by Andrés T. Tapia –
(This article was originally published on my LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/today/author/18562142)
In the last post, we finished talking about the second of three strategies corporations can use to seize the opportunities offered by the growing Latin talent pools. In this post, we’ll cover the third and final strategy.
Strategy 3: Marry marketing psychographics to multidimensional demographics
A telltale sign that there is lack of clarity about how to best reach Latino talent and consumers is that many are confused by just the most basic terminology: is it Hispanic or Latino?
The very fact that these terms are often used interchangeably in the media, but have meaningful although not-so-simple-to-explain differences in their origins and who uses them and how, is telling in itself.
But which term to use is only the tip of the iceberg. When we say Latino or Hispanic are we referring to the first-, second-, third-, or fourth generation Latino? The Boomer, Xer, or Millennial Latino? The English-, Spanish-, or Spanglish-dominant Hispanic? The Peruvian immigrant or the Honduran American born in Wichita? Or any of the other hyphenated Latinos coming from 27 different national heritages? This is the demographic part.
Then, as marketers well know, there is a psychographic part—the drivers that influence consumers’ purchasing decisions. Do they buy for comfort? For adventure? For status? For being on the cutting edge?
Latinos, like members of any other group, also have psychological drivers unique to the individual. Marketers have been able to group these individual psychological drivers to segment consumers. So even within the same demographic group they can go after segments such as hipsters, rebels, or security seekers. These are the psychographics.
The next step is to marry demographics with psychographics to create the most targeted approaches to attract talent and consumers. In other words, knowing the multidimensionality of demographic characteristics of Latinos is exceptionally important, but it is not enough without also layering in the various psychographic profiles.
This then gets us to the motivations of Latinos as it relates to cultural identity. How much do they or do they not want to identify with their ethnic roots versus how much do they want to embrace mainstream American culture as the core of who they are. Are they assimilationists? Are they Upwardly Mobile Aspirants? Are they Nationalistic in their ethnic country of origin pride?
The psychographic profiles that people will take are unpredictable to discern for individuals. But patterns do emerge. And now we can combine appealing to the demographic of the Millennial Puerto Rican to the psychographic or those who are Assimilationists or Nationalistic for example.
When the media zeros in on the undocumented (11 million) and the marketers on the Spanish speakers (34 million that is inclusive of the undocumented numbers), they are looking at important segments within the Latino umbrella but not the whole.
For example, they most often overlook the 26 million English-dominant Latino Millennials who paradoxically also tend to identify with the heritage of their parents’ country of origin (Colombian, Costa Rican, Argentinian, etc.) according to Pew Hispanic Research.
Marisela, my daughter, is a case in point. I think back just a few years ago, tiara perched on her jet-black hair, looking radiant and happy, surrounded by her friends and family. It was her quinceañera—her fifteenth birthday—a rite of passage in the Latino culture where a girl becomes a young woman. Mom, a European-American, and Papi, proud…and torn. Our daughter was coming of age and this joyous celebration with 200 people, a live salsa band, and a Peruvian food buffet, also marked one major milestone in Marisela’s passage toward independence and growing into her own identity.
So Marisela talks about being Peruvian American even though she was born and raised in the United States. She embraced becoming bilingual and multicultural as her friendships include young people who are Jewish, European-American, Black, and Latino. She spent extended time in Peru, where she found love and ended up marrying a Peruvian.
While Millennial Latinos are shaping their own Latino identities so are those in the older generations in the rapidly changing demographic landscape.
This was the lively topic of conversation at dinner in Boston’s North End, at the outdoor patio of Ristorante Fiore, an Italian restaurant on Hanover Street, after a successful diversity conference. A group of us Latinos sat, sipping our wine or espressos, began debating the role of accented English as it related to Latino identity in the workplace. Why is it that having a French or British accent is seen as a plus, but having a Spanish accent a drawback? And because of this, should Latinos who speak English with a Spanish accent work at reducing their accent? As the alcohol and caffeine took its effect, the conversation around how we sound dipped into a discussion about identity and success when one is in the minority.
The answers are not easy, the implications uncomfortable. Here we are a table of Latinos from different countries, different migration stories, different choices. What path should each of us take? I described facing ridicule and teasing at best, discrimination at worst due to my heavily-accented English during visits to the United States when I was young. This experience motivated me to work on my accent when I came to back to the United States to attend college.
As I did, the change in responses to my words clearly shifted toward more positive reactions as I calibrated my inflections, pitches, and tones. From that point on, it was as clear as the Peruvian brandy pisco that many English-dominant European-Americans heavily weighed their assessment of the value of words by the density of the accent of Spanish-dominant speakers.
But others around the table at Ristorante Fiore have made a different choice, equally valid. For them, how they sound, including their accented English, is part of their Latino identity. It is a marker of who they are culturally in the same way that Martinez, Ochoa, Jimenez, and Castillo are name markers of a Latino identity that is so paramount that even when offered a choice through different circumstances of a more Anglicized name, they don’t take it up. While others do.
We pick our cultural identity spots. ‘Este es quien soy’. ‘This is who I am’. Increasingly, for more Latinos, particularly Latino Millennials, the assimilation survival tactics of their parents are not as necessary or desirable.
Instead, our choices of how to let our Latino selves show up in American society are as diverse as the various peoples that make up the Latino/Hispanic fabric “en los United States de America.”
Promising future For Latinos—and the companies who hire them
I hope you have enjoyed and taken some good takeaways from this series. It takes two to tango. If Latinopalooza and corporate America can learn to dance together, the benefits of the reverberations of this multicultural choreography will be felt in the workforce and marketplace for a long time to come.
(This article was originally published on my LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/today/author/18562142)
Latinopalooza is a multi-stage, multi-ethnic, multi-age phenomenon that is already having great impact in the marketplace, political landscapes, and talent.
Organizations that don’t anticipate the implications of #Latinpalooza will miss out in many ways. Here are some facts you need to know:
- Latinos are projected to be one-third of the U.S. population by 2050 with Latinos today already accounting for 21 percent of the Millennial number. This is not a niche market; it is the market.
- Twenty-five million eligible Latino voters nationwide and over six million in places like California. This is not a side constituency; it is the margin of victory.
- Sixty-nine percent of Latinos are currently going to college, the largest percentage of any ethnic group including whites. This is not just a student body ratio; it is the future workforce.
In this series of posts, #Latinopalooza, we will share strategies corporations can start doing now to capitalize on as Latinos become one of the biggest societal and talent stories in 2016.
by Andrés T. Tapia —
(This article was originally published on LatinPost.com http://www.latinpost.com/articles/21389/20140915/ya-time-come-latinos-claim-place-american-society.htm)
It’s up to us to have our power match our numbers
Power-cito, my Spanglish word for power-with-a-lowercase-p, is the Achilles heel of the surging Latino narrative. Despite our supersized growth, we have too much evidence that our power in many areas of society does not match our numbers.
