Little Known Executive Order on Diversity & Inclusion: Obama’s Pragmatic Progressivism

Executive Order 13583 issued by President Obama in 2011 is perhaps one of the least-discussed and little known executive orders, despite its significant contribution to diversity and inclusion in the federal government. Lyndon Johnson’s Executive Order 11246 issued in 1965 was undoubtedly the watershed presidential Executive Order in the field of Affirmative Action for federal contractors. Now, nearly a half century later, President Obama’s Executive Order 13583 breaks new ground by setting the stage for progress in the field of diversity and inclusion in governmental agencies.

This forward-looking Executive Order directs executive departments and agencies of the federal government “to develop and implement a more comprehensive, integrated, and strategic focus on diversity and inclusion as a key component of their human resource strategies.” The alliance of HR strategies with diversity and inclusion is specifically designed to create “high-performing organizations for the 21st century” — workplaces that attract, develop, and retain diverse and talented employees.

The government-wide Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan issued following the Executive Order in 2011 articulates the business imperative for inclusion and has three specific goals:

1. Workforce Diversity. Recruit from a diverse, qualified group of potential applicants to secure a high-performing workforce drawn from all segments of American society.
2. Workplace Inclusion. Cultivate a culture that encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness to enable individuals to contribute to their full potential and further retention.
3. Sustainability. Develop structures and strategies to equip leaders with the ability to manage diversity, be accountable, measure results, refine approaches on the basis of such data, and institutionalize a culture of inclusion.

And the Executive Order called for federal agencies to develop a Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan within a 120-day time-frame that addresses recruiting, hiring, training, developing, promoting, and retaining a diverse workforce. Veronica Villalobos, the Office of Personnel Management’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion, is responsible for designing and developing strategies to promote a diverse federal workforce. As a model for organizations seeking to implement more diverse workplace practices, the governmental plan articulates clear strategies, actions, and accountability structures that promote the attainment of inclusion.

Latinos and the 2012 Election

Latinos are not just another interest group as Silvia Killingsworth insinuates in her essay “Hispandering to Univision”. However, because we now have more of a political voice—not huge, but more than in the past—this is enough to make many who are caught up in the white racial frame uncomfortable. Still, the Latino political voice is not what it should or could be.

Latinos comprise 16 percent of the population. Even more significantly, they comprise a growing segment of the voting population. However, looking at voting trends this is a good news/bad news story. The good news is that Latino voting is on the rise. In 2008, half of the eligible Latinos voted. So, while the numbers are growing they are still not living up to their potential. Latinos are less likely to register and vote at every age group than whites and of those that are registered they are less likely to go vote than whites.

According to an article in the New York Times, “More than 21 million Latinos will be eligible to vote this November, clustered in pockets from Colorado to Florida, as well as in less obvious states like Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina and Virginia. Yet just over 10 million of them are registered, and even fewer turn out to vote.”

Of Latinos that do vote, Latino Decisions finds that they are increasingly stating they will be voting Democratic, with 69 percent saying they will vote for President Obama and only 24 percent claiming they will vote for Romney in the 2012 elections.

According to Professors García Bedolla and Michelson the key to improving Latino voting rates and the voting rates of other people of color requires mobilizing and engaging new Latino voters directly. Their new book, Mobilizing Inclusion: Transforming the Electorate through Get-Out-the-Vote Campaigns argues that voting is not an “individual” act for Latinos and other ethnoracial groups. Rather it is a sociocultural interaction whereby new voters and low propensity voters of color need to be encouraged or invited to vote, even when they are registered. García Bedolla and Michelson empirically test this by working with nine non-profits in California. Their book describes 286 field experiments conducted during elections in 2006, 2007 and 2008. One of their key findings is that extra measures of outreach are essential to getting Latinos and other ethnoracial groups to become voters, which then has a ripple effect on their families and neighbors. García Bedolla and Michelson have discovered something critical about the political incorporation of Latinos and others people of color.

Perhaps when Latinos vote in numbers that are representative of our population then terms such as “Hispandering” will be seen as the ignorant and disrespectful racism that they are.

