I wrote a blog post about my feelings and concerns: The Long List for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature is Quite Diverse and that Diversity is Important in Our Current Climate
I shared it through Facebook and Twitter, but this time I also spent a bit more time sending it by a private message to friends, colleagues, and authors who might share both my enthusiasm with the long list and my concern over a thoughtless response to CRT and its inclusion in diversity training.
After a few days, my dear friend and a wonderful YA author, Padma Venkatraman, reached out to thank me for my post. In addition, without prompting from me, she also wrote a piece. I am thrilled to be able to post it here and cross list it with my earlier post.
Check out her website and read her books.
We would also like to hear from others who would like to add to the conversation.
Why the White House’s Decision to Cut Funding for Diversity Training Workshops Should Upset Educators Everywhere In Our Nation
This September, the White House issued a memo and an executive order commanding the heads of executive departments and federal agencies to immediately stop any training related to critical race theory or white privilege.
I was saddened, not shocked.
Before I became a full-time author, I served as diversity director for the University of Rhode Island’s graduate school. And ever since I discovered I was the only female of color in my incoming graduate program in oceanography, I’ve been actively engaged in mentoring others and speaking up to advocate for diversity - first in the sciences, and then after I jumped ship, in the field of writing for young people.
This summer, after decades of engaging in conversations about privilege (including my own – because although I have experienced racism, I am brown, not black) and seeking to educate myself and others about social inequity, I dared to hope. Black, Indigenous, Latinx, LGBTQ2+ and other diverse voices were being heard and amplified. The Black Lives Matter movement finally garnered widespread public support. It appeared as if we were, at long last, engaging in honest dialogue, admitting that people of color, particularly Blacks, were and are severely oppressed. I was delighted to witness new interest in The New Jim Crow and to see many listening and learning from Dr. Kendi and others.
Federal agencies started taking small steps to support diversity training and provide formal venues in which government workers could begin addressing issues of access and equality, so that organizations could strive to create and establish inclusive and supportive environments,
especially for people who have been marginalized in the past, including and most especially Blacks.
Unfortunately, workshops on diversity often make white audiences extremely uncomfortable. Guilt may awaken in those forced to face the advantages they enjoy (for whatever reason, be it race, gender, ethnicity, religion or something else) and guilt may result in different types of behavior, from lashing out, to shutting down, to public proclamations of personal trauma. Even harder, such workshops may also trigger traumatic memories in people who’ve been wounded by racism (or other types of hatred). My colleague who remains in science, reported seeing a grown Black man weep as he remembered and relived a terrible experience that a diversity workshop empowered him to discuss openly. Empowerment isn’t easy to accomplish.
So even if a diversity workshop is led by an experienced leader, an entire team needs to be in place to ensure that positive changes result. Organizations need to approach these workshops with understanding, prepare for them in advance, and have professional support personnel in place and ready to help any participant who may require practical guidance or emotional assistance and support.
Colleges where teachers of the future are learning to educate others need diversity training workshops for professors, staff and future teachers. Schools with current teachers also require diversity training for their educators and staff. Augmenting a school library with diverse books is vital, and inviting diverse authors to engage with students, teachers and staff is incredibly important.
But such events can only augment serious institutional efforts to address a lack of diversity. Even diversity workshops by trained personnel designed specifically to help teachers can’t create miraculous change if they’re one-off events. Nor can a single diversity director working in isolation and without ample assistance cause a serious cultural shift.
Because individual enthusiasm alone isn’t enough. We Need Diverse Books WNDB, and all its amazing hard work and achievements aren’t enough. Institutional support is vital to ensure that every school workplace truly evolves into a welcoming space where all individuals can easily access the support they require to excel. As far as schools go, curricula need to be changed. Methods of teaching and evaluation need to be reassessed. And these major steps are only the very beginning of a paradigm shift that needs to occur – and it cannot occur if we refuse to respect and learn and teach the history of BIPOC Americans, by honoring and amplifying Black, indigenous, Latinx voices that have too long been oppressed. Suppressing the facts about our nation’s violence, past and current, has been the norm in schools – and that cannot continue.
Thus, excellent training on diversity is vital. This requires ongoing commitment, not isolated events or scattered lectures in which racial inequality is mentioned. To truly remain sensitive and aware of the needs and issues that impact diverse communities, we need to constantly educate ourselves, because so much is changing. The very language we use to address diversity is rapidly evolving, and words considered acceptable today may be construed as insensitive tomorrow, for good reasons. Striving for excellence in this arena should be extolled as an American virtue.
As a brown woman who immigrated alone to this nation at age nineteen, and a person with an invisible disability, I’ve fought and continue to fight my own battles. But I also understand and admit that I enjoy privileges denied to my Black brothers and sisters. As a cis-gendered female, I
have privileges denied to my LGBTQ2+ family. My desire to better understand and embrace experiences outside my own demands that I am constantly educating myself – as much as I can, with everything else that life demands.
Workshops that educate us on diversity allow us to build a more inclusive, and thus stronger, society. They give us tools to address our biases and suggest ways in which we can act as allies. Better comprehension of another culture encourages multicultural cooperation. Enabling us to empathize with people of different genders, races and ethnicities fosters respectful communication and courageous action. Mutual compassion strengthens unity. We need more training programs that enable us to share a sense of togetherness as Americans by increasing our sensitivity.
The White House’s desire to do away with diversity training is deeply disturbing. Because banning diversity education in its entirety (which encompasses many things, including but not limited to disseminating diverse books) can only deepen racism, white-supremacy and hate-sustained divisions.