As we joyfully celebrate and share our Latino roots during this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s also challenge ourselves to step it up and make our presence known and felt. Because when it comes to executive and senior leadership positions, political representation, and a marketplace that knows and meets our needs, we are not yet fully accounted for.
In leadership, according to the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, among the 1,200 executive and director positions available in its 2009 Corporate Inclusion Index, Hispanics held only 61 of those positions. That’s 7.9 percent. In 2013, it went down to 7.3 percent. Additionally, only 18 percent of Latinos work in management, professional, or similarly related positions.
Politically, we Latinos do not vote in numbers that the size of our population would suggest. In Arizona, for example, Latinos make up about 31 percent of the state’s population. Two-thirds (67 percent) of this population is native born, with a median age of 25 and a 57 percent home-ownership rate. These are the indicators of a potentially influential, voting-eligible population. Yet, many Latinos believe recent Arizona immigration legislation is detrimental to their community.
In the marketplace, there are still too few choices for products and services that cater to the needs, wants, and aspirations of the broad diversity within the Latino community — from the Spanish-dominant first generation Latino immigrant to the fourth generation Spanglish professional to the affluent MBA on the executive track.
The headwinds are both external as well as within ourselves. We must be vigilant about any discrimination and rally our allies in squelching it. A 2013 Harris Interactive poll found that over 75 percent of Latinos feel people with their background are discriminated against in the form of not being hired or promoted for a job and being called names or insulted.
But we ourselves also get in our own way as we seek to rise to the top. For example, many of the highly energized Latino advocacy organizations have a reputation for not being collaborative, and instead being highly competitive with one another. National origins and territoriality get in the way. A zero-sum game mindset feeds this.
We therefore have a splintering of advocacy groups — many doing insightful, passionate, committed work, but not in a coordinated, scalable way. But this splintering is what contributes to Latinos not displaying strength commensurate with our numbers.
It’s Up To Us
But it’s time we stop looking to others to hand us the power. We need to, and can, rise up to meet it. For us as individuals, it depends on our own ability and willingness to speak up for ourselves and being able to take the more calculated risks required of leaders. And collectively it’s about finding ways to minimize the differences within our own Latino ranks and being able to leverage the many things we have in common to advocate more effectively for what we need and want.
Here’s what we can stand on. Fifty-five million Latinos, and growing, are out there shopping, traveling, banking, studying, and raising families. The Latino purchasing power of $1.4 trillion in 2014, the fastest growing in the United States, is greater than the economies of 11 nations, including Mexico, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, and Indonesia.
And as companies struggle with growth, Latinos offer a marketer’s dream target audience — young, growing, and underserved. With one-third under the age of 18 and 25 percent in their 20s and 30s, the majority of Latinos are near the peak of their spending years.
As we become homeowners, we are driving growth in the household goods industry at a time when other groups are cutting back on these purchases. The familia focus leads to purchasing for the here and now. Latinos over-index compared to other groups in the purchase of toys, BBQ grills, furniture, and eating out. This is consumerism driven by a worldview of many Latinos that what matters most is hoy (today), for who knows what mañana (tomorrow) will bring.
Even with the high unemployment tied to the Great Recession, Latinos account for 13 percent of the workforce and have a participation rate of roughly 68 percent. This is a higher workforce participation rate than among whites, African-Americans or Asians. From a numbers perspective, companies unsuccessful at sourcing, attracting, and engaging this talent pool will see their talent pipeline shrivel up.
Hispanics are tasting the fruits of entrepreneurship as well. According to a 2013 Geoscape study, Hispanic-owned business have grown to over 3 million, a 40 percent increase between 2007 and 2013, outpacing the growth rate for any other demographic group. They generated over $468 billion in revenues.
In addition, Latinos made a key difference in how the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections went. And with now both major parties deeply disappointing Latinos in one way or another, we are in a position to be more demanding about what it will take to win our votes.
So here we are. According to Pew Hispanic Research, Latinos are twenty-one percent of the millennial population. This is the precursor to all Latinos expected to be one-third of the U.S. by 2050. Latino is not a niche market; it is the market. Twenty-five million eligible voters nationwide, and over 6 million in places like California is not a side constituency, it is the margin of victory. Sixty-nine percent of Latinos going to college, the largest percentage of any ethnic group including whites, is not just a student body ratio, it is the future workforce.
We have the numbers behind us, as well as our optimism, our energy, and our ambitions. But we have to stop waiting for others to make the way for us. Se hace el camino al andar, you make your path as you walk it. Let’s stop playing it safe and instead take the necessary steps to be seen as the future power brokers of how things are going to be.
We have a the rest of this month to reflect on this. From there, time to take action.
FORTALEZA, Brazil – Nearly three thousand kilometers north of São Paulo sits the city of Fortaleza, the commercial capital of Brazil’s phenomenal, if sputtering economic boom. In this city of two and a half million, fronting the Atlantic and host to five World Cup games, tales of boom and bust jockey for position as the overriding narrative of the nation.
Despite the official outcome of the games, this is the game to watch.
For Fortaleza’s residents, Brazil’s economic ascent has meant that hundreds of thousands have been pulled out of poverty. They are the basis of a new and aspiring middle class. The signs of their presence are everywhere: the latest in fashion trends adorn city streets, as do dogs on leashes, shopping as therapy, and the latest fitness craze.
The transformation is notable for a city that was once seen as a sleepy beach town attractive to adventure tourists and not much else. The city center today is awash with commerce. A stroll down the main boulevard, Praia de Meireles, offers views of the hip and kitsch. Trendy restaurants and hotels look out over the hourly parade of the Trem da Fantasia (the Fantasy Train) being rocked by local Mickey and Minnie Mouse knockoffs.
Even the foreign tourists in town for the World Cup are outnumbered by Brazilian tourists, from cities both near and far and flush with disposable income. Many come to claim their stake in the booming real estate market along Fortaleza’s shores, or in places such as tradition-filled Morro Branco and Canoa Quebrada, two hours to the north and south of the city.
“People have money to spend,” says one cabbie who goes by the name Derry. “Especially the poor. Education has made the difference.”
Like many in Fortaleza, Derry left his rural home to come to the city hoping to tap into the rising economic tide. Later, over a cup of tapioca gelato, he points out that even Americans are beginning to discover the place, noting that he’s begun taking English so as to better communicate with potential clients.
Still, not everyone in the city takes as rosy a view.
As in other major cities thousands here took to the streets in the days and weeks prior to the World Cup to protest the billions spent on infrastructure for the games, money they say came at the expense of more pressing needs. For these, the pageantry of the World Cup only served to reinforce a collective feeling of neglect.
Edson (who only gave his first name) works as a waiter in Fortaleza’s main square. We talk as he clears the table before me. He says he can’t understand how people can pay $750 for a scalped quarterfinal ticket or $450 a night for a hotel while his whole month’s rent is $250, leaving little room for his wife and two kids.
“It’s only for the outsiders,” he says resentfully of the beefed up security presence accompanying the games. “Once the Cup is over we will face the same dangers on the street we always have faced daily.”
