Our Tennessee state legislature has made it illegal for educators to say that systemic racism is an American phenomenon. Making sure to successfully intimidate teachers, they’ve threatened to withhold funds if the proper words in their estimation aren’t used.At the same time, Chattanooga’s Chamber of Commerce took steps to promote the economic and racial equity that has been systemically limited. Its pledge for racial equity has been signed by corporate CEOs, organization directors, and diverse business leaders.
Was anyone surprised by the push-back to the Chamber’s pledge from the conservative organization, Hamilton Flourishing? Saying that the goal of Chambers of Commerce is to recruit new businesses to the area, not just help a few businesses and certainly not by radically changing our economy and culture.
The world has been fascinated by the arrival of the British culture wars on American shores with former Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.Millions of people watched Oprah Winfrey interviewed them and the show was the highest-rated entertainment special since the February 2020 Oscars ceremony. While some question Markle’s integrity, most of us are we mesmerized by the comeuppance of a former colonial empire.
Harry’s brother William denies any royal racism and the U.K. government issued a report denying any institutional racism in Britain. British Black journalists blast the report while anti-Markle press says that she’s endangering the monarchy. Markle is hijacking the British government and she’s a bully, embraced by Americans who don’t know any better. No wonder Harry and Meghan plotted their escape.
I experienced remnants of the British Empire as a kid in the colony of Bermuda. We were taught the ‘Golliwog’ dance in ballet class. Considered entertainment, Golliwog was an embarrassing stereotype of its African colonies.
As we come to the end of March, Women’s History Month, we need to see this time as a wake up call regarding women’s safety. The shootings at Asian spas in Atlanta, where most of the victims were women, underscore the vulnerability of these women. Yes, the Asian-American community as a whole is experiencing a rising number of hate crimes given COVID. And Asian-American women experience twice as many hate incidents as men.
An Asian American studies professor noted that women have always dealt with harassment and public safety issues, but COVID provided another excuse to target Asian women. Bullies attack the vulnerable and stereotypes of Asian women as meek and subservient make them easy targets. That’s why it was unusual that a 75-year old Asian-American fought back when attacked on a street corner, sending her attacker to the hospital. She isn’t the only woman to be fed up with harassment and violence.
The White House lowered its flag in mourning for victims at the FedEx facility. It’s hardly the first time this year that this flag has been flown at half-staff. There have been 147 mass shootings, defined as killing four or more people not including the shooter, since January. There have been 45 in just the past month. That comes to more than one mass shooting per day. It’s an increase of almost 73% over the same time period last year and they’re deadlier with almost twice as many fatalities. Maybe the White House should leave the flag in mourning mode permanently.
It’s unlikely that we’ve seen the last of these massacres. Gun violence researchers describe the situation as a contagion effect with each incident spawning copy cats. This deadly disease is particularly contagious to revenge-seeking males who make up 98% of these shooters.
The Arts have existed since folks drew on cave walls and I suspect that there was some humming and harmony back in the day before song writing was a thing. Communal dancing around fires at night was an aboriginal celebration in humanity’s history. Artistic expression by individuals and groups seems to be embedded in our DNA. And one of the things that saved me when I first came to America as a kid, was this country’s passion for Arts and Culture.
I paid close attention when an old friend jokingly asked on Twitter: “Can anyone tell me why I’m so Angry all the time?” But it’s not so funny that rage is the new normal. We’ve gotten louder and more contentious, as we’ve suddenly been catapulted into a new Middle Ages with a politics and economics that mirror medieval lords and serfs with castles, indebted servants, and a dying middle class. Each age group is struggling in its own way and there are super-angry people in every generation. Tweets that aren’t crude and rude are often cries for help, for someone to listen, respond, and care. Both sides of the COVID coin are expressed online: anger and despair.
Many of the despairing are young and I’ve written previous columns about their skyrocketing suicide rates. But many of them are elderly and their desperation makes them more vulnerable than ever.
COVID has fueled a raging Black Market: scammers, fraudsters and con artists. Charlatans surface in tough economic times with a vengeance. Be afraid, especially if you’re older. It’s true that scams like “Free Solar Panels” target homeowners of all ages, but many fraudsters are focusing their stimulus check scams and community donation scams on senior citizens. Playing on understandable fears, fraudsters offer opportunities to skip the line and get quicker access for outlandish fees.
