is interpreted as giving people of color permission for how they feel when something offensive happens and is condescending to people of color who do not need to be told about their own experience. White people cannot decide what is and what is not racism and do not know what it is like to be a person of color. The same concept can apply for mansplaining when a man speaks on behalf of a woman’s experience. We can empathize without speaking for others.