What Not to Say to White People (Diversity Inc.)

I have friends who happen to be white. Like good friends. Like the kind who will drive you to the emergency room at midnight and sit with you for almost 10 hours. And since we both share in each others worlds I often find myself the only black person at the party and sometimes they find themselves the only white person at the club. Reaction has always been mixed, but mostly polite. Still, sometimes there is an attitude from the folks who “don’t get it” and respond to our pairing as a one of these things is not like the others situation and should not be at “XYZ” function.

Those people are assholes.

The folks at Diversity Inc. are trying to address racially insensitive assholes, but specifically those who refuse to accept white people in discussions about diversity. I’ve long believed that if we, and by we in this case I mean black people, continue to just talk to ourselves about race nothing will ever get solved. It takes two to discriminate. White people are needed to be part of the diversity discussion. So Diversity Inc. spoke specifically to white men about words and phrases that kill the diversity debate on their end.

More after the jump.

Too often, white men–and to a lesser extent, white women–are assumed to have no role in diversity-and-inclusion efforts. But white people who are heterosexual, Christian and not disabled can and do champion diversity efforts. To assume otherwise is like assuming that talented Black or Latino executives do not exist.

But the ladies at Jezebel express some concern about the wording in Diversity Inc.’s “9 Things NEVER to Say to White Colleagues” story.

Visconti also has some odd things to say about the concept of white privilege. He tells Martin,

“White privilege, I tell other white people, is the most amazing thing. You can give away your white privilege by helping other people gain access, and it never diminishes your white privilege. You’re born with it, and it remains with you, so it’s the gift that keeps on giving.”

Throughout the interview, Visconti comes across as someone who genuinely wants to work toward a more equal society. However, his idea of white privilege as a “gift” that whites can bestow on others is somewhat paternalistic. It promulgates a view of race relations in which white people “give access” to minorities, rather than everyone working together to create equal access. It also assumes that white privilege is something you can give away, when the idea that it “remains with you” is probably closer to the truth. Helping a person of color does not make that person white, and does not confer upon them all the unconscious benefits that society gives to whites. All people can work to reduce the influence of privilege, but that involves a widespread change of behaviors and attitudes — not individual “gifts.”

I have to agree that the wordage was a tad paternalistic here, but I also agree that this is coming from an honest place. Not out of malice. I’d like to see more white people engage in the discussion and more minorities be willing to listen without judging first. It works for me and my friends. I think it can work for the greater good.

13 thoughts on “What Not to Say to White People (Diversity Inc.)

  1. I don’t quite follow this article. Who are the black people who don’t whites participating in the diversity discussion?

  2. At first I thought, "Oh idnit nice tha massa Viscondee wonna cum don a’ hel’ us cullud folks." But you’re right Danielle, he doesn’t mean any harm and his statements seem to be genuine. Perhaps he should have had a few "unpriviledged" people review the story before it was printed. You know, like the president has one of his staff members review his speeches before he delivers them…

  3. if people get offended at every little thing said, no one is going to want to say anything anymore.

  4. @swiv – but who decides what constitutes "little" and what does not? Therein lies the rub. What you might think of as little I might think of as a big huge hairy deal and thus be offended even further when you dismiss it as "little". If we can’t all pull up our big people panties and find a way of both conveying why we are offended (when offense occurs) AND accepting that we have offended others (when offense occurs) and still move the conversation forward then we are done for. But NOTHING is accomplished, absolutely nothing, when we start the conversation by giving offense and then refusing to accept that we have done so by pulling out the tired old canard of "if people get offended at every little thing…." That obviously doesn’t work. At the end of the day its just another holdover from white privilege – a privilege that assumes that only whites get to decide what constitutes "little" and therefore unimportant.

  5. if i deem it as little or insignificant and you’re throwing a fit about it, then we’re not going to get anywhere because in the end you’re going to focus on something that’s not even the intent nor the point of anything i said. anything will offend anyone at any given time, so thus there’s a strong possibility that nothing will ever be accomplished because someone will be offended. and that person will take the focus off of the message in favor of the tone. many times the people who are offended are just going to have to accept the intent and not the method because there’s a bigger picture behind it. so who has to take the onus of making it work? the offender whose intent wasn’t to offend? or the offendee who took offense to the offender’s statement? one, none, both? both are going to have to suck it up and shut up in order for any real progress to be made.btw, i’m not white.

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