Outside, street vendors, cleaning ladies, and the homeless rub elbows with swanky urbanites ready for a night on the town. It was one thing to be poor when the entire country was not prosperous, I muse. Quite another to see it get rich without you.
And so it is, back and forth in Fortaleza and much of Brazil, between the newly well off, those who have always been well off and are doing even better, and those who are being left behind.
One Brazil can proudly say that as much as this and other large cities were electric during the World Cup games they hosted, a place like Fortaleza is long past needing a World Cup boost to put it on the map. It has at its shores the Praia do Futuro (the Beach of the Future). There are now direct flights to Miami and Lisbon. And if Fortaleza’s name was originally derived from it being a fortress to protect Portuguese colonizers from the indigenous natives, it is now an economic fortress that has come into its own and is extending its reach.
At its foundations, however, lie the corrosive effects of inequality, the other Brazil. As FIFA took its ball and went home in July, it is not the nation’s sad national soccer seleção that residents must reckon with, but themselves.
by Andrés T. Tapia
Watching the World Cup in Brazil got me to thinking about how World Cup fever has exploded in the States. From sports bars and airports to public arenas, a cross-section of Americans have joined with the rest of the world to watch in rapt attention. It just goes to show how assimilation has turned into a two-way phenomenon. Check out my recent Huffington Post piece on how “World Cup Fever Shows How USA has Assimilated to Immigrant Cultures.”
Our work in diversity and inclusion demands us to manage through many paradoxes. In part this is due to the work of diversity and inclusion having to surf its way through seeming contradictions. Do these sound familiar?
- Diverse representation is paramount but we don’t want to focus on the numbers
- Affirmative Action is about the numbers but you can’t make them quotas
- If you surface a diversity and inclusion gap you are obliged to do something about it, so it may be better not to find out
- We need to level the playing the field for those traditionally underrepresented but we can’t do it at the detriment of those who have been in the majority
- Affinity groups are about affinity but must include everyone who wants to join
- Diversity and inclusion strategy should expand its reach and be holistic. Address severe talent shortages, emerging marketplace penetration, global team productivity, generate greater creativity and innovation, but, oh by the way, do it with fewer resources
- We must master best practices processes to move change through our organizations while at the same time be able to freestyle via spontaneous invention to arrive at creative and alternative ways to breakthrough.
There is plenty to explore in each one of these, but here’s one more I want to share and explore in this post:
Are companies with strong corporate cultures inherently more exclusionary?
This question came up in a recent conversation with my colleague Lisa Levey, a thought leader on women’s advancement and work-life integration and author of The Libra Solution: Shedding Excess and Redefining Success at Work and at Home, when we were chatting about a couple of clients we are currently working with. She framed it this way, “Enhancing diversity and inclusion within strong work cultures is ultimately a paradox. Strong cultures have a way we do things and a set of norms that dictate behavior. This clarity defines who they are as an organization as well as what—and who—fits. But D&I are about embracing new ideas and new ways of doing things, often challenging the status quo.“
How to address this conundrum that the bold, distinctive culture that has made these companies successful is the same culture that can severely hinder the organization from being truly inclusive?
We’ve witnessed this across the world and it doesn’t matter the industry—retail, manufacturing, managing consulting, pharmaceuticals, finance, and so on. In each of these industries there are longstanding companies with histories more than 100 years old as well as new economy companies barely a decade old that have a palpable and distinct culture that influences the profile of who gets hired, what gets identified as good and poor performance, and in this, of course, who gets developed and promoted.
Adds Lisa, “strong work cultures are typically characterized by a core set of values that influence priorities and bring life to the way work is accomplished.” The end result is that leadership and management is then shaped by these very values and the organization’s narrow interpretations of what the behaviors behind these values should look like.
Clients that have very strong cultures are extremely admirable. It’s easy to find people who have been there 20, 25, 30 years. Their employees have great memories and great pride in their organization—what it has accomplished, what it stands for, and the kind of talent it has attracted and nurtured. These are traits that get you on the Best and Most Admired companies lists.
How ironic then that it can be so painful and difficult that these companies are often the very places where it’s hardest to open up space for people who are different. The very people who are brought in under the auspices of the organization needing greater diversity and inclusion quickly run afoul of the unspoken coda of how to think, how to speak, and how to act.
The organizational system, wired to nurture the coda and conversely reject deviations from it, like a highly effective immune system, treats that difference as a foreign body that must be surrounded by contain-and-reject interventions. Here comes the raised eyebrow, the roll-of-the-eyes, the “we don’t do it that way here” pricks that slowly but surely deflate the confidence of successful-elsewhere talent.
The Achilles Heel of Strong Corporate Cultures
These companies with strong corporate cultures must then face a choice. They can continue business as usual and they may get lucky and for some time may not experience much apparent downside. But they should then be more realistic about how diverse and inclusive they can truly become.
Or, if the case for being more inclusive and diverse has been made forcefully, they can seize this moment to do some self examination, which in this upside down world, is critical as old assumptions are being swept away by the new normal.
To be clear, examining your culture for ways in which it can be inadvertently exclusive does not mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There are ways to affirm and even hold on to those differentiating distinctive aspects of culture, while letting go of things that have been long cherished and valued that are no longer necessary and long obsolete.
How can you go about this? A few things to think about:
- Distinguish between requirements and preferences. Do an exercise using the honored late Roosevelt Thomas’ guidance. Determine what is really required to do the work and be successful at your company and what is really a preference that is tied to tradition and the people who came before you that really don’t reflect the new generation of work, clients, customers, and workers.
- Rethink the assumptions around mentoring. Often mentoring in strong corporate culture environments can become the code word for training people who are different to become just like us. While there’s still a place to help people through mentoring that can increase their chances of success by showing them the ropes, until you do the work of distinguishing between a preference and a requirement, you’re not going to be able to know what is inclusive versus exclusionary advice.
- Make it safe and inviting for alternative voices to be heard, valued, and acted on. Train legacy leaders and managers on how to seek out alternative voices in their teams and meetings. Reward managers who consistently do so. Profile those who have a different approach than has been the norm. Also design reciprocal mentoring programs—companies with strong corporate cultures often suffer from being too insular. Activate the very premise of diversity, which is to bring alternative thinking to the organization. Formalize and channel this diversity to effectively bring new thinking and life to the organization.
Finally, make this message go viral: in today’s global, hyper-diverse, rapidly changing world, those that don’t keep up with the changes risk getting sidelined. All companies are going to need the diversity of thinking of those who have not fit the formula in that past.
If homogeneity of thinking and behavior was the key to survival before, today it’s a vulnerability. Heterogeneity through those who don’t fit the traditional and previously successful culture could really be the very thing you need more than ever in order to sustain your success in this brave new world.
It’s a period that Charles Dickens could have written about if he were still alive today: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was an age of wisdom; it was an age of foolishness.” Or, as Rev. Jesse Jackson describes in a recent Newsweek article, “As we celebrate events that recognize Dr. King’s impact and legacy, we’re filled with both hope and hopelessness.”