The Obama Years, 2012 Election, and Systemic Racism

I just published a short article on the Obama years, the 2012 election, and systemic racism at TheSocietyPages.com. It may be of some interest, given all the political news. I begin thus:

We are not a fully democratic country. We never have been and now are moving only very slowly in that direction. To understand the 2012 election and key political events in the Obama Era, we must look at the larger societal context—at institutional fundamentals. Systemic racism is central in that institutional context, and especially in our political system. Our political institutions were built by elite white male founders (40% of the participants at the U.S. constitutional convention being slaveholders and many of the rest profiting off the slavery system).

These men and their descendents built political institutions to protect their racial and class interests, and many were undemocratic or anti-democratic: A U.S. Constitution aggressively designed to protect enslaved property; a U.S. Senate representing land areas and powerful whites far more than ordinary people; an unelected Supreme Court of elite whites trumping acts of Congress; and an elite white male president chosen by an undemocratic electoral college. There are too many undemocratic capitalistic institutions to list, all also made and maintained mostly by elite white men substantially to protect their political-economic interests.

You can access the rest of it here. I draw substantially in this article on a new book (White Party, White Government) that has been out a few months, one that deals with the larger elite white (male) control of all major aspects of our political system since its beginning in the late 18th century.

Skewering White America

Randy Newman, the musician and satirist, has a new song that pretty much nails one of the racial dynamics of this election. The song has the refrain “I’m dreaming of a white president” and is written from the point of the view of a voter who casts his ballot solely on the basis of race. According to The New York Times, Newman said he felt the passionate opposition to President Obama over issues that generally put the public to sleep – the budget deficit and health care policy, for instance – belie a deep strain of racism in the electorate. Here’s the short video (3:17) for the song:

To Everyone Who Isn’t American Indian

With football and the fall season—which is always tough for Native folks because of the U.S.’s insistence on honoring Columbus, the awful Pocahontas Halloween costumes, and the ever-present Thanksgiving mythology of the goodness of the pilgrims and the simple-mindedness of Indigenous people—fast approaching us, I must make a request publicly. I’ve struggled over this decision, knowing many of you might judge me and say “this type of thing just isn’t done” or “that’s not how things are done around here.” I also understand my statement will have both social and political consequences for me.

The request: Think of the worst word any person could call you, whether regarding your racial, ethnic, or national heritage, your gender or sexuality, or your religion, or any other identity that you hold dear. Now, imagine hearing that word used daily all around you. Imagine seeing distorted, ugly images of that word everywhere you go. Imagine that you can’t turn on the TV, go shopping, watch movies, or even read a book without hearing or seeing what this terrible word implies because it’s that pervasive in the public discourse. Now imagine people telling you to “get over it” and that you’re being “too sensitive” when you protest its usage.

Can you empathize?

I’m a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. I don’t say that to produce eye-rolling (just as I wouldn’t roll my eyes at your heritage). I want you to understand this is more than a social justice issue. It’s very, very personal. The 90 to 95% of the population of Indigenous folk who died after the arrival of the Europeans and the mere 1 percent of the current U.S. population that remains (which includes me) deserves better than to have racialized, pejorative terms spoken about or around them/me—even if others believe it’s still socially acceptable.

 

Specifically, I’m referring to these terms: redskins, skins, chief(s), braves, red Indian, injun. More broadly, I’m speaking about terms used in ways that do disservice to different Native Nations: tipi, wigwam, squaw (which means whore or c**t to many tribes), tomahawk, etc. You get the drift. If you research a topic with these words, by all means, use them, but please contextualize the terms.

Many of you may not know how offensive these particular words and others are to Indigenous people. Then again, some just don’t care. Whichever the case, this is an official notice that I consider the term “redskin(s)” a racist term. I’m not calling you a racist just because you use that term. But I am saying if you continue using it after knowing what it means, then you are choosing to consciously participate in the maintenance of white privilege and systemic racism.

