Diversity Solutions, Blind Orchestras and Words Matter

Performance JazzBEVERLY HILLS, CA (robinsrowe.com) 2021/2/10 – Over the years, the word racism has evolved two distinct meanings. That such a key concept has more than one meaning is important for how we address diversity issues in the workplace and in society.

Big-R Racism is a synonym for White Supremacy, a belief in being a member of a “master race” who is entitled to enslave others. Little-r racism is systemic. The cop who stops minorities for Driving while Black. The redlining homeowner, real estate agent or banker who won’t sell a house to anyone not white.

Big-R hate-based Racism and Little-r distrust-based racism are not the same emotionally, but the consequences may be the same to the victim. Anyone of any race can get killed by a dysfunctional cop. Living with disproportionate and irrational fear, under that stress a cop may draw on and shoot anyone, including bystanders.

Is a violent cop motivated by racism? Maybe. Or, is he simply afraid? Police forces have been militarized. Trained to be hyper-aggressive soldiers expecting battle, not to Serve and Protect.

Cops in Los Angeles often first work as prison guards. Before becoming cops, these officers have worked in a dehumanizing environment where everyone not a cop is considered a dangerous criminal.

In a prison environment, maintaining control is everything. Any guard who lets a prisoner disregard an order, no matter how small, is endangering his life and those around him by being “weak”. At least, that’s the training. A prison guard is trained to assert authority. To escalate, not deescalate. And, prisoners have no rights.

When there’s a bad encounter with the police, is that a Big-R Racist cop, a little-r racist cop, a bully cop, a former prison guard or is it militaristic training, an instantaneous reaction that anyone who doesn’t look like “us” is a dangerous combatant about to attack?

While each type of dysfunctional cop may exhibit similar toxic behavior, the solutions are not the same. Whether it’s dealing with someone with life-and-death responsibility like a policeman, or merely someone who is your neighbor, it matters what type of prejudice and fear we’re facing.

White Supremacy is a delusion, a form of mental illness. Convincing a White Supremacist that race doesn’t matter is like trying to convince a mental patient he’s not Napoleon. Logic may not be effective.

Racists together in a group can be highly dangerous. More so, when in positions of authority in the police or in the military. BLM addresses police brutality and institutional racism using the confrontational tactic of the “look back” gaze. Confrontation isn’t always the best (or safest) approach.

By befriending them, Black musician Daryl Davis has helped 200 klansmen give up their robes.

Black policeman Ron Stallman infiltrated the KKK to prevent domestic terrorism.

Another approach is cultural, with Superman fighting the KKK.

Bullying is a personality problem. It may range from an annoying lack of sensitivity, possibly involuntary due to Asperger Syndrome, to an extreme of being a violent psychopath. The latter is definitely a job for psychologists. Diversity coaches should not be expected to treat mental illness.

Affirmative Action, employing reverse racism using hiring quotas by race, is at best a temporary fix. Affirmative Action creates a toxic work environment where minorities are belittled for getting “special treatment”. Even those who have gotten no special treatment at all are told, or just feel an undercurrent of, “You don’t belong here”.

A feeling of not belonging can undermine confidence and may elicit feelings of Impostor Syndrome. An organization using Affirmative Action should also offer counseling to minority employees who may be impacted by the stress of being perceived as an Affirmative Action hire.

If a work environment feels unwelcoming, highly qualified minority employees will over time go elsewhere. Because they can. Who wouldn’t rather be in a workplace that respects you? If the best minority employees leave, more Affirmative Action may seem necessary and potentially be a brain drain.

Affirmative Action can be illegal. Local laws may make no distinction between reverse discrimination and racism. Affirmative Action, when it has been mandated by the courts, is done to address past wrongs. A form of punishment for racism.

Are we solving our diversity issues? It’s important we know the cause of any lack of diversity we are facing. Is it a lack of sensitivity? Mental illness? Militarism? Institutional racism? Systemic racism? A lack of minority candidates due to a dysfunctional education system? All of the above?

Most people can easily sense when they’re being treated unfairly. To know why requires data.

For example, police data. A police department has the data to track what type of person a patrol officer routinely stops. Some think we can’t know who a cop stops when he doesn’t write a ticket. However, before approaching any vehicle, a cop will call in the license plate to check for “wants and warrants”. Standard procedure, in case the driver is an “armed and dangerous” fugitive. A policeman knows who you are before approaching your vehicle, or thinks he does.

Computer software, by tracking the license plates called in by each officer, could detect automatically that a policeman is only stopping vehicles owned by African Americans or repeatedly stopping the same vehicle without issuing a ticket. Victims often won’t file when they feel intimidated or traumatized. Automated integrity systems don’t require victims filing complaints. And, can detect a bad trend before it becomes deadly.

The police department that investigates police misbehavior is typically called Internal Affairs. Even the name sounds like the purpose is police cover-ups. Progressive police departments instituting reform may want to rename Internal Affairs to be Police Integrity, to change the stated mandate. Words matter.

What to do about systemic racism? It can be entirely subconscious. Decisions can be made on race without a person realizing it. Even after sensitivity training and consciously trying not to.

Organizations put employees in an impossible position with a demand they favor minorities without showing favoritism. Sensitivity training doesn’t know when to stop. Over-training results in reverse racism, in special treatment.

Systemic racism is most effectively addressed at the system level, by making processes color blind so racism cannot be a factor.

In orchestras, diversity was accomplished by a new rule. Blind auditions. Musicians unions require that performers audition behind a screen, so the employer cannot see race or gender. Rather than training people not to be racists, which may be a hopeless task, simply remove race and gender from the selection process.

Anyone can see how blind auditions effect diversity choices by watching the hit NBC-TV series The Voice. The hosts are often surprised when they see who they picked doesn’t look as expected.

Blind auditions can fail when there are insufficient candidates or when minority students have significantly less access to training or equipment. The New York Times music critic called for an end to blind auditions, that he prefers Affirmative Action. Minority musicians disagreed.

In responding to the New York Times article, Louisville Orchestra cellist Nicholas Finch went so far as to say, “Nothing helped increase diversity in classical music more quickly and effectively than blind auditions”

Blind auditions are not the only diversity solution. Blind auditions are just one way to rapidly increase diversity in an organization. And not only in orchestras.