Posts Tagged ‘diversity’

The Good New Song—Tradition Gently Reinforces Racism at UVA

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

At UVA, “The Good Ole Song” is a stealth weapon. We need a new song.

That good old song of Wah-hoo-wah—we’ll sing it o’er and o’er
It cheers our hearts and warms our blood to hear them shout and roar
We come from old Virginia, where all is bright and gay
Let’s all join hands and give a yell for the dear old UVA.

Lyrics to ” The Good Ole Song” the defacto alma mater song of UVA

It’s a heart-warming tradition for many members of the University of Virginia community attending school events to congregate, grab the shoulders of the person next to her or him and sing the “Good Ole Song.” Set to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, singing the song was a comforting ritual at the Taking Back the Lawn Vigil held on the Lawn of the University last week. Thousands from the University and Charlottesville gathered as a way of countering the violent presence of the white supremacist groups that invaded the University grounds on August 11 and 12. I was not at the vigil and so I am certain that the power of the being there was even greater than that which I experienced as an observer. But I watched lots of video and every time I heard the Good Ole Song, I cringed.

It’s not that it’s a bad tune. The problem is that it’s also a stealth weapon. In the aftermath of the violence that left three people dead in Charlottesville, alumnae Jia Tolentino opined in her The New Yorker Magazine column that idyllic Southern liberal Charlottesville and UVA were prime targets for a white supremacist outburst. On the surface, it’s obvious: find the blue oasis in a predominantly right leaning state (only Northern Virginia and Charlottesville-Albemarle County prevent Virginia from being an overwhelmingly conservative voting bloc), add a controversy about removing the traditional Robert E. Lee monument and voila! That oasis becomes the proof of concept for how the extreme right wing, white supremacist movement can overcome the libs. Tolentino argues, however, that Charlottesville was also attractive because its pristine veneer concealed a tradition of racism and bigotry stretching back many decades. Gentility and political correctness simply concealed–and stoked–the growing white discontent that spawned the racist-fueled demonstration and violence.

As heartwarming as it may be for many, the Good Ole Song illustrates the dilemma posed by looking to the past for comfort and cohesion while living in the present in a new—and much more diverse—community. I think I cringed at the song because I don’t “…come from old Virginia,” and as I see it, all is far from “bright and gay.” People studying and working at UVA come from all over the U.S., and from around the globe. We’re not from old Virginia. Moreover, both the violence last weekend and the broader historical record of racial injustice in Charlottesville and Virginia demonstrate that there is significant racial and cultural discord here. Don’t get me wrong, this is a thoroughly beautiful place, with stunning land and extraordinarily warm, thoughtful, and resilient people. But niceness need not diminish the capacity to acknowledge suffering in a community. And in the work I have undertaken on leveraging difference and weirdness, oblivious contentment and deep suffering frequently co-exist.

Creating a truly diverse and inclusive community requires the willingness and discipline to see the differences that matter in that community and to engage when those differences create tension and discord.  Pretending that we are all feel as happy and harmonious as the most content among us can alienate and marginalize and people who, by virtue of their difference, live an oppressive reality in that community. Excessive nicety in the service of avoiding facing the realities of social injustice is  morally and ethically wrong. Most of us—myself included—do it.  But such nicety also poses a very pragmatic problem. Avoiding disengagement makes a community vulnerable in exactly the way Charlottesville became vulnerable to white supremacist violence.

Many of the white supremacists came to Charlottesville to “take back” a fantasy. They were obsessed with a time and a place in which white people were the only people that mattered and the thought of having to co-exist with Jews and blacks and immigrants was an abomination. The veneer of places like Charlottesville created structure and practices like segregation that fueled that fantasy. Symbols of white maleness—those confederate statues—became tangible reminders that white people were all that mattered in these diverse communities. But this fantasy makes the dominant white group myopic and fragile. White people have never been alone. They have always lived side by side with communities of people who were different from them by race, culture, and history.  Often, those communities were oppressed and disempowered as a result of actions undertaken in the name of whiteness. When empowered citizens of color spoke up and questioned the status quo, the fragile fringes of the white community—white supremacists–experienced those new voices as weapons assaulting their very existence.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If communities are willing to shake off habits of avoidance and authentically engage in inclusive practices, they become more resilient. Personal and collective wounds can be healed through dialogue, reconciliation, and actions that make amends for wrongdoing.

