A few days ago, I came across a comment from Apple’s Vice President of Diversity, Denise Young Smith, that made me want to pull out all of my very kinky hair - “Twelve white men with blonde hair and blue eyes can be diverse too.” Before I get into why Mrs. Smith, a black woman, needs to be held accountable for her public display of ignorance, I want to start by saying, I like white people. White people, if you are reading this, this is not a personal attack on your whiteness or your privilege, and yes, I know your lives matter, too.
Mrs. Smith’s comment displays a very superficial and quite frankly, problematic, view of diversity. It’s a no-brainer that every living human being has a different perspective, viewpoint, and set of life experiences. In fact, nature vs. nurture studies have proven that even identical twins often have different frameworks for relating to the world around them. But workplace diversity is not about the “diversity of fingerprints”, it’s about representation, awareness, collaboration and inclusion. Though I could write a full length dissertation on why “twelve white men with blue eyes” is an unacceptable excuse for diversity, I’ve boiled down my arguments into twelve points, because, well, Mrs. Smith seems to like the number twelve.
- If there was only room for white men with blonde hair and blue eyes at the table, you would not have a seat, or a voice. I mean, let’s start with the obvious. Mrs. Smith, in case you haven’t looked in the mirror lately, you are black. You are a black woman. You are very lucky that whoever hired you did not adhere to your puzzling white-out beliefs.
- Slavery, discrimination, and sexism were formally and legally legitimized in this country by a homogeneous group of white men. Remember that time the Constitution was signed by a group of 39 “diverse” white men on September 17, 1787? They single handedly agreed to legalize slavery, count black people as 3/5ths a person, and restrict women from voting or owning property. Sounds like equal representation to me!
- Your statement goes directly against thousands of studies and academic articles about how traditional diversity efforts increase the profitability of businesses. In fact, global companies with at least one woman on the board have higher average returns on equity, lower debt ratios and better average growth, and a study of Wall Street Traders showed ethnically diverse Wall Street Traders became 21 percent more accurate over time while ethnically similar groups became 33 percent less accurate over time.
- The people you're selling your products to are not all white blonde men with blue eyes. In fact, African-American buying power, estimated at $1.2 trillion in 2016, will grow to $1.5 trillion by 2021, making it the largest racial minority consumer market. If your profitability is dependent on diverse markets, isn’t it fair to expect diverse representation among Apple decision makers?
- Twelve white men are not adequately equipped to represent the female perspective. Presumably, since I’m assuming your scenario does not include transgender men, all of the men in your scenario have penises. They have no experience with periods, PMS, birth control, pregnancy, or more importantly, the female experience. If this concept is beyond you, please pick up a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.
- Apple’s “diverse representation” game is laughable. Let’s start with emojis. Apple’s emoji game is not, and has never been, on fleek. A few years ago, Apple finally responded to complaints about all white emojis. Instead of creating actual emojis of color, Apple simply allows its users to make white emojis into a different color. Darkening the skin color of a white emoji doesn’t make the emoji black. I don’t know many black people who were born with silky straight black hair… but what do I know, maybe white men with blue eyes are better equipped to speak on black hair.
- Promoting diversity is the first step not only to “tolerance,” but true inclusion. Do you know what happens when a group of intolerant white men get together? As a former University of Virginia law student, and the big sister to a current first year UVA student, I would like remind you of the very recent white nationalist convention in Charlottesville, Virginia.
- White people often make culturally and racially offensive comments without blinking an eye. A culturally insensitive or inappropriate Tweet, Instagram caption, or Facebook post from one of your employees can land your organization in hot water. One simple lapse in judgment or mistaken post can ruin your reputation, or cost your business hundreds and thousands of dollars. Why take that chance?
- Unconscious bias often gets in the way of creating environments that promote equality. Before President Obama, every president in this county was a white male. Do you know what message that sent to people? Only white men are effective leaders. If you disagree with the theory of unconscious bias, please take a class in psychology. Here’s a great place to start - the famous “doll” experiment.
- The idea that twelve white, blonde men with blue eyes are capable of representing a diverse market carries the highly problematic assumption that they are more qualified to speak on behalf of diverse groups than the diverse groups themselves. This country has a history of making decisions for people without giving said people a seat at the table. Don’t believe me? Ask Native American’s how much say they’ve had in preserving their lands, languages and cultures.
- White people have valuable and unique perspectives to share, but their perspectives and experiences are often synonymous with cultural norms. Nude colored shoes? Made for white people. Band-aids? Made for white people. The shampoos, conditioners and lotions at high-end hotels? Absolutely made for white people (don’t get me wrong, those lotions smell great, but they are no match for my black ashy skin).
- I have never met one white man with blonde hair and blue eyes who can adequately speak to my experience as a black woman in this country. Working in the legal profession, I am constantly surrounded by a sea of white males. I will not pretend to be able to speak on their behalf, and I sure as hell will not stand by and allow them to speak for me. My voice matters. My perspective matters. My story matters.
While I understand that it is possible for a group of twelve, blue-eyed white men to bring impactful diverse perspectives to the table, history (and common sense, if I’m being honest) should have told Mrs. Smith that the odds were not in her favor. As a voice of diversity at one of the most powerful companies in the world, I am not only disappointed in Mrs. Smith, I am embarrassed. #DobetterApple