Tag: diversity

Breakdown in the Break Room

Just about everybody is disavowing the alt-right… with one notable exception, of course.

But among the people who are telling neo-fascists to leave us all alone, there is James Damore, who recently got fired from Google for making the tiny faux pas of insisting that all his female colleagues were genetically inferior bags of neurosis who must bow down to his mighty intellect and sheer manliness.

My favorite part of Damore’s lengthy screed was when he said women couldn’t handle stress. Yes, for tips on how to handle stress, look to men, who never (and I mean, never) just snap under pressure and go on shooting sprees, or physically attack people who disagree with them, or drive their cars into crowds of people.

Yeah, men never do any of those things.

Ahem.

In any case, there are several bewildering aspects to this infamous memo (such as, “When did misogyny become a conservative value?”). But I’m also interested in something that Damore brought up only in passing.

You see, in between dismissing the abilities of women, he also protested the concept of diversity — while insisting that he was all for diversity. This sad sleight of hand has the feel of the uncle who begins a conversation with the phrase “I’m not racist, but…”

Apparently, many white men in the tech industry are pissed off that diversity programs even exist.

I know what you’re thinking. The tech industry has a well-documented shortage of ethnic minorities. For example, Latinos make up only about 3% of the techies at major companies, even though they constitute about 8% of computer science graduates (and about 17% of the nation).

And tech leaders point out that diversity is not just an issue of fairness, but of economic viability. An industry cannot sustain itself if there are few different perspectives, and insularity kills innovation.

So doesn’t everybody want more blacks and Latinos in tech?

Well, to be honest, not everybody does.

But even many non-bigots are likely to balk when it comes to, you know, actually doing something about tech’s abysmal level of ethnic diversity.

One reason for this problem is simple. Diversity programs, or initiatives to increase the presence of ethnic minorities, can make white men feel threatened.

Now, it’s fair to ask why this would be the case.

Apparently, messages about the importance of diversity may provoke some white men to believe “that they might be undervalued and discriminated against.” Studies have found “widespread negative responses to diversity … among white men” and shown that these negative responses “exist even among those who endorse the tenets of diversity and inclusion.” Additional research has revealed that “white men are more likely to feel threatened when their employers trumpet gender-equity and racial-diversity policies.”

Yikes — that’s not exactly what the creators of diversity programs were shooting for.

To combat this backlash, “a wave of companies is trying to soften the process by removing the emphasis on rules and penalties and having other white men lead the sessions.”

Yes, that’s correct. White guys aren’t in charge of enough things, so now they’re even leading seminars about diversity.

Also, if you’re keeping track, diversity programs are yet another example of how American culture has to bend over backward to appease white men, many of whom seem to have an infinite number of things that infuriate, threaten, or disenfranchise them.

Maybe we need to create a program to look into that.

 


Plays Well with Others

We’ve heard a lot of shouting about “safe spaces,” and how liberal college students across America are pampered little snowflakes who crumble at the slightest sign of conflict… while simultaneously being violent thugs who will gladly pummel the first conservative they see.

Yes, like a lot of conservative tropes, this one relies on contradictory oversimplifications.

In any case, right-wingers are clearly not fans of higher education — or, it could be argued, of education in general.

Damn that ivory tower.

Valley News – Shawn Braley

However, for those conservatives who still value learning, knowledge, and non-alternative facts, there is good news.

A recent study has shown that there is a way to improve the effectiveness of elementary school education. Grade schools that possess one specific trait tend to have more productive students.

Yes, it turns out that the best way to make a campus safer for its students is to embrace that most feared of liberal schemes: Diversity.

You see, the study found that kids “who attend racially diverse schools feel safer, less lonely and less picked on than their peers at more homogenous schools.” And by the way, this was true of all kids, including the white ones.

The researchers say that the emotional well-being of children “is important because their state of mind affects their ability to learn” and that “if you’re afraid in school, you’re not even going to raise your hand in class.”