I’m not being overly sensitive (which is often the claim of the dominant and those who have internalized the narrative of the dominant), and it doesn’t matter if you know one or more “Native” people who don’t find it to be a bad term (that’s called internalized oppression or racism).

Better yet, join us in our fight against racist mascots, name brands, products, entertainers using sacred headdresses as costumes, and other harmful stereotypical practices. Help us change the public discourse about Native peoples. Support us in our efforts to speak truth to power and bring about social change. We’ll support you, too!

Here’s some text from Cheryl Head’s blog that conveys this issue concisely.

“There is some debate about where the name “Redskins” came from. To my mind, its origins don’t matter … Native American activists have engaged in a 13-year legal battle to get rid of the offensive name. These activists claim the name is disparaging and violates a federal trademark law. Three trademark judges agreed (1999); but were overturned by a federal district court judge (2003); and an appeal (Harjo, et. al vs. Pro Football, Inc.) was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009. These activists posit the R-word is on par with the use of the N-word. I’m African American and offended by the latter so if my Indian brothers and sisters say the R-word has deeply disparaging connotations for their people, I believe them and support their efforts to discontinue the use of this name.”

Remember, the Supreme Court also ruled that there was such a thing as “separate but equal.” And less than 100 years ago, women could not vote.

In closing, socially acceptable doesn’t mean ethical, decent, or right. Slavery, lynching, and the right to refuse service to people of color used to be socially acceptable. Social acceptance cannot be the benchmark for social justice. History bears out its incompetence. We’re a long way from social parity, but we can do our part by respecting each other.

 

~ Dwanna L. Robertson is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, a PhD candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, a writer for Indian Country Today Media Network, and a public sociologist. This post originally appeared  here.

 

Stemming the Tide: Underrepresented Faculty Turnover

For roughly the past two decades, the percentage of African American faculty holding full-time faculty positions has hovered persistently between 5 and 6 percent. Taking into account the number of these faculty that teach at historically black colleges and universities, this percentage falls to just four percent, according to a 2008-2009 report in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (JBHE). And a 2007 JBHE survey of 26 high-ranking institutions finds that the representation of black faculty at our most prestigious universities ranged from only 1.4 percent to 6.8 percent with Emory University, Columbia University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill leading the way.

What are the factors that have caused this flatline? We know with certainty that the most significant barriers are the hiring process, the tenure process, and attrition through the revolving door. None of these barriers are inconsequential. First, the hiring process. In the current polarized climate within the United States, we have seen considerable backlash against affirmative action and the rise of claims of reverse discrimination. In an allegedly post-racial society, recognition of the existence of discrimination has eroded. In fact, as Girardeau Spann points out, “the Obama presidency has served to embolden those who wish to deny claims of current racial injustice.” Hiring committees still ask about quotas, interpret affirmative action to mean hiring “less qualified” minorities, and refer to the lack of diversity in candidate pools as the reason for not selecting minority candidates. Minority candidates face additional hurdles in conforming to the dominant culture and norms of the hiring department and in overcoming the similarity-attraction paradigm that can persist in the hiring process.

Once hired, the perils of the tenure journey are comparable to the twists and turns of whitewater rafting, since structural, behavioral, and cultural factors that affect the decision-making process coalesce in a single administrative action that impacts a faculty member’s career trajectory. As Alvin Evans and I note in our book, Are the Walls Really Down? Behavioral and Organizational Barriers to Faculty and Staff Diversity (2007), the cultural environment of the academic department determines how underrepresented faculty are welcomed and supported, how power is shared, and how conflicts are resolved. Department chairs play a key role in influencing organizational outcomes and tenure committees may often be made up of predominantly male, majority group members. Lack of sponsorship, differential standards, and stereotypes can influence the faculty evaluation process.

And the third barrier–the revolving door– has been well documented, as in the landmark study of 28 colleges in California conducted by Moreno, Smith, Clayton-Pedersen, and Teraguchi (2004) which found that 58 percent of all new underrepresented minority hires were replacing similar faculty who had left the institution. Stereotyping, isolation, and marginalization still can pervade the day-to-day experiences of diverse faculty on our campuses. Pearl Stewart’s article in the July issue of Diverse Magazine highlights a number of incidents of blatant racial intolerance affecting minority faculty members that have poisoned the collegial atmosphere of higher education.