At UVA, we need a new song. It should be one that acknowledges the past and present experiences of diverse community members. It should support and encourage us to be in communication, to use our voices to learn with one another. It should buck us up so that when we enter into conflict—whether minor disagreements or deep-seated struggles—we are skillful, courageous and compassionate toward our fellow community members. The Good Ole Song can’t serve this purpose because it was not written for me, nor was it written for the women of UVA. Nor the people of color at UVA.  Nor the people at UVA from countries around the world. Nor the LGBTQ community (as evidenced by the homophobic “not gay” chants that have been shouted at sporting events). None of this makes the song bad. It’s simply no longer adequate. We need another song.

Obama was Right about Christianity

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

Jay Michaelson’s Breaking Down President Obama’s Point About Christian Crusades and Islamic Extremism does a nice job of providing historical information that fleshes out the facts of how Christianity has been used to justify extreme violence and oppression. A hullabaloo arose because the President juxtaposed Christian and Islamic extremism against one another, urging U.S. Christians to practice humility when analyzing and acting against brutal violence perpetrated by Islamic extremists like ISIL. Critics raged against the President because they believed he dared place Christianity and Islamic extremism in the same universe of phenomenon.

The criticism is messed up. First, there the reaction stems from a false analogy. When critics slam the President they are arguing implicitly that he was equating the entire breadth of Christian experience with an extreme group of Muslims. He was not, and he said as much. But the reaction—grounded in muddled reasoning—persists nonetheless. Arguments continue to be posited that the Crusades and the Inquisition happened centuries ago. Of course they did. And that is not germane to the President’s point. His remarks simply acknowledge that the diversity of Christian history and practice includes extreme violence and that Christians cannot disconnect themselves from that reality. By the way, Christian extremism is not dead. White supremacist groups that privilege Christianity over all other religions and racial groups still exist all over the world.

But is my  big insight: critics are reacting to the comments because they seem to believe that a call for humility and perspective somehow diminishes the ability to hold Islamic extremists accountable for their brutal violence. It’s as though we must have some perfect lily-white moral platform from which to blast ISIL else we lose the moral justification to condemn the violence.

In fact, being clear and truthful about the historical reality of one’s religion positions that person to take more decisive and wise action to end violence in the name of that religion. Self-righteous outrage is not a prerequisite for moral action. It’s OK to understand that Christian religious tradition includes and sometimes condones extreme violence. What better way to motivate good Christians to persist in cleaning their own houses? Self-righteous indignation is at the heart of rash and frequently stupid reactions. It is rooted in the need to do whatever it takes to make you and your group, community, or nation look and feel virtuous. It weakens our reasoning, prompting us to stereotype and group anyone who even resembles the perpetrators as guilty (e.g., bigotry toward all Muslims).

Michaelson gives us some facts in his post. What we do with them speaks more to our real virtue than sound bytes of indignation.

1 AUG 2014 Academy of Management 2014 Annual Conference

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Martin will lead three sessions at this year’s Academy of Management 2014 Annual Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

Friday, August 1, 10:00AM-12:00PM: Let’s Talk About Gender and Diversity, Let’s Talk About You and Me (Session 65)

Friday August, 1, 12:30PM-3:30PM: Publishing Diversity Research Workshop (Session 103)

Sunday, August 3, 4:30PM-6:00PM: Construals of “Diversity”: Examining Frameworks for Justifying, Defining, and Perceiving Diversity (Session 732)

For more information and a complete conference agenda, click here.