This makes sense, of course. But the news that racial diversity is good for all kids — not just ethnic minorities — is bound to upset some people, sort of like the fact that racially diverse movies tend to be bigger hits (which is true, by the way).

In any case, by embracing racial diversity in education, we can do what’s right for kids while acknowledging a simple fact about changing demographics — a double whammy of societal goodness.

Wow, it’s never that easy. So let’s savor this one.

 


Hitting the Right Notes

I recently saw the movie Whiplash, which was a gripping look at the price of greatness. For those who haven’t seen the flick, it’s about a teenager jazz drummer obsessed with becoming a legendary artist.

how-to-do-drum-fills.WidePlayer

Now, most of us are not willing to practice an instrument until our hands literally bleed, as the Whiplash protagonist does. But the good news is that you may not have to.

You see, a recent study showed that taking music lessons — just basic chord progressions, strumming skills and the like — greatly improves people’s language and reading skills.

Even more interesting is that the research was conducted on at-risk, low-income children, most of them Latino.

The researchers believe that the experience of making music creates a more efficient brain that helps a person learn and communicate better. But the study implies that at least two years of lessons are required before improvements kick in.

So what does this mean for Hispanic kids, who often live in disadvantaged areas? Well, it implies that investing in music education may help Latino children improve their learning skills and close the educational gap between Hispanics and other ethnic groups. The results also imply that for low-income students, music lessons can be as important as traditional classes in math and reading.

Because music is a key part of Latino culture, programs that offer music education will find a receptive audience in Hispanic kids. After all, I could not have been the only Latino kid who grew up on a steady diet of Santana and Julio Jaramillo. And that’s not even getting into all the salsa, rock, hip hop, and stray bits of classic country that finds its way into Latino homes.

Basically, we like to listen to a lot of music, so it should be a natural extension to get Hispanic kids to learn how to play it.

This research aligns with another recent study, which found that bilingual kids have more flexible brains and better cognitive abilities. Keep in mind that most of the demand for Spanish-language immersion schools is coming from white families who want their kids to master another language and gain exposure to diversity.

So it might not be long before you peek into a classroom and see a bunch of multiethnic kids speaking Spanish and jamming on blues standards.

Rock on.

 


Such a Princess

I hesitate to mention this, but I know way too much about Sofia the First.

You see, we have a two-year-old boy, and while we limit his TV time, he still catches the occasional Doc McStuffins or Jake and the Neverland Pirates. And Sofia is on right after Jake, so we’ve caught bits and pieces of the show (just enough to drive me mildly insane).

Now, it turns out that Sofia is going to be the launching pad for Disney’s first Latina princess, Elena of Avalor, who is inspired by “diverse Latin cultures and folklore,” according to the good people at Disney. She will receive her own TV show next year.

elena

Of course, the issue of diversity is a touchy one in Hollywood. Just ask Sean Penn about Hispanic representation in the film world… well, on second thought, don’t ask him anything.

In any case, Elena’s arrival shows that Hollywood is sensitive to its reputation as indifferent to ethnic minorities, and that the entertainment industry is trying to improve the representation of Hispanics in pop culture.

But everybody’s a critic. And those critics are saying it’s too little, too late.

First, there is the issue that Elena is going to originate as a sidekick, and worse, there are no plans for her to have her own movie, despite the fact that many Disney princesses of various ethnicities and races have received their own feature films. Hey, Mulan got a pair of movies over a decade ago, and Asians are even less represented in film than Hispanics. So, yeah — what gives?

The second irritation is that Elena’s exact nationality is being kept vague. By not being specific about her homeland, critics argue, Disney is failing to explore the diversity within Hispanic culture, and instead using one brown-eyed princess as an interchangeable stand-in for all Latinas.

This is where I can be of assistance. I can tell you that saying Elena is from Cuba or Bolivia or Puerto Rico would be more bizarre than anything. That’s because the setting for Sofia is a magical dreamland where unicorns run wild, and little kids take classes on how to cast spells, and cutesy-pie dragons burst into song for no reason. Yeah, it’s that annoying.

