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Diversity. Equity. Inclusion. Bias. Cultural Commitment or Survey Swag?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Bill “Skip” Powers
July 25, 2019

“...Develop a national consensus statement to raise the awareness of the critical need and urgency of integrating culturally diverse communities.”    –National Consensus Panel on Emergency Preparedness for Racially and Ethnically Diverse Communities (2008)

11 years ago, this was cited as an overarching goal and objective of a National Consensus Panel (NCP). To be realistic, nay candid, this issue has plagued civil society, our Republic, for centuries. Perhaps there are strides in some arenas—but clearly, not enough. Instead, there is a penchant for fanning the flame of intolerance under the moniker of class; sex; religion; identity; politics; and of course, race (to name a few). Did it take a two-year study in the school of Public Health from a notable institution to inform us that we must become more integrated and aware of cultural diversity—in all its form and fashion? These questions, among many others, were the stanchion of a recent lecture I delivered on diversity, equity, inclusion, and how bias influences everything.

An invite to a friend, an old classmate, to come join me for an afternoon is when I really became hyper-vigilant to the pandemic of racial tension that continues to exist in 2019. With modern day maps on our mobile devices and vehicles, long gone are the days of being lost while trying to find a home. Lo’ and behold, the call arrived. “…I am here. Can you come outside to meet me?” was the awkward request from my friend of four decades. I remarked, “Come inside.” The reply I received was shocking and painful. In a very calm tone, my friend remarked, “Skip, at the end of the day, I am a Black man in a White neighborhood. Please come outside to meet me.” Circa 1960, this would likely have been a logical presumptive request. But my friends, it is still the pulse of the era we live: 2019!

I’m not a racist. I’m not a bigot nor am I a phobic. Many of you reading this article nod north and south and posit the same. We are however, a product of bias. Bias born from our experiences, our beliefs, our attitudes. Bias is born from many things. Bias forms our impression (consciously or unconsciously) of others. Had I unconsciously presented to my friend an appearance of bigotry? What is the basis of my conscious or unconscious bias?

Pop culture is among the leading influences of how our bias is formed. Think through the influence of an Archie Bunker who extoled, “The world is crumbling down,” as a description of minorities moving into the neighborhood. Was my lifelong friend holding up a mirror as he drove into my neighborhood—to show me that I live in what could be viewed as a non-diverse community? Political culture is another leading influence. This week at rallies around the country, chants of, “Send her back,”—a response to a political war of words from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue lobbed to the other. These influences are the basis of an intolerant bias. NCP goals and objectives from 2008 have a long way to go to realize the critical awareness of integration!

I do not believe that the NCP was negligent in creating a lofty goal and objective. Diversity, equity and inclusion are basic tenets of what our country was built upon. Though do not think to utter that to a former neighbor from a former neighborhood who was convinced that his property values were declining as a result of a same-sex couple who moved in nearby.

The remarks were dismissed as, “That’s just so and so. He grew up in a different era.” Transcending those remarks are a deeply embedded truth—as a Republic we must embrace the NCP goal and objective and become alert to the pathologies that afflict us a society. Moving past our bias, are we, as public administrators, stewards, neighbors, nay humans—truly committed to cultivating diversity, equity, and inclusion in our communities or merely attempting to move a stagnant needle on an annual survey.

The NCP goal and objectives begin with acknowledgement that our personal beliefs inform our attitudes; our attitudes influence our actions; and our actions become a result (positively or negatively). The dialogue must continue. The rhetoric must cease.

Commitment to cultural diversity, equity, and inclusion are more than goals and objectives. They are a human priority.

Bill “Skip” Powers, PhD is an author, lecturer, Air Force Veteran and Senior Advisor with 25 years’ experience in federal government. Focus areas include emergency management, human capital, continuity, resiliency, and grants management. [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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