Trayvon and Zimmerman—What it Means to Be a Man

Friday, July 26th, 2013

Expressing our masculinity without violence.

I’ve had difficulty reflecting on the Trayvon Martin tragedy and the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial. I realized that part of it was the result of being stunned by a verdict that seems so wrong. Part of my difficulty was in making sense of the complexity of this situation. Some people are seeing it as a case of racial injustice and profiling of African American Trayvon and the wannabe cop who was white… sort of (Zimmerman is of Peruvian descent and was classified as White Hispanic). Others see it as a gun law issue, a support (or indictment) of Stand Your Ground laws in Florida.

But as I keep looking into this tragedy, I am struck by the masculinity of it all. I’m struck by the ways in which problematic ideals of what it means to be a man likely played out in devastating ways. I see Zimmerman trying to be a man and protector, donning the identity and the weaponry of law enforcement. But he was play acting. There is limited evidence that he was trained rigorously in law enforcement and he was explicitly advised not to act out the role of the cop-protector in the heat of the incident. Yet, he had to be a man and confront Martin.

And Trayvon, probably rightly in fear of personal harm, no doubt attempted to stand his ground and defend himself. I would argue that he was playing the role of a man (young though he may have been) who doesn’t cower when confronted by a bully. Part of that impulse to not be bullied is about being black—I get that deeply as a black person. But racial dignity asserts itself in a variety ways, many of which are not about violent action. I think Dr. King taught us something about that.

Look, I wasn’t there and no matter what I think, if I were in that situation, I don’t know what I would have done. I’m just asking the question of what might have been different about that night—and about the dialogue that has followed these many months since—if we had a different collective idea of what it means to be a man. I wonder what would have happened if the broader deeper definitions of being a man were ingrained in our culture. What if being a man also meant:

  • Avoiding violent confrontation above all else, if at all possible.
  • Questioning your assumptions about the other men you encountered.
  • Accepting help as a virtue, not a sign of weakness.
  • Seeing retreat as a honorable option.

We can’t turn this clock back, sadly. But we can continue to work on helping broaden what it means to act like—and to be—a man.

[This blog was first posted on the MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) on Jul 18, 2013 12:30 PM EDT. Comment here or read additional perspectives and comments on http://onthemarc.org/blogs/22/199#.UfHVjVO-57c]

21-22 FEB 6th Annual Diversity and Inclusion Seminar, Barcelona, Spain

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Martin will be speaking on Leveraging Difference at the 6th annual edition of the Global Diversity & Inclusion Seminar in Barcelona. This event is one of Europe’s longest running corporate focused diversity & inclusion seminars and brings together some of the world’s leading minds in the area of diversity and HR. Global Heads, Directors and VPs of Human Resources and Diversity along with Boards Members of some of the world’s largest companies will be presenting alongside renowned authors and professors.

25 Jan 2013 Embracing the Weird

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

In anticipation of his next book, Martin will give a flash seminar on Embracing the Weird at University of Virginia, Monroe Hill House, Friday, January 25, 2013 from 4:00pm-5:00 pm. The talk will be followed by a wine and cheese reception at Monroe Law Office.

November 2, 2012 UVA Award Recipient

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Martin Davidson is proud to receive the University of Virginia’s Equal Opportunity Programs Champions Award, honoring everyday defenders who ‘lift everyone up.’

August 8, 2012 National Institute of Health Executive Leadership Program

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

Martin will teach at the NIH Executive Leadership program at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C.

July 23-25, 2012, 5th Equality, Diversity and Inclusion International Conference, Toulouse, France

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

The 5th EDI conference will be held in Toulouse, Southwest France, 23-25 July 2012. It will provide an exciting forum for encounters and publication projects in a stimulating intellectual, cultural and historical environment. Martin Davidson and colleague Heather Wishik will present new research on Identity and Power.  For more information and to register, visit http://www.edi-conference.org/index.php.

Duped By Dominance

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

This post first appeared on the MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) web site, April 30, 2012.

