I was asked this question at a backyard barbecue I attended this weekend. He was serious he said, because he wanted to understand. Could I help him with this whole DEI thing?
I am a nerd I told him. So, let me see if I can help you understand it from that perspective. From the perspective of a group of people who had been the butt of jokes for years.
Ok, so first things first. I finally said that out loud. Back in the day, to be a "nerd" was not a cool thing to be. Nerds were considered outcasts from junior high school onward.
The images of nerds in movies and on television were those of the boy with the pocket protector, and the girl with the big bifocal-rimmed glasses. Think, "Did I do that..." Some of you will get the reference.
Well, yours truly was the latter. And to top it off, I wore these big red shoes that mom thought I required, to correct my feet. Enter seventh grade. I threw the shoes in the trash in the girl's bathroom and told Mom someone had stolen them. Yep, she looked at me as if I had rocks in my head.
"And," she said, "what exactly are they planning on doing with them? They aren't exactly Converse All-Stars," she said.
I was caught. But she never purchased another pair for me. Oh, and the big bifocal glasses, I stuffed under the back tire of my dad's Blue Cadillac Sedan. And, right on cue as he backed out of our driveway, he crushed them. I wasn't so lucky not to get another pair of those things.
The neighborhood I grew up in back in the heyday of the Motown sound, the Jackson Five, the Temptations, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, and the Miracles gave me images of what beauty looked like. It never occurred to me, with a very popular big sister that I wasn't included in that world.
Until 7th grade. That time in our life when we begin to sort people out based on external factors. Looks, social economic status, religion, sexual orientation, and even their nerdiness for something as simple as liking to learn or being the smart kid in class.
As I watched my pup. Auggie run with other dogs at the backyard barbecue on her play date, it reminded me of those times in my life when I was no longer included in the stuff of the older kids, the cool kids, or the beautiful kids.
Oh sure, I was certainly my big sister's kid sister, but that moniker would be with me until my college days. Tolerated, but not included.
As I watched my pup play, she romped and played with the bigger older dogs, including one that was almost twelve years old, his owner said. As they rolled, splashed, and played with toys, took turns drinking out of a filled water bowl in the afternoon heat, it didn't matter that she was younger, or that she had a different pedigree than the others, or that her dog mom was black. She was included. And not just included, she was given space to lead, to challenge, to bark and use her voice, to just be herself during that playtime.
Often when we talk about inclusion, we talk about took kits and training. Have we become so immune to our humanity that we need to give people a roadmap to what it means to be a good person? And that even if you aren't the cool kid, come from the right side of the tracks, or have the right skin color, religion, or sexual orientation, you do belong?
Inclusion simply means giving you space to take up space. To be, as my Auggie is, boisterous, fun-loving, quirky, and as I call her a juicy mouth, dripping water all over everyone, without anyone correcting her or minding in the least.
If we are ever going to get this right at work, in our communities, and in every place where we occupy space, we will simply let people show up and take up space, as is the right of every being on the planet.
Today why not stop scripting inclusion? And just let people be. Today, why not do unto others as you would have done unto you, but in the way they want that to look? That's what inclusion looks like.
During my college years, surrounded by black beauty, black intellectuals, black courage, black strength, and black history, I was finally included for being me. A black, beautiful, strong, curious, and nerdy smart intellectual who wanted to fight for the rights of all people.
Oh, and my host at the backyard barbecue, had been a nerd (and said he still was) so, "Yes," he said. "I get it."
And So It Goes...
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