But while most of the characters speak in a whiny faux British accent, it’s not specifically European. It’s otherworldly. So if this princess from, say, Mexico, just shows up, the effect will be a little jarring.

I told you I knew too much about this damn show.

Regardless, Elena is a step in the right direction. And even if I hated the idea of a Latina princess, it wouldn’t matter, because I’m going to see her, one way or another.

Yes, at this point, I’m just looking forward to the day when my son is finally old enough for Phineas and Ferb.


Nice Try

So for two years in a row, the top individual prize in the entertainment pantheon — the Oscar for best director — has gone to a Latino.

birdman

That’s great. And Mexican auteur Alejandro González Iñárritu took time in his speech to give a shout out to immigrants, which was classy.

But of course, much of González Iñárritu’s triumph was overshadowed by a truly tone-deaf chiste from that master of humor, Sean Penn (as an aside, is there any artist who is more respected but less liked than this guy?).

Now, González Iñárritu has pointed out that Penn’s comment was an inside joke between friends. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, then, and say that Penn isn’t a straight-up racist.

But perhaps inside jokes aren’t a very good idea when millions of people across the planet are watching. And maybe tossing racial jabs isn’t very bright when you’re representing an organization that is hypersensitive about its horrible record on diversity.

All Penn’s joke did was make every white liberal in the audience uncomfortable, confirm the bias that many ethnic minorities believe lurks within the system, and “underscore the problem the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences has been trying desperately to disprove.” Namely, that the Academy has a racial issue.

The stunning lack of diversity in the entertainment industry is a well-known facet of American culture, and I’ve written about it more than once.

And it is not, as many right-wingers seem to think, just blacks and Latinos clamoring for jobs they haven’t earned. It’s about equal access and opportunity. One could argue this is all that any fight over civil rights is, at its core.

But when it comes to the entertainment industry, specifically, it is about something more. As González Iñárritu has proved, different perspectives lead to new ideas and new stories. It is essential for any art form that, to remain relevant, it continue to grow.

And to be blunt, there are only so many more movies that we can take about an upper-class white family gathering together for a funeral/wedding, or a white guy’s attempt to bond with his elderly and uncommunicative dad, or the adventures of white prep-school kids coming of age.

We want something else.

 


I Did Not Code This Website

Not to boast, but Latinos are the most tech-savvy demographic. We are more likely to be early adopters, own a smartphone, watch videos online, and engage in social media than other groups.

Basically, if there is an electronic gadget that flashes, whirrs, buzzes, whistles, or just lights up, we are there.

But as a recent report showed, we’re not so good at actually creating the gadgets in the first place. Diversity is a serious problem in Silicon Valley, and Latinos are underrepresented when it comes to developing new technology.

At the largest tech firms, Hispanic representation rarely cracks single digits, and it never comes close to being proportional to the Latino share of the population. Many tech industry leaders fear that innovation will suffer because so few ethnic minorities — including Latinos — are becoming programmers, engineers and entrepreneurs.

This means that in a nightmarish scenario to horrible to comprehend, developing Back to the Future-style hoverboards will never happen.

hoverboard

 

Why is this? It’s because we’re sucking at the stem. Or rather, we’re sucking at STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). You see, the number of STEM jobs significantly outpaces the number of people qualified for those jobs. Latinos account for about 17% of the U.S. population but only 7% of the nation’s STEM workers. Hispanics will make up more of the labor pool in the future, so you can see the problem. I mean, do the math…

Oh, wait. Maybe you can’t do the math, because you’re not into STEM. Damn, this is ironic… and awkward.

Well, you’ll just have to trust me.

 


Sucking Up All the Oxygen

The biggest story in America right now — not the biggest Latino-themed story, but the most talked-about news item, period — is the humanitarian crisis at the border. As we all know, tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants — many of them children — are massed in overrun detention centers, awaiting their fate.

