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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Who "Owns" the Right to Talk about Diversity?

Girl Scouts: I'm the one with the excessive number of badges
I was born in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, to immigrants from Taipei, Taiwan. (How my parents ended up in Beaver Dam, "Home of 16,000 Busy Beavers" according to the sign that was unfortunately taken down in the 90's, is a story for another time.) When Jim bought me an Ancestry.com DNA test as a Christmas gift, my report said that I was 93% East Asian (Chinese) and 7% Pacific Islander, tracing to Taiwan. Needless to say, I am definitely Asian.

While I am genetically very Asian, however, I grew up "ABC"--American Born Chinese. I am basically a girl from the Midwest who grew up and continues to live in communities without much of an Asian population. To paraphrase John Maeda from his 99U interview, I'm a Type O minority. I can go anywhere.

Yet over the years, I've been the one who is supposed to understand "all things diversity."

I've been the token person on a committee or board who is supposed to represent "minorities." I have been asked to speak on diversity issues, specifically, Asian American giving, even though I don't know much about Asian American giving. I've been disqualified for a role because they already have a person from a diverse community and they don't need another.

Since I live in Northern Arizona, where there are far more Hopi and Navajo people than Asians, I've had the privilege of working with several Native American led nonprofits. In many respects, I've come to learn more about Native American philanthropy than Asian American giving. But if I speak about my experiences with my Hopi and Navajo colleagues, does that mean I'm "co-opting" their culture? Or if I speak about Hopi and Navajo culture as an Asian, it's okay, but if my white male colleague does, it's not?

I am incredibly bothered by some people's militant approach to important issues around race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and other diversity factors. I worry that in our zeal to affect change, we are far too quick to disqualify people who can and want to raise up others.

I'm guilty of this sometimes too. Case in point, I was one of the members that was skeptical when nearly one year ago, Mike Geiger was announced as the new President and CEO of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Like some others, I thought, "Great. We talk about diversity, but we hired a white male?"

But then I had the chance to meet him, and talk with him, and listen to his ideas about addressing diversity, inclusion, equity and access. In less than a year, he has demonstrated a commitment to productive conversations about diversity, and has been a true champion.

Celeste Headlee, author of We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter, wrote, "Imagine how presumptuous it is to enter a conversation...to educate someone else about their biases when you are unaware of your own." Assuming that someone has to be a person of color, or LGBTQ, or female, or some other factor to "qualify" to talk about his or her personal experiences with a diverse culture is flawed. We want to have conversations, not cut them off.

Posted on my computer is a quote from Daniel Pink: "Assume positive intent." And I do believe that some people who frustrate me do have a positive intent to enact much needed change. Through LGBTQ advocacy, the Women's March, #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and many other grassroots movements, we are gradually, finally, giving voice to people for whom it is overdue. But vilifying people when you haven't listened to their story, or just because they are not visibly "diverse," is counterproductive. What's important is to listen and respect each other. We must have conversations that matter to get change to stick.


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