We’ve just completed National Consumer Protection Week and Acting United States Attorney Antoinette T. Bacon said: “Fraudsters are making a fortune by targeting Americans, particularly older Americans… The scammers tell elaborate lies, often become demanding and threatening, and take advantage of the physical isolation that many seniors have experienced during the pandemic.”
Who would disagree that this is a shameful development towards the most vulnerable in our society? But what are we doing about it? Too often we consider the elderly faceless and expendable, like serfs who owe us or can easily be replaced. So we’ve seen a nonchalance towards the elderly whowere going to die soon anyway. Arguments against wearing masks to protect the elderly by wearing masks have been responsible for surges in infections and death. But the biggest COVID fraud towards the elderly has taken place from governors’ offices.
New York Governor Cuomo used emergency pandemic powers to tell nursing homes that they couldn’t deny admission to patients discharged from hospitals solely based on a confirmed or suspected COVID diagnosis. Supposedly freeing up hospital space, Cuomo should have anticipated that nursing homes would become the state’s lethal epicenter.
Instead, Cuomo made even more of a mess by covering up and delaying death toll reports. With multiple excuses, mostly nonsense, the governor finally acknowledged that he’d made a mistake. His apology, almost a year later, brings the term “obfuscate” to mind. With recent news of official reports being doctored to show only about 50% of the total nursing home deaths, the term “criminal” comes to mind.
Another ‘obfuscation” veering towards “criminal” comes from Governor DeSantis of Florida where vaccine sites targeted wealthy communities of political donors. DeSantis’ denial seemed sincere, “I’m not worried about your income bracket, I’m worried about your age bracket.”Yet he blocked death toll reports on eldercare facilities and his new data analyst is an anti-masker sports blogger with no credentials.
Nix the medieval mix of lies and cons by lords of the manor. Let’s be honest and truly honor lives lost and elderly still at risk. And don’t bow down to the lords’ anti-masking propaganda. The lives that masks protect may be some old folks you love.
In my more than half a century dealing with diversity, I have seen multiple changes in the field of training, coaching, and consulting. COVID presents an unprecedented mountain of changes in the DEI field that merit an overview of the past, present and future. As much as I appreciate some of you giving me the title of Diversity Futurist, Diva, Matriarch and Fairy Godmother, I’m well aware of the many experts reading the American Diversity Report and welcome your comments on the future of diversity.
The Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s ushered in activism regarding race that continues today. Advocacy had existed for decades before that. The NAACP was founded in 1909 and there was a Jewish element in that process. That synergy was revisited in the 1960s which is when I became involved in civil rights protests and Affirmative Action was enacted. The very different experiences of Jews and Blacks did not always resonate together and the partnership phased in and out. I belonged to a Black-Jewish Dialogue in Chicago in 1990 and current issues prompted me to re-energized that effort with a virtual Black-Jewish Dialogue that I founded last summer. Click for Dialogue background and episodes.
The Black Lives Matter movement is latest phase of civil rights, but there have been multiple surges following incidents in various cities, particularly regarding police violence. The DEI response is one of the most notable in history. The BLM movement coincides with COVID and emphasizes the Equity given the massive economic and healthcare impact on communities of color. FUTURE: Given recent eruptions of long-held prejudices against people of color including Asian-Americans, African Americans and Latinx, diversity consultants will be focused on issues of race and ethnicity, coupled with Equity and community activism/leadership, for years to come. Additionally, it’s likely that law enforcement will use diversity consultants more frequently to better serve diverse communities.
