One Of The Good Ones
Months ago an opportunity presented itself to me to join an organization that focused on issues I really deeply care about and thought I could contribute in a positive way to. I knew that there was a sincere intent and responsibility for the group to be diverse and representative of all of the wonderful and different faces in community. Being selected for the opportunity was not automatic.
Part of becoming selected as member of this organization took a fair amount of lobbying and pulling some strings of people in power who I had come to know. I felt strongly that I could really make a difference with this organization. It just so happened a friend of mine was playing a large part in the selection process. So I reached out to him and asked him to please make sure I was considered and to let me know if there is anything I can do to help my chances.
“Well, to be honest with you, your chances aren’t as strong as they could be because there are a lot of other white males that want to be involved and there are limited spots for white males in the organization.”
I realize that this sounds harsh and racist. It is-ish. But you should know that the organization, which I am a part of, is focused on identity politics and I was aware that this meant that consideration to race, gender, and the like would be a factor. I did not expect to receive that news in quite that way…but I understood it. All for a good cause.
“I understand that entirely.” I replied. “I just hope the work I have done speaks for itself and that it is known that I am good on the issues.”
“Oh for sure. I let them know that you’re one one the good ones.”
Now, whereas I understood the first part based on limited number of spots and a consideration for diversity, I had a hard time comprehending the second part. “One of the good ones…”
One of the good … what? So I inquired further. His reply:
“You know. One of the good white guys who actually understands the issues we are dealing with. Some of the other applicants just want to join and then man-splain everything. “
My brain was not immediately able to really process how I felt about this. I think it was because I was feeling discriminated against or rather, I was receiving the benefit of some form of discrimination that was directed at people that looked like me but that were not as “good” as me.
It’s tricky to talk about this as a person who is cognizant of the complicated role identity plays in our world and the fact that i have probably benefited from my appearance. If you stray from the traditional acceptable standard; straight, white, cisgender, and male; then at some point your difference has been politicized. I fall into an interesting category of gay, white, cisgender, male. I am three quarters the standard and thereby I do have a choice to cash in on privilege or not. Let me be clear. I do not have a choice on being gay. Gayness is not a choice. I am, however, aware that gayness may not be readily apparent to some people I interact with. (I have friends who would balk at that suggestion).
I discussed this conversation with a very smart friend of mine. I shared that I was struggling with the idea of mandated diversity inclusion and it’s continued necessity countered by the notion that all of us would probably prefer to be valued more for what we can do rather than who we are. I other words, does that fact that our diversity gave us an advantage take away from the accomplishment or does it truly balance the playing field. The answer is that it depends. Not all playing fields are constructed the same way.
The catch here is that the people mandating diversity inclusion are, in fact, the same folks who are a part of the acceptable standard I described earlier. It’s the people with privilege who, in their benevolence, have dictated how many seats are available and to whom. And I guess we need to thank them…for that? Conversely, the latter merit based scenario seems like an impossible dream what with all the differently constructed playing fields.
My friend gave me a different point of view. Rather than considering how many seats there are at the table and who gets them proportionately we need to look at how the table itself was constructed. There are enough seats we just aren’t using them. We are fighting for our seat because we believe the false construct that in order to get it we need to be considered “one of the good ones”. And out of this whole game of musical chairs distracts us from ever getting to the point where our value is what we can do. The solution exacerbates the problem and yet, it is still the only viable solution. How something can work and at the same time be broken is the concept I am struggling with.
I don’t know how we get there. Hell, I don’t know if I am even articulating my thoughts on the subject clearly. But it is a subject worth thinking about. Whether we are the people deciding on who sits at the table or the people fighting to be “one of the good ones” that get a seat; we have to accept that the problem isn’t the number of chairs. The problem is the table itself.