Best and worst, wisdom and foolishness, hope and hopelessness are the competing dynamics of our current political, economic, and social landscape. So when the conversation predictably turns to the supposed post-racial period we live in, as some say evidenced by the election of President Barack Obama or the unveiling of a memorial to Dr. King on the National Mall, or even the wealth of media moguls Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey, I simply want to shout, Race Still Matters!
Without a doubt, there has been remarkable racial progress from 30, 40, or 50 years ago. Many African Americans who were in their 60s, 70s and beyond spoke with great emotion and often with tear-filled eyes at being alive to see the nation elect our first African American president, Barack Obama. Yet Roslyn Brock, in her first speech before the NAACP as its chairman, aptly described the dichotomy facing our nation while debunking the myth of a post-racial society as she described a nation rocked both by racial progress and racial stagnation.
“Today’s civil and human rights challenges are far different from those faced by our predecessors. Yes, we can … drink at the public water fountain, but the drinking water in our homes may not be safe because of lead toxins. Yes, we can … move into sprawling multi-million dollar homes in the suburbs, but the terms of our mortgages differ from our neighbors. Yes, we can … send our children to public schools, but in some states the textbooks … are 20 years old and school boards have decided to rewrite history by removing all references to slavery and its devastating impact on our society.”
Race still matters when the current economic crisis hits the black middle class much harder than whites and other racial groups. Today’s economic mess has been described as a full-blown depression for the black middle class. In a New York Times article, author Ellis Cose said, “Instead of a middle class, we now have a median class–people who are at or above the median income level, but who, for the most part, are only a few missed paychecks away from disaster.”
And the statistics bear this out. On almost every economic indicator, African Americans fare worse than any other racial/ethnic group, with Latinos running a close second. For example, while the national unemployment rate hovers around 9.5%, since April, the black unemployment rate fluctuates between 15.4 and 16.2%, which is about twice the rate for whites. Black teen unemployment is around 35-40%, while the national teen unemployment rate is around 20%.
The crisis goes beyond employment. When we look at the saving rates of various groups, race still matters. Nearly 80% of middle class Americans did not have enough savings to meet three-quarters of their regular household expenses for three months (the minimal amount needed to get through unexpected situations like a layoff or sudden hospital stay). According to research by Demos and the Institute on Assets and Social Policy of Brandeis University, for blacks, the figure was 95% (almost all) and for Latinos, it was 87%. Race still matters.
When wealth is examined, the disparity between groups is even more startling. According to the Pew Research Center, the median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black household and 18 times greater than Latino households. Let’s look at those statistics in another way. The typical black family has $5,677 in wealth, compared to $6,325 for a typical Latino family and $113,149 for a white family. Nearly $6,000 compared to $113,000. The study goes on to show that nearly a third of black and Hispanic families had zero or negative net worth, while only 16% of white families had similar levels of “non-wealth.” The report says, “These lopsided wealth ratios are the largest since the government began publishing such data a quarter century ago and roughly twice the size of the ratios that had prevailed between these three groups for the two decades prior to the Great Recession that ended in 2009.” Race still matters.
Even with wealth, African Americans experienced discrimination and segregation in far greater numbers than other racial/ethnic groups. A joint undertaking by Brown University and the Russell Sage Foundation reported that ethnic/racial identity trumps income as to where people live. Black and Hispanic families with relatively high incomes tend to live in communities where their neighbors are of the same racial/ethnic background and with many more poor people. The study’s authors wrote, “Residential segregation is an insidious and persistent fact of American life. Discrimination on the basis of race, while on the decline according to some estimates, continues to pervade nearly every aspect of the housing market in the United States.” Race still matters.
Even in our schools, according to the Center for American Progress, spending on black and Latino students is about 90% of what is spent on white students. And when it comes to punishments, black youngsters are disciplined more severely and more often than whites or Hispanics. A study by the Council of State Governments of Justice Center found a significant disparity between out-of-school suspensions and other punishments handed out to African American students compared to students from other backgrounds. For instance, 83% of black males in Texas schools had an out-of-school suspension for an offense that the school could exercise discretion on whether to suspend or not. Roughly 74% of Hispanic males had one of these discretionary suspensions; but only 59% of white males had similar suspensions.
Even with a college degree, black grads are finding that what is a tough job market for most recent grads is an exceedingly harsh one for them. Politicians denigrate government and public sector employees and unionized workers, which were the stepping-stones to the middle class for millions of African American and other minority families, making these conduits for social mobility less available.
In practically all aspects of society–from education to expectations, from politics to prison–race still matters. It’s as if W.E.B. Dubois’ prescient statement in the early 1900s, “for the problem of the 20th Century is the problem of the color line,” continues to resonate well into the 21st Century.
Researchers and pundits can debate the causes and effects of this fact of American life, but until we can have frank and honest conversations about the issues that divide us, until we can talk about the paradox of inclusion as suggested in the Inclusion Paradox, we will continue to experience the many ways that race still matters. This discussion must be a national and corporate conversation that addresses race, class, wealth, and culture.
And no one is better equipped to facilitate this discussion than diversity practitioners. Are you leading the way or sitting on the sidelines?
Much depends on your answer. Because how you choose matters.
by Andrés T. Tapia –
Participation is down. Golf courses are closing. Players have cut their spending for equipment and other accessories. And young people, especially Millennials, are simply not as interested in the sport.
In my earlier 3-part series on the sport, I explored golf’s mythology, and its symbolism for mainstream and corporate America. And in the final report of the series, I talked about efforts to create inclusion for women. But including women is not going to be enough to reverse the industry’s misfortunes. Golf’s survival will require a deep look at all of its policies, practices, and marketing. All the things that diversity practitioners tell business executives about making inclusion part of any company’s DNA.
In an article on GolfBizWiki, Octavio Jacobo discussed in greater detail the challenges facing the US golf industry.
“As everyone in this business is well aware … the situation for the US golf industry has not improved; if anything the severe economical downturn has worsened it. In the last decade, golf has suffered a clear stagnation due to the economic conditions in addition to population trends and the dynamics of the industry and the sport. The NGF’s (National Golf Foundation) annual golf participation study revealed that in 2008 the number fell 3% from 29.5 million, in 2007 to 28.6 million in 2008. …”
Yet there is a potential way through the sand trap. With 50 million Latinos in the US and annual consumer spending of more than $1 trillion, Hispanics represent an opportunity for the industry. If appealed to in the right way, Latinos could be a reliable source for new golfers. According to a recent study by the NGF, there are nearly 6 million non-white golfers in the country, with more Hispanics playing than Asians and African Americans.
It only makes sense – business, economic, survival – to tap into this growing Latino market.