I had a friend in graduate school, Miriam, a tall vivacious woman who was both gregarious and grounded in a really appealing way. A conversation we had one day has stuck with me over the years. She remarked that she and I might be able to work together in interesting ways because we had complementary perspectives on the “Race and Gender 2X2.” Of course, she meant that because she was a white woman and I was a black man, we held diagonal positions on a 2X2 matrix that captured our racial (black or white) and gender (male or female) identities:


This was one of the first times I had ever reflected on what had previously been an invisible consciousness. I knew I was black and understood my place in the dynamics of race in the U.S. But what surprised me was how that focus prevented me from paying as close attention to my identity as a man. With time, I reconciled this shortcoming by focusing on my fallback position—I was, in fact, a black male! That felt much better. I was giving a nod to my gender but not forgetting the ever-important race struggle that was integral to my U.S. experience.

In fact, I was playing an identity mind game. I was looking for a way not to deal with my male identity.  My colleague Heather Wishik and I are working on a new line of research that begins to map what was happening to me as I was confronted with my identity as a man. Our social identities—race, gender, sexual orientation, able-bodied-ness, etc.—are always imbued with a dynamic of power. We call these “dominance” or “subordinance.” In any of these identities, you are generally one-up or one-down in the social order. Subordinance identities in the U.S. include being a person of color, female, LGBT, or lower class. Dominance identities are being affluent, heterosexual, male, or white. (By the way, in our research, these two labels don’t convey value judgments about a person’s character. Being a member of a dominant of subordinant group is just a description of how that group identity is situated in larger society).

Racially, I carry a subordinance identity by virtue of my blackness in the U.S. But by gender, I live a dominance identity. I am the youngest of three boys in my family and over the years, the next two generations of my immediate family are all boys. As I often tell folks, we have to bus women into my family. Masculinity is a deeply rooted part of my upbringing and my background.

And that is precisely why it was so invisible—and so uncomfortable—to me. One of the greatest subtle biases we all carry are connected to those identities in which we carry dominance. And most people have one or more of these dominant identities. It’s almost a guarantee that when we look closely at our dominant identities, our vision about them is clouded and distorted. Most of the time, we have a very hard time talking about them. We don’t have lots of insight into the experiences of being of that identity. With race in the U.S., I often encounter white people who don’t know what to say about their experience being white; they just have not thought about it that much. By the same token, I had a hard time just reflecting on my maleness in response to Miriam’s invitation. I wanted to make it my “black maleness” that was at issue. That was just another way of trying to cling to race and avoid dealing directly with my dominant identity as a man.

Peggy McIntosh’s classic 1988 essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” helped articulate the experience of privilege and the role that power plays in our everyday experience. What we have to reflect upon today is how subtle and insidious power and privilege is in the way it shapes our perceptions, relationships, and colleagueship. In my case—like that of many others—my dominant identities hid behind my subordinant identity, pushing race front and center while maleness remained stealthily in the wings. Indeed, it’s no accident that power and dominance are often such difficult topics to address in the workplace. Dominance perpetuates itself by being psychologically and behaviorally elusive. The bias of privilege has a life of its own and no one is immune to its effect. Every man, no matter his race, creed, or color has to come to terms with how the dominance of maleness quietly shapes him.

How do you overcome this bias? There is no better antidote than awareness. By just reading this blog post, you’ve affected the bias by making it more visible. In addition:

  • Make sure that people who are conscious of these dynamics are a part of your network. Having social support in identifying, and when possible, counteracting the fruits of dominant maleness is essential. Like-minded allies help you to see biases and can support you and hold you accountable for doing something differently.
  • Keep people in your circle who are mostly oblivious to this stuff. Being aware of your dominance is exhausting. Give yourself a break and commune with people who are similarly committed to not being intense about this stuff every waking hour. I don’t suggest this lightly. Remember that dominance is as smart as you are and probably a little more devious. You have to feed it a little to keep it calm. Do so with benevolent intent.