The Myth of Inclusion

1. the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.
We need to shift our focus from individuals to systems level change.
No one wants to hear this. It’s disruptive and destabilizing to consider the ramifications of examining the systems that are complicit in the continuation of oppression. One of these systems level errors is the notion of inclusion.
As popularized by today’s professional development gurus, inclusion is the newest buzzword to shift organizational competence to the next level.  The order of  introducing inclusion usually looks something like:
1) An organization exists with a mission that explicitly states a reference to serving all with quality experiences or services.
2) An event happens, usually, on the board or staff level, that calls into question whether or not the organization is actually serving all.
3) There is a mad scramble by leadership in reaction to the event. They want to mitigate fallout, damage to reputation and even possible litigation.
4) They decide to examine their policies around Diversity and Inclusion.
If you examine this series of events, a strategic consultant is usually engaged at step 3 or 4.  I get calls once a board member has publically embarrassed the institution or a leader has created a hostile environment. Suddenly, the need for “inclusion” arises. In most instances, inclusion is simply a code word for restitution of previous modus operandi.  Inclusion is the hope that the destabilizing factor, be it race, gender, ageism, SES, or sexuality can be calmed by establishing broader norms, but no real change or understanding of WHY the broader norms are necessary.

FB_IMG_1475423752444*Picture courtesy of D. Stines (Charlotte, NC) taken during the opening of Without Sanctuary, reconceptualized by the team at Levine Museum of the New South September 2012. Learn more Without Sanctuary.

This is how you can have Spanish texts in a museum exhibition and not realize that you need a bilingual tour or guide. This is how 100 years later your institution can decide to include the story of an enslaved woman’s experience but leave out the corresponding context that relates her historical narrative to her contemporary lived experience. This is how you can make sweeping generalizations in the mission of the museum and have leadership who directly contradict policy by excluding the voices of all staff (including security) in strategic engagement.

I have encountered each of these situations in years of consultation. What we haven’t realized as a country is that history is. We can encounter it without fear or shame if we understand that everyone is already included. We just have to be better listeners to hear the stories.
*Picture courtesy of D. Stines (Charlotte, NC)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s