In the late 1960s, the Women’s Liberation Movement began and I joined the first march in NYC, partly inspired by the Jewish women at the forefront. They didn’t identify as Jewish but their presence was understood in our community and in 1972 the first female rabbi was ordained in the US. However, efforts to discredit ‘Feminism” as radical/left wing have existed for more than century and still exist today.The #MeToo movement re-booted the Women’s Movement, creating a newly energized phase of the Women’s Movement, particularly regarding both sexual harassment and Women in STEM/technical fields. Last year, I was contacted to do an interview about being a pioneer in the computer world – I studied computer programming in the 1960s and was an IT manager in the 1980s. This was the first time anyone paid attention to that aspect of my work. Internationally, the movement to highlight women is progressing rapidly – I was recently given a “HerStory Award” by the Women’s Federation for World Peace along with other international awards. FUTURE: COVID has created an historic “She-Cession” recession and diversity consulting in the US will need to respond as COVID subsides. Among the issues to address: Recruitment, hiring practices, advancement in the workplace, parental leave, child care, equal pay, and presence in the executive C-Suite and on Boards. None of these issues are new, but they will gain increased visibility and demand greater attention.
There is a long history associated with gay rights, the first advocacy organization was established in 1924. The movement accelerated in the wake of the Stonewall Riots of 1969. An example of the evolvement of LGBTQ diversity consulting is Indiana’s Another Bookstore founded in 2004 which became The LGBTQ Center in 2016. But according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) there are still 3 dozen states where it’s legal to fire someone simply for being gay. And only 29% of the Fortune 500 offer health benefits to domestic partners. FUTURE: The expectations expressed by SHRM include an extension of civil rights to include sexual orientation. This would embed sexual orientation issues more firmly into DEI consulting. It would also guarantee similar benefits to individuals and their families regardless of sexual orientation. There would also be more equity regarding the treatment of hate crimes towards these individuals.
In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act brought disabilities into the diversity consulting arena. I believe that the original focus was on physical disabilities. I taught ballet at a school for the deaf 15 years earlier, before dance therapy or diversity consulting existed and the term “handicapped” was acceptable. Intellectual disabilities came later. My younger brother was a high-performing Aspergers/autism and my experience was helpful in assisting autistic students in technical writing at the College of Engineering & Computer Science at the U. of TN/Chattanooga in 2017. FUTURE: While physical disabilities may remain a challenge for diversity consultants in this COVID era, there are signs that intellectual disabilities may continue to be addressed. The need for social interaction is less and the need for technical skills has increased, giving the intellectually challenged more opportunities and requiring diversity consultants to include this form of diversity in their skill sets.
Often referred to as Interreligious Affairs and Interfaith Dialogue decades ago, religious diversity has had an on again-off again presence depending on world current events. The term Interfaith, which I used when founding the DuPage/Chicago Interfaith Resource Network in 1991, continues to be relevant today, although not as a DEI consulting category.
My first book on this facet of diversity, Teaching Curious Christians about Judaism, came out in the early 1990s and won awards at a time when Holocaust issues around Auschwitz were prominent. But it wasn’t taken to the Vatican until Pope Francis became pope in 2013. My book, Religious Diversity in Schools, was originally written after a street riot in a Chicago suburb over Christmas displays in mid-1990s. My book, Religious Diversity at Work, was published in 2016 when legal suits regarding religious expression had became a prominent issue for diversity consultants. FUTURE: Religious Diversity has been and will continue to be used in corporate diversity consulting and for organizations in the healthcare sector. The combination of legal issues and service to a broadly diverse religious clientele makes this form of expertise necessary to both engage a diverse clientele and to avoid legal issues.
MULTICULTURAL & CROSS-CULTURAL
Diversity was originally known as multiculturalism, a term which came to be known as cross-cultural or intercultural. This approach to diversity rose to the surface when international businesses relocated to the US in large numbers. Training internationals to maximize the local-global teamwork quickly became a necessity. When Volkswagen located their American plant here in Chattanooga, TN, around 2008, I was contacted by a New York management consulting firms to assist in coaching executives in adapting to the Southern culture. Almost a decade later, that NY firm changed its named to include ‘diversity’, reflecting an updated perspective of its work.
The cross-cultural trend corresponded with a move towards Global Leadership Training that was sometimes taken up by diversity consultants, including myself. My sequence of cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity, and cultural competence as a training strategy reflected the thinking then, and have become terms used in diversity consulting in general. FUTURE: The ‘America First’ movement made global leadership development somewhat irrelevant and it merged with general leadership development training. While it’s questionable whether my books, Inspire Your Inner Global Leader (2012) and Going Southern: The No-Mess Guide to Success in the South (2013) are being used currently, as the virtual workplace becomes the new norm, the concepts of global leadership and cross-cultural expertise will be revived.