Teaching the mechanics of the game is only part of what’s needed. As my former colleague, Sandy Miller explained in an earlier post and was verified by another NGF study, among the biggest stumbling blocks to diversifying players in the game are the nuanced rules of golf culture – its traditions, rules, and norms. In this regard, golf can learn from corporate America and the Inclusion Paradox. Demystifying the cultural contexts for newcomers can lead to renewed energy, innovation, and profits. Reaching out to Latinos and other marginalized groups may even save the game.
by Andrés T. Tapia –
Although I grew up in Lima, Peru, my urban upbringing was tempered by frequent forays into the countryside–hiking in the Andes, traveling to the Amazon rainforest, and visiting my maternal grandparents in a rural area of Washington State. Being outside was a regular part of my childhood. But that’s not true for too many minority youngsters and their families.
According to several studies, including a presentation by the National Park Service (NPS), visiting a national park is overwhelmingly a white family’s experience. About 91% of national park visitors are white. Even when you look at all outdoor recreation, minority participation lags far behind–80% of all outdoor recreationists are white, according to the Outdoor Foundation. That situation hasn’t changed much since the 1960s.
Yosemite Park Ranger Shelton Johnson, who is African American, has said numerous times that he is more likely to meet a visitor from Japan or France than an African American or Latino family in the park. Getting minorities into our national parks has become such a big deal that Oprah devoted a 2-part program to the subject, where she admitted to never having visited one before. Even the Obama family vacation to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon sparked national attention.
Black, Latino, Asian and Native American families just aren’t going outdoors, let alone visiting a national park. The NPS, headed by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, has recognized this gap and, as it approaches its 100th birthday in 2016, is trying to do something about that situation.
Part of that effort was the 2009 partnership with noted historical documentarian Ken Burns and his 6-episode documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Check out a video preview here.
An offshoot of the documentary is the Untold Stories Project, where NPS stories focus on the contributions of African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and American Indians to the park system. The Project seeks to engage under-represented minorities in the nation’s National Parks. Here’s one video about the project.
As with many diversity initiatives, a critical issue behind this push (aside from the NPS’ legal and ethical mandate) is the realization that much of the future support for our national parks will fall to the same ethnic groups that are not visiting the parks today. If today’s minority youth don’t develop a connection to our national lands, it’s likely they won’t support the park system as adults.
Interestingly, some of the research behind this attendance gap delves into what discourages minority families from visiting the parks. Once the studies adjusted for socioeconomic factors, the main difference was…yes…culture. Those of us on the crosscultural front lines understand that what motivates, engages, and appeals to mainstream sensibilities may not hold similar attraction to families coming from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. For instance, where a white families may find the iconic view of the sun setting over the rim of the Grand Canyon appealing and engaging, Latino and African American families may prefer their nature forays to include a gathering of friends and relatives. Increasing diversity in our national parks–in attendance and employment–means more than just making them available and accessible. It means confronting the different experiences and expectations that all guests seek from these national treasures.
A you can see, the Inclusion Paradox, the power of constructively calling out differences, shows up in all aspects of society…even outdoors.
Imagine looking for a daycare provider, or the nearest national park, or help with a medical concern, or maybe even, help with immigration or child support. Where do you turn for the information, especially if you’re Latino and want to deal with organizations that are sensitive to your background? You can turn to the Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF).
Employing both traditional and new media, this non-profit organization provides key information to Latinos on issues like healthcare, the environment, legal assistance, and other social services. It does this by using its searchable online database to link Latinos with more than 17,500 community-based Hispanic serving organizations. The organizations provide bilingual, affordable and culturally appropriate services throughout the country. And HAF encourages other non-profits to list their organizations in the database.
One of the most user-friendly aspects the website is its address locator function. Simply enter a zip code and a desired service, the site then provides a list of organizations to meet your needs, all within a distance that you determine, say 5, 20, or 500 miles. Well designed, novice computer users can access information as easily as those who have more advanced computer skills.
HAF’s website explains:
We design and implement data-driven initiatives that combine the strength of new and traditional forms of media with grassroots outreach to transform information into action.
…We are dedicated to providing greater access to vital information and community resources to the US Hispanic population to improve their health and quality of life. HAF brings a unique and effective process of grassroots education outreach that can mobilize thousands of individuals in virtually any city in the US and Puerto Rico.
Helping HAF visitors turn information into action is what can happen when you bring together innovation, diversity, and technology. So far they have helped 100,000. That’s called, making a difference.
by Andrés T. Tapia —
On Sunday, June 5, I will join thousands of expat Peruvians at St. Agustin College in Chicago to vote in the second and final electoral round in choosing the next president of Peru.
The collective mood of Peruvians is highly apprehensive about what’s next, despite–or perhaps because ofthe country’s substantial eight percent growth in gross national product in five of the last six years. That is among the highest in the world.
Sunday’s election is where the red-hot issues of race, gender, age, imprisonment, insurrection, poverty and economic boom will be shaken in a volatile political cocktail.
The choice between Keiko Fujimori and Ollanta Humala has come down to two candidates with a lot of potentially problematic baggage. Keiko is the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori who is serving multiple multiyear sentences in a maximum-security prison in Lima, convicted of corruption and human rights abuses.
Ollanta led two failed insurrections in the Andes against democratically elected governments, and his father espouses an indigenous nationalistic ideology that borders on reverse racism.
These are not the kind of pedigrees that inspire change Peruvians can believe in.
Below the Surface
Yet…Yet, as is often the case in surrealistic Peru, what is on and below the surface, confounds logic. And unexpected turns of events can be equally damming or redemptive. Both candidates are exercising considerable effort to cut the binds of their political past.
In the final debate last Sunday between the two, Fujimori did her best to paint Humala as a destabilizing force, but he held his ground as someone who has recast his persona–aided by Brazilian political consultants–as a man of reason, rather than as a firebrand revolutionary.
And try as Humala did to link Fujimori to the corruption that had led to her father’s imprisonment, she stopped him in his tracks by asserting that Humala had spent most of his time debating the wrong person. “I am the candidate, not the man who is sitting in prison.” The sins of the fathers, she insisted, should not be visited upon their offspring.
While many Peruvians are willing to give Fujimori this pass–as she leads in the polls by about four percentage points but with a very large percentage of undecided voters– many are not.
Bitterness still surfaces at what many consider betrayal on the part of Alberto Fujimori, who arguably could have gone down in history as one of Peru’s greatest presidents after he tamed hyperinflation, defeated two terrorist movements, and laid the foundation for Peru’s sustained economic boom.
Whether it was willingly or coerced, Fujimori entered a Faustian pact with Vladimiro Montesinos, his head of DINCOTE, the Peruvian secret service. Montesinos bribed politicians, generals, TV station owners and journalists with bundles of cash, while he lead a brutal, no-holds-barred war against terrorism.
After separate fugitive escapes to other countries both men were dramatically captured and ended up in the same prison convicted by Peruvian courts on multiple counts. As befitting of a Latin American novel, they were initially incarcerated in the same jail holding Abimael Guzman, the Peruvian Osama bin Laden. Through his Shining Path movement, Guzman had unleashed real and psychological destruction on Peruvian society. He had heroically been captured under the leadership of his current prison mates.
Terrorism, Torture and Human Rights
So it is that Peruvian society is highly polarized about Keiko Fujimori’s father in a way echoing the U.S. debate around whether torture– along with its the suspension of human rights– is justifiable when facing nihilistic terrorists willing to kill anyone and everyone.