Meanwhile, whole towns of god-fearin’ Americans are making it clear that they don’t want no stinkin’ illegals in their neighborhood.

140703-murrieta-jms-1658_1ca57b1759c2c10acdea96c921643599

Yes, this is the latest, most impressive imbroglio over immigration. And in the minds of many Americans, all immigrants are undocumented, all undocumented people are Hispanic, and all Hispanics are undocumented immigrants. It’s a nice little A=B=C theorem.

But the funny thing is that there are 11.7 undocumented migrants in the U.S. By comparison, the overall U.S. Hispanic population is 53 million. Although “immigration is the issue most associated with Latinos…it is not necessarily the most interesting issue to Latinos.” One could argue, in fact, that “most Latinos would probably love not to have to deal with it.”

Indeed, Pew Research says that the top issues for Hispanics are education, jobs and the economy, healthcare, the federal government debt, and (in fifth place) immigration. Even among Hispanic immigrants themselves, only one-third say immigration is an extremely important issue to them personally.

The discrepancy between immigration’s status in the media and its actual importance to the Hispanic community has provoked some Hispanic leaders to say that immigration “occupies almost all the Latino policy agenda, sucking up…all the oxygen on Latino issues.”

Latino leaders say that Hispanics “need to strike a better balance” and not allow immigration to stifle “the Latino agenda for the 21st century. We have to get to the point where we can walk and chew gum at the same time, and focus on other things like discrimination, education, and the infrastructures in our communities.”

It’s a fair point. But immigration is not going away as a media hot topic anytime soon. It’s been pointed out that whether “we are talking about health care or voting rights, there are those who keep inserting immigration into the mix, whether it pertains to a particular issue or not – and normally in a detrimental way.”

And let’s not forget that the media “tends to reduce our diversity down to one issue [and] treat us all as perpetual immigrants.” 

But just you wait, someday soon a national Latino leader will be invited to a Sunday morning news program, and he or she will be asked about the deficit or the Israeli-Palestinian problem or guns in schools or whether the president should be impeached for wearing white after Labor Day or whatever.

And nobody will mention immigration. And it will be pretty cool.

 


The Big D

I once took a diversity assessment, which sought to gauge how I related to people of different ethnicities and creeds.

The assessment’s feedback stated that I had spent very little time with people who didn’t share my racial background. I found that hilarious, because by virtue of growing up Latino in the Midwest, and then working professional jobs around America, I’ve spent more time with white people than I have with my fellow Hispanics. The assessment, therefore, was very, very wrong.

And that is a big problem with measuring diversity. In essence, how do you do it?

statistics

The problem has stumped social scientists, educators, and government officials. Everybody wants more diversity, but as a recent study concluded, “no matter how you look at the numbers, it’s difficult to get a full picture of diversity.” In fact, we can’t even agree what diversity means, much less how to measure it.

After all, is diversity “a measure of equal representation among racial and ethnic groups? Is it a measure of how closely … racial makeup represents society writ large? Or is it something else entirely?”

Perhaps most intriguingly, there is a movement to use “qualitative research methods to try to measure diversity—or the level of inclusion or exclusion of minority groups.”

In other words, maybe we shouldn’t just count how many Latinos are in the city, or at the company, or enrolled on the campus. We should look at how well they fit into that given community. Are they really part of the culture? Or are they just window dressing that allows people to say, “Look at how damn diverse we are!”?

We will most likely never have a perfect level of diversity, but it is even less likely that we will ever have a perfect measurement of it.

But that doesn’t mean the concept isn’t worth chasing.

 


The Tyranny of…Well, Something or Other

Recently, I wrote about America’s love affair with guns. One argument that Second Amendment proponents use, to great effect, is that an armed citizenry prevents government tyranny.

Indeed, there are many Americans who believe that a “disarmed society is an obedient society…in which, at the extreme, people obey their own government’s orders to follow the line into the gas chambers.”

Well, that certainly is an unpleasant image.

To continue reading this post, please click here.

 



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