What then can institutions of higher education do to promote a more welcoming and inclusive climate for minority faculty and create a sustainable talent proposition for higher education? In our recent book, Diverse Administrators in Peril: The New Indentured Class in Higher Education (2012) Alvin Evans and I highlight key components of building an architecture of inclusion that apply to both faculty and staff. These components include the design of formal processes to ensure equity and fairness, the creation of integrated conflict management systems, the preservation of due process and procedural rights, opportunities for coaching and mentoring, creation of institutional safety nets, support for professional development, and organization of support and affinity groups. We also emphasize the need for broader minority representation in leadership positions, since, for example, over 93 percent of Provost positions are held by majority group members.

The Initiative for Faculty Race and Diversity undertaken at MIT in 2010 under the leadership of then-president Susan Hockfield represents one of the most definitive efforts to address and ameliorate the experiences of minority faculty. The Initiative provides structural, mentoring, and climate recommendations as well a concrete plan for institutional implementation and assessment. As Susan Hockfield explains:

Creating a culture of inclusion is not an optional exercise; it is the indispensable precondition that enables us to capitalize on our diverse skills, perspectives and experiences, so that we can better advance the fundamental research and education mission…. A productively diverse community…will make us better at what we do: broader and deeper as thinkers; more effective as collaborators; more creative as teachers; and more understanding as colleagues and friends.

Racist Framing: Michelle Obama in a Spanish Magazine

Gracing the front page of magazines is nothing new for First Lady Michelle Obama. However, on August 8, a photoshopped picture of Michelle with her breast exposed appeared on the cover of Fuera de serie, a Madrid-based magazine. The image is the work of artist Karine Percheron-Daniels in which the First Lady is dressed in garb similar to that of enslaved Africans with her right nipple exposed and seated in a chair with the U.S. flag draped across it. While news pundits have been highly critical of the nudity on the cover, the racialized nature of the photo deserves attention.

Exploring the image of a half-nude Michelle Obama reveals the centuries old framing of black bodies as hyper-sexual and racist framing of black women. Racist imagery has long been a part of the dominant racial frame in media. As sociologist Joe Feagin (2010) notes, “A great range of racist imagery, stereotyping, and emotionality was communicated in popular entertainment settings from the early nineteenth century onward.”

One of the most pervasive images is the Jezebel, the hyper-sexual Black woman who uses her sexual prowess to beguile white men. The Jezebel has occupied a unique space within the white ethos as an exploited sexual object feared for her manipulate nature. Analyzing the Fuera de serie cover, the photo of Michelle is laden with Jezebel imagery.

At first glance, one notices the First Lady’s bare breast, suggesting she recently engaged in sexual activity. Further implying erotic intentions is the seductive gaze placed in the photo. Hence, the image asserts it was not Michelle’s intellect or ingenuity, which gained her popularity with Americans, but her sexuality. Such claims are central features of the racist framing of Black women. While the front page of Fuera de serie, is laden with racist framing, the article juxtaposes the first lady’s popularity as an intelligent, classy role model (especially among African-American women).

The troubling issue of the international media’s (in this case Spanish) use of Jezebel framing of Michelle Obama is then explicitly stated in the author’s claim that she was able to not only conquer the love of her husband, President Barack Obama, but able to seduce the American public (“Para conocer de qué manera Michelle ha conseguido seducir al pueblo americano, el periodista Pablo Scarpellini detalle los secretos de la mujer que no solo ha conquistado el corazón de Barack Obama.”).

The dominant racist frame has long be perpetuated through racist imagery. Racist images are central to racist framing because they create visual counterparts to racial narratives. This is the case in Fuera de serie cover. Presenting Michelle Obama as a lascivious Black woman seducing the American public, Percheron-Daniels is reinforcing the narrative of the Jezebel. Such framing is particularly harmful because is reaffirms the dominant racist frame in the international community.