The language that Americans use to describe living together in one nation has changed over time. "Tolerance" was the buzzword from the 1960s through the 1990s, but as author Kavita Das pointed out during the racial reckoning in summer 2020, "Tolerance is an underwhelming goal for a truly vibrant and just American society".
For most of the 21st century, just about everyone — from economists to politicians to CEOs — has instead talked about the importance of "diversity" and "inclusion" in the workplace and in communities. But like tolerance, the term diversity has simply suggested that we should be, as Das put it, "satisfied by the mere presence of those with different experiences and perspectives." In other words, just having non-dominant perspectives in the room is the goal — but the rules and social orders in those rooms can still be owned, and largely controlled, by the groups that hold the power.
John A. Powell, a Professor at the University of California Berkeley and the Director of the school's Othering & Belonging Institute, uses another word to describe the importance of including people of different races and backgrounds in civic and economic life: "belonging."
"The world is organized largely around some groups being considered not full people," along lines of race, gender identity, disability, religion, and more, Powell said. This othering allows one group to claim dominance over another, exploiting and marginalizing the subgroup. We've seen it again and again in the history of the US, with the theft of land from Native Americans, with slavery, and with the subjugation of women and immigrants.
"If I give a party, all of you are invited, but it's my music, my friends, my food," Powell said, explaining how he believes the world currently views inclusion. "Don't come in messing with the furniture — have a good time and then leave."
Belonging, by contrast, would mean that "it's not my party. It's not your party. It's our party," he said.
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