I created the Matrix Model Management Systemmore than 20 years ago, embedding the concept of “implicit bias” which emerged in 1995. The System included the neuroscience of storytelling, emotional intelligence and the application of both to setting goals and plans to achieve them. When the term “Unconscious Bias” became part of diversity consulting about 1/2 dozen years ago, I revamped the Matrix System as Un-Bias Guide for Leaders and the Un-Bias Guide for Educatorsworkbooks in 2018. FUTURE: Issue of Unconscious Bias will continue to be part of diversity consulting. with an additional focus on how it might evolve into hate speech, acts, and crimes. The use of neuroscience to broaden the ability to process Big Data will increase. Given the tensions and frustrations of the COVID era, there will be an increased emphasis on emotional intelligence and smart decision making. Understanding the communication and appeal of hate groups will be a necessity for diversity consultants as noted in our book: When Hate Groups March Down Main Street: Engaging a Community Response.
Generational diversity became a sub-set for diversity consultants as the Silent and Boomer generations reached retirement and younger generations became more visible. There is little discussion of the older generations in the workplace today given COVID. And there is little knowledge of Affirmative Action, so long in the past, although references to it remain. FUTURE: We’ll see a new phase of generational diversity going forward and there are already labels for young teens as the COVID generation. The emphasis on technology will increase and the influence of online information, news, AI, and social media will need to be folded into diversity consulting strategies. Schools, colleges, and universities must prepare the new generations for a different mode of work and diversity consultants will need to assist in blending new methods with existing ones for the future.
CONCLUSION from THE DIVERSITY FUTURIST
COVID has changed all our lives and our work places will probably never be the same as the pre-COVID reality. We are often at a loss to predict what comes next and how to adapt to whatever it is. Yes, there are benefits to this time. Many of us are in contact with folks we haven’t talked to in years. Ordering supplies/food over the internet can be cheaper and easier than our previous in-store trips. But the real benefit is yet to be seen and that is the creativity that is being applied and will blossom over time. Chaos theory tell us that the most creative place in the universe is at the edge of chaos. We’re certainly at that edge today. Can we apply that creativity to the increasingly diverse world that we live in and be our most innovative selves?
Can we do that together with my favorite tag line, “HARMONIZE NOT HOMOGENIZE”? This is where diversity consultants can be a major factor in our success together. As the poet William Wordsmith said almost 2 centuries ago: “Life is divided into three terms – that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future.”
“Yellow Terror” arrived in the mail out of the blue. I opened to the first page and I’m sure my face turned pale as I read, “Poor Shreveport! Woe-stricken Memphis! How afflicted, how lamentable you are… Friends, dearly beloved have been laid low, and the very air is ripe with lamentation.” Those words were written in an 1873 opinion columnby Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise. The language sounds old-fashioned, but as noted by the booklet’s writer, American Jewish Archives director Gary Zola, they are echoed today.
Infectious diseases have haunted us historically, and I take their misery and devastation personally.When I first came to America from Bermuda as a young girl, I came down with chicken pox, measles, German measles, pneumonia, and scarlet fever all in my first year here. Antibiotics saved me and I’ll be forever thankful to the scientists who invented medications and vaccines. But I’ll never underestimate the power of transmissible diseases. Continue reading Pandemic futurists wanted – by Deborah Levine→
Of all the inauguration speakers, the one that truly hypnotized me was Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate. The tiny young powerhouse joins the roster of famous inaugural poets like Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. Reading “The Hill We Climb”, she had us all climbing with her. It was a joy to see her energy, hear her inspiring verses, and be reminded that poetry heals the soul.
The words bring optimism about the future. A colleague messaged, “The seed of hope has been planted. It is up to each of us to build upon that hope in order to cultivate and strengthen the ties that bind us together as a People —one Nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all!”
The monthly Black-Jewish Dialogues began in Chattanooga virtually in July 2020 and quickly spread across the USA and internationally. As our communities progress in understanding each other, we explore new topics each month. History is frequently an underlying theme.