But it wasn’t the human rights debate that sunk Peru’s first president of Japanese descent. Most Peruvians, who lived the sheer terror of Guzman’s Shining Path, with its car bombs and massacres, were willing to make their own Faustian deal by looking the other way as Fujimori’s regime put an end to the Shining Path’s madness–but only by responding in kind.
No, what did Fujimori in for many Peruvians, was the blatant bribery conducted in the name of a leader, who had established a new pragmatic, non-ideological paradigm for bringing about change.
It was under Fujimori that the longstanding practices of massive disregard for paying taxes came to an end, as he prosecuted many of the nonbelievers in paying state tribute.
Even as people were pissed off at having to pay taxes, grudging respect became growing respect for a president, who made it clear that there were rules all–with no exceptions even among the elite–had to follow.
As Peruvians got in line with the country’s new path, state revenues grew and were put into transformational use, building thousands of schools, kilometers of highways, electrical grids and water systems.
That the exemplar of rectitude had under his nose one of the most blatant bribery campaigns the country had ever seen was unforgivable.
It’s forgiveness, however, that’s on Keiko’s mind–or more accurately, a pardon. It’s no secret that she does not believe innocent people should be in jail and since she insists her father is not guilty, she would likely pardon him.
While Peruvians debate the limits of forgiveness, Ollanta offers another test.
His first presidential campaign five years ago when he lost to Alan Garcia was partially bankrolled by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. His policies are antithetical to the free market economic programs that have reduced extreme poverty in Peru from 50 percent to 30 percent. Massive foreign investment in Peru has fueled the economic transformation.
Still, that leaves one-third of the country in abject poverty, a damning metric. It is this proportion of the population that has declared trickle down a fiction and see in Humala someone who will plead their cause regardless of his history of insurrection or suspect influences. They are willing to make this Faustian tradeoff.
For Ollanta, though, Chavez’s well documented ambition to extend the Cuban Revolution into modern day Venezuela–and his eagerness to influence other parts of South America via Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa–are the very things that may make enough Peruvians turn away from him and look the other way, yet again.
If so, they in turn will cast their own Faustian vote that may indeed free Alberto Fujimori, as the price for hopefully preserving the economic boom.
by Andrés T. Tapia –
If the United States’ Latino population represented a single country, it would be the second largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world. And this number will continue to accelerate as one in four babies born in the U.S. today are Latinos.
So reveals one of the major headlines from the 2010 Census as it documents the contours of the explosion of the Latino population. At 50 million strong, Hispanics are changing American culture in ways both predicted and unexpected. This growth and the attendant changes are happening much faster than anticipated. Instead of Latinos becoming 25% of the population by 2040, as originally projected, updated forecasts expect that milestone to occur by 2025. Fifteen years earlier.
Univision, the nation’s largest Spanish language TV network, has released a video with a Spanish-inspired musical track that uses these statistics to illustrate what this all means for the changing multi-dimensional identity of the U.S. and therefore for communities, businesses, and to Latinos themselves.
Check out the video.
As you can see, any organization or group that does not embed Latinos and their worldviews into its plans and activities will lose out.
One gap: the video does fall into the trap of presenting the Hispanic community as a single entity, speaking with one voice and possessing a singular worldview. This does not capture the more complex and nuanced story of the vast diversity within the Latino community.
Hispanics represent many paradoxes, with its mixture of immigrant and native born, differing income and educational levels, Spanish-language dominant and English-language dominant. We originate from the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and South America and our immigration patterns into the U.S. have taken various different shapes. But with that caveat, there is indeed a broad umbrella of Latino-ness that does unify us given a shared worldview around family, identity, time, spirituality, and relationships.
Bottom line: Latinos are an integral part of the New American Reality. We are here to stay and to contribute to a more prosperous and vibrant nation.
The 2011 Oscars revealed two different tales of diversity’s progress and retro-ness in the entertainment industry.
Eight women — a record — received non-actress awards, which was a nice sequel to Kathryn Bigelow’s breaking of the Oscar glass ceiling last year when her muscular “The Hurt Locker” beat out her ex-husband James Cameron’s fantasy “Avatar” for Best Picture and Best Director. This is progress.
But when it came to African Americans, Asians, and Latinos…. Whoop! Nowhere to be found on the nominee list.
This year’s drought is par for the course.
Thirty-eight years would pass after Sidney Poitier (“Lilies of the Field,” 1963) became the first black male to win Best Actor before another African American (Denzel Washington in “Training Day,” 2001) to follow in his footsteps. Since then it’s only been Jamie Foxx (“Ray,” 2004) and Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland,” 2006). As far as African-American women go, Halle Berry (“Monster Ball,” 2001) is the only one to win a Best Actress Oscar.
For a Latino Best Actor, we have to go back to 1950 for Jose Ferrer (“Cyrano de Bergerac,” 1950). That’s it. There are close ones: Anthony Quinn (“Viva Zapata!” 1952, “Lust for Life,” 1956) and Benicio del Toro (Traffic, 2000) as Best Supporting Actors. A Latina or an Asian female has never won Best Actress. The closest Latina? Rita Moreno’s Oscar for her supporting role in “West Side Story” in 1961! Asian winners? Only two males: Yul Brynner (“The King and I,” 1956) and Ben Kingsley (“Gandhi,” 1982).
Looking back through this dismal picture, it’s clear that actors of color achievements peaked in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Ay!
When it comes to pop culture, the entertainment industry is awash in contradictions around diversity. As the most powerful medium to help bring about mainstream societal culture change, it has a long and distinguished record of contributing to inflection points that paved the way to greater inclusion. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” in the 1960s truly broke new ground as it suavely told the story of a young white woman bringing her black male friend, played by the elegant Sidney Poitier, to dinner at her racist white parents’ house. It not only broke the interracial relationship taboo, but even today remains a powerful metaphor for bringing an excluded party into the inner sanctum of those doing the excluding.
Who can forget what “Crash” did in moving the race conversation beyond black and white to all the other dimensions of diversity? Or Sean Penn’s dignifying and human portrayal of gay activist Harvey Milk (“Milk,” 2008)? Or “White Man’s Burden” (1995) where John Travolta lives in a United States where whites are the oppressed minority and Blacks the ones in charge?
Even schlocky movies like “G.I. Jane” (1997) help transform long standing beliefs, in this case Demi Moore machine gunning her way toward normalizing that women can be warriors too. TV land has also played a significant role in changing culture mores. “Dora the Explorer” has a Latina girl teaching Spanish to white, blue-eyed kids throughout America, while a couple of decades earlier lovable “Ellen” made people laugh their way right out of their prejudices against lesbians and gays.
But Hollywood also perpetuates exclusion. There is so little diversity to be found among directors, writers, and producers, it’s not shocking that the most popular of media does not reflect the world as it exists. Minorities continue to struggle with very few roles available that call for their background and, when they do, it’s usually to play a thug, a homeless person, someone out of the mainstream.
