The Soft Society


My preschoolers' first wedding was a same-sex wedding. I can buy my daughter - or son - a Barbie without questioning my ethics, because now Barbie comes curvy and short and represents a diversity of cultures. She can see herself in the new female Jedi, Rey, and my son in the Nigerian Han Solo replacement, Finn. Beautiