Growing up – so they say – there were three things not to bring up in polite company: religion, politics and money. I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning race. I assume race wasn’t included not because the topic didn’t also start arguments or was crass; you didn’t bring it up because then, as today, it’s scary and toxic, and nearly impossible to discuss rationally.
Discussions of race lead into all kinds of unplanned wilderness, including frightening moments of self-recognition, which is why I like to talk about it. I usually end up further along some progressive path than from where I started.
Last week I wrote about a couple of impressionistic moments that triggered a reflection about the paucity of diversity in my industry (publishing), which in turn generated comments ranging from suggesting that mine was the dumbest offering on HuffPost thus far (really? With all due respect, even dumber than the one from Deepak Chopra last week just giving advice on getting a good night’s sleep?) to feelings of relief that at least the responder didn’t have to sit next to me. I was found condescending.
I have one condescending thing to say to them: if you read the post closely you’d have seen that I didn’t assume that the black women didn’t want to eat alone, I noted that they ate alone and that reminded me: we need more people of color in publishing, and a culture that feels more welcome to people of color. The business person in me – perhaps condescendingly, I’m on much shakier ground there – then conjectured about media’s future, with a landscape so white. It’s bleak, as a community and as a maximally effective business.
My friend Carol Evans runs a company called Working Mother Media, which hosts “Women of Color” conferences across the country each year. I’ll never forget sitting in on one last year, an overwhelming minority in an audience of 500 or so primarily black, Latina and Asian women. There was for me:
1) Novelty. I’m rarely in the minority in this country, certainly not in a business setting. I kept thinking and experiencing that. I felt:
2) Incredulity mixed with envy. The room heaved with energy and laughter, all these women in suits calling out the issues – stereotypes, their own and others’; the importance of networks and mentors; isolation at work. Real issues, real language. Cool. I thought:
3) How can we become less ghettoized in publishing?
I believe now it’ll be through a deepening awareness; conversation, lots of it, among the races on issues of race in the work place; and organic solutions emerging from those based on people better understanding each other.
Doesn’t mean we’ll all sing together in perfect harmony, but maybe we’ll eat lunch together more often.