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Can a White Person Be a Diversity Leader?

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

Ask the White Guy Luke ViscontiQuestion:
I have been feeling a bit frustrated lately. Here’s my situation and I’m looking for some hope and sage advice.

I am a white female and in a role where diversity is a part of my job. The reason it is a part of my job is because I’ve worked hard to make it so and because of a genuine passion and interest in all things diversity including changing culture. My frustration lies in the fact that lately my motives are being questioned and/or not being taken genuinely (i.e., some people of color are not seeing me as credible or someone who cares about making a difference, therefore, they don’t really share their true thoughts/ideas/etc.)

This frustration is leading me to something I’ve never felt so strongly before. I wish in some regards I was black (or of color) so that I could gain more respect and credibility with my peers. The conflicting point of view I have is that I truly believe in diversity in the highest sense of the word, meaning that just because you are a person of color doesn’t mean that you must have an interest in issues regarding people of color, and that just because you are white doesn’t mean that you don’t care about issues of equality, etc. In fact, the other argument I often hear is when a person of color is working on diversity issues, it’s just because of their race.

So my question is this: How do we get to a level of inclusion if it has to be one or the other? Please help before I give up.

Answer:
I don’t think you need to change your race to be accepted as credible on diversity issues.

My advice for white people who care is simple:

1. Actions speak louder than words. I am a trustee of Bennett College for Women (an HBCU) and a foundation board member of NJCU (an HSI). Through our foundation, our company donates money to both schools and Rutgers Newark (the most diverse campus in America). We also donate ad space to many good organizations.
 
2. Know what you’re talking about. I am constantly reading books to advance my knowledge. In addition to increasing your cross-cultural knowledge, learn about the history of white people who have fought for civil rights and freedom so you have a basis for pride.

3. Regularly socialize with people who are not in your own group–in your house.

4. Do not deny another person’s right to their own reality.

5. Never attempt to communicate in vernacular. If you’re white, BE white.

6. Understand there are jackasses in all groups.

In the ten years we’ve been publishing DiversityInc, I’ve found far more acceptance than I know my counterparts (of color) find among white people. It’s humbling. I would also say that my experiences as a trustee of Bennett College for Women have been the most collegial and rewarding of my professional life.

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