We are not even having a debate about whether a deserving actor of color was passed over. People of color are not even being cast in quality roles in either mainstream story lines or in a film about people of color that would set them up for Oscar contention. Jeff Friday founder of the American Black Film Festival, told CNN for a piece entitled, “Where’s the Diversity at the Oscars?” “We have to challenge the studio system. Why are studios not making films that represent the people of this country?”
And more disturbingly, right now with even the most cutting edge, positive, and high quality efforts to create there are troubling exclusionary blind spots. Last year, I wrote about the patronizing, and therefore exclusionary, white messiah messages of 2010 Oscar nominees “Avatar,” “The Blind Side,” “Precious,” and “District 9.” This time, I look at other inadvertent exclusionary ways that show up in the popular TV shows known for their positive diversity impact—“Glee,” “Modern Family,” and “The Cleveland Show”—which I share in my next installment.
In Part One of this series, I shared my thoughts about the lack of diversity on the big screen. Here, I tackle television.
Although they represent 12 percent of the population, people with disabilities are only one percent of prime-time TV characters. There are even fewer positive, affirming roles for a character with a disability.
So why, in this paean of diversity, is Artie, a character who uses a wheelchair, played by a person without a disability? It’s mind-bending that, in the midst of an exceptionally inclusive move to portray a positive, productive, highly talented character, the Glee producers send a stunningly negative message–as described in an Huffington Post entry– that those with a disability are so not able–that they can’t even be relied on to play one of their own. Wow.
The same thing happened when Abigail Breslin (from “Little Miss Sunshine”) was cast as young Helen Keller in the Broadway revival of “The Miracle Worker.” A hearing actor was selected for a deaf role in the off-Broadway “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” Daniel Day-Lewis played a man with severe cerebral palsy in “My Left Foot,” and Tom Cruise acted the part of a paralyzed Vietnam veteran in “Born on the Fourth of July.” Angela Johnson Meadows’ post, “Where is Disability in the Hollywood Diversity Discussion?” offers additional insights.
And why do the creators of “The Cleveland Show,” a smart, funny, and popular TV show about a black family, use a white actor, Mike Henry, to play the lead role of the black family patriarch? Again, in the midst of an inclusionary creation, a resounding exclusionary message is sent that blacks don’t have the skills, not even to portray themselves, not even in voice. Double wow.
We used to shake our heads when hearing about the old times, when white actors put on black face, or when they wore braids to play Native Americans. Now we see: Hollywood is still doing it!
We begin to understand how exclusion begins. It goes back to who’s being allowed to create and cast programs. The character from “The Cleveland Show” has its genesis on “Family Guy,” another animated show with a white creator and an all-white cast providing the characters’ voices. Because it would be inconsistent to change the actor who provided Cleveland’s voice once the character got his own show, the argument goes, it’s necessary to keep the same actor.
So, Cleveland’s visible diversity—and it is great to have a strong character of color in the show—masks the lack of diversity below the waterline among the writers, producers, and actors. Making it, in effect, a blackface cartoon.
I love this show! Not only is it a contemporary and insightful exploration of today’s diversity issues as they play out in blended families, but it’s consistently hilarious, smart, and incisive in plot and dialogue. I applaud the creators’ and actors’ willingness to explore, through humor, sensitive diversity issues such as: What does it mean to “be a man” for the gay couple of Mitchell and Cameron? What are the lies that spouses, children, and parents tell each other? What cultural tensions exist between Latinos and European Americans that reach beyond superficial jokes about habits to more deeply expose differences in worldviews?
Why are there no black lead characters? For a show that has set out to elaborately address diversity issues in multiple ways, this is a glaring omission. True, it is an unfair burden for one show to address all diversity issues or to address them equally. I understand not only the dilution that would take place from a writing perspective, but also the apparent condescension involved in pandering to all constituencies. But for the African-American dimension to be missing–the genesis diversity issue in American culture–is a statement.
As I think about that inherent statement, and I am speculating here, I don’t believe it’s an “anti” thing. I believe it’s a fear thing. I can imagine a group being overlooked or deemed too small to be addressed, but in a show about diversity one just doesn’t overlook blacks.
Is it possible in today’s environment writers feel relatively safe writing smart, non-edgy, affirming comedy about gays, Latinas, youth, and older people, but not racial issues—particularly black and white issues? Could it be that writers felt they could not lean into making comedy of racial issues, even with their affirming, insightful philosophy to inclusion? And, if so, why not?
This apparent hesitation–actually, avoidance–reflects how too-hot-to-handle race still is in the United States. One sign of psychological health is the ability to laugh at oneself. Or, one’s group. At some level we now can laugh about Latinos, gays, and even our own preoccupation with inclusion, which is all good, but when it comes to race–particularly black and white–in America, we still can’t make it a family prime time laughing matter.
Application to Corporations
Don’t underestimate the corporate diversity implications regarding what pop culture can and cannot manage. If bold Hollywood runs away from dealing with race in a mainstream TV program about diversity, what about corporate America’s ability and readiness to truly deal with race in the workplace?
This is what worries me about the full embrace and emphasis of “inclusion.” I believe inclusion has been a transformational addition to the work of diversity. It should be about all of us. Introverts, analytics, white males included. I worry that in casting this wide net we, at times, end up equating personality and thought pattern differences to the more difficult, painful dynamics of race. And in so doing, we end up minimizing it.
I love inclusion and the concepts behind it, in the same way I love “Modern Family.” But within the good thing there could be a fatal flaw that, if not addressed, could undermine the very thing “Modern Family,” “Glee,” “The Cleveland Show”–or corporate diversity and inclusion–are supposed to be about. That is, addressing at a root level the very things that keep “us versus them” firmly in place.
When we don’t address race head on–all that unfinished business that leaves a disproportionate number of blacks still standing on the bottom rungs–it may just be telling us something troubling about our ability to truly address what matters most as we run off, gleefully, embracing all those other wonderful things.
By Andrés T. Tapia —
Today I had a new experience where at the invitation of a close friend, I delivered a sermon at a Unitarian Universalist congregation. I had never before attended this kind of faith group and I always love experiencing new communities and learning about what they are about. In preparing I got more acquainted with the history of two fused congregations (Unitarian and Universalist), which is quite diverse in the belief systems of its members who tend toward mysticism on the one hand, social justice on the other. And the mysticism, while having Christian roots also embraces Eastern practices. So open is this denomination that it even makes room for atheists. All this was good for me to know and, while using a Christian scripture as the teaching text, I needed to use language that worked for this broad spectrum of belief without diluting the power of the message. I invite you to listen in.
[One of the readings shared earlier in the service to frame the sermon was the following:]
“And who is my neighbor?“ the rabbi was asked.
The rabbi replied: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ –– Luke 10:29-35 (NIV)
Who is my neighbor? Jesus was asked.
This is really an inclusion question, isn’t? It’s basically asking, who should I consider to be part of my community?
In the New Testament’s Gospel of Luke narrative there’s a short back story that leads to this question. Let’s look at it:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The expert in the law answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But the man wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In this exchange a lot hangs in the balance, doesn’t it?
In the theological context of this conversation, it’s a question of what will lead to eternal life. Others who may not believe in the concept of eternal life may interpret it as a question about the meaning of life.
In either case, whether we live eternally or whether how we have lived our lives has eternal impact, the weight of the question is monumental. How are we to live our lives so that something sustainable, memorable, long-lasting, eternal comes of it?
So we listen in with anticipation to Jesus’ answer. And he first directs his questioner to the ancient scriptures when he says, “What is written in the Law?” And so the expert in the Law, like any good rabbi or preacher or lawyer, quotes chapter and verse. The first part of the answer is what we would expect from a religious script: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. But it doesn’t end there, does it? The scriptures also command that we “love our neighbor as ourselves.”
This is a moment of truth.
Because there are many ways to show or even pretend to love God. We can faithfully go to religious service, we can pray piously, we can quote the scriptures. But this neighbor clause is troubling. It’s troubling because it may be that much harder to fake love for neighbor than love for God.
It may indeed be harder to be inclusive that it is to be religious.
And so I can imagine a challenging edge to the question: “So who is my neighbor, rabbi.”
As we heard in the Story for All Ages, the answer is taken from the headlines where journalists live by the adage of “if it bleeds it leads”: There’s a man lying by the side of the road, beaten up by thieves who took what he had. The well off, the religious ones, the elite pass him by on their Blackberry-scheduled ways. And it is a Samaritan, who is lifted up as the role model of inclusion.
And this is an outrageous answer. On several fronts.
First, because of who Jesus holds up as the role model. The Samaritans were despised by a significant segment of Jews of that time, in particular the elite. They were considered a half caste people, a mixture of Jewish and Arab who practiced a heretical form of Judaism. Good Jews did not deal with Samaritans. They avoided their neighborhoods. Shunned them from participating in their society.
They were the Muslims, the Latinos, the African Americans of that time. The outsiders.
And secondly, it’s outrageous because of how Jesus elaborates on the question of what is necessary for eternal life. He doesn’t say, believe this or that doctrine, or pray every day, or go to religious service weekly. In fact, it’s not about belief or religious practice at all. But it’s about love of neighbor. And the answer is not theological or academic or about change management. It is practical and pragmatic. Indeed, one could argue that this is the practical answer to how to love the Lord God with all of one’s heart, soul, strength, and mind:
There is a man lying by the side of the road. And he is hurt. He is alone and forgotten. Shunned and ignored. And he needs help. He needs bandaging and food and water and a place to stay. He needs protection, a place to heal to become whole again.
Put simply, Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan is both a literal and metaphorical message of who should we, you, I include in our circle of care. And his definition of inclusion is one that is about diversity.
That our neighbor is anyone we come across and see in need. It doesn’t matter what our profession and status is. It doesn’t matter the neighborhood we’re in. It doesn’t matter if we have a Lotus Notes schedule to follow. In fact, the eternal-impact action in that temporal moment is not “keep to the schedule” or “stick with the agenda” or “stay with the plan,” but rather “tend to the person in need.”
That’s how Martin Luther King, Jr. understood it when he declared that he wanted to be remembered as a Drum Major for Peace, Justice, and Righteousness. Who, using biblical language, would be remembered as someone who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited those in prison. That he wants to be remembered as someone who “tried to love and serve humanity.” “All the other shallow things will not matter,” he preached. “Not money. Not fine and luxurious things.” He was after a life that would be eternal in its impact. And so it has been.
And so who is our neighbor? Here in Grayslake? Lake County? McHenry County? Kenosha County? Who is it that is laying by the side of the road, neglected, bleeding, robbed of their money, robbed of their opportunities, robbed of their housing, robbed of their dignity, robbed of their rights?
And here we must go back to the news headlines. Isn’t our neighbor the Latino undocumented worker who is facing a fierce onslaught to make him or her leave? There are children today in Waukegan and North Chicago and Wheeling who are terrified every time Papi must leave the house, even for a loaf of bread for dinner, that he may not return with the promised rolls. Breathlessly they await wondering if he has been taken and deported never to be seen again. Aren’t our neighbors all the brown-skinned people who fear that laws will be passed that allow for them to be pulled over by the police just because of the color of their skin or the accent of their speech or the fashion of their clothes?
Isn’t our neighbor the African American in North Chicago, Zion, Highland Park who fears being pulled over for driving while black, whose family and extended family may face some of the same infant mortality rates, graduation rates, and incarceration rates today as when King began his march on Selma?
Isn’t our neighbor the Muslim in America who is facing increased discrimination in the workplace, threats to burn the Koran, accusations of being a terrorist? Isn’t our neighbor the Jew who is facing anti-Semitic threats from nation states and Muslims and Christians?
As we think about who is our neighbor, as we think about what it takes to have a life with eternal impact, eternal life, as we think about what love looks like, as we think about the meaning of diversity and inclusion, imagine a pitch black stage and suddenly a spotlight on a man…or is it a woman…or maybe it’s a child…on the side of the road, bleeding, hurt. Foreclosed. Bankrupt. Hungry. Deported. Struggling to graduate. Waiting for help –– waiting for a neighbor to stop and see him or her and show them love.
When President Barack Obama was asked about all the controversy swirling around Muslims in a press conference the day before this year’s September 11, he gave a very important answer that ended with this:
“I’ve got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan in the uniform of the United States armed services. They’re out there putting their lives on the line for us. And we’ve got to make sure that we are crystal-clear for our sakes and their sakes they are Americans and we honor their service. And part of honoring their service is making sure that they understand that we don’t differentiate between them and us. It’s just us.”
And this could have been an answer about Latin American and Asian immigrants. About African Americans. About Jews. About gays and lesbians. About those with disability. About veterans. About our youth. These are our neighbors whom we must love as ourselves. And who work in our backyards, our restaurants, our companies, our armed services. Who watch our children. Whose hard work and taxes serve the common good. Who help us in our places of need. These are our neighbors as much as the person to your left and right.
There’s no them and us.
It’s just us.
Helping our neighbor in need can of course be scary; controversial… fraught with political and social polarization with code words such as Samaritan, half caste, not from here. Not one of us. No different in Jesus’ time or our time. To respond, to love…to love our neighbor as ourselves we need courage. And as we heard in the 2nd reading, Eleanor Roosevelt gives us practical and inspired advice: “We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up…discovering we have the strength to stare it down. We must learn to cast out fear.”
Who is our neighbor. My neighbor. Your neighbor. Who are you going to include? Will you cross the lines of diversity? Who is the us?
As you can see, this thing about diversity and inclusion is not at its core about mentoring and flyers in Spanish or training programs or international potlucks. Rather, it’s work of the spirit. It’s work of love. It’s work with eternal impact.
After sharing his parable, Jesus asked his questioner, “Which of these three – the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan – do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
The rabbi said, “Go and do likewise.”
Delivered on September 26, 2010 at the Prairie Circle Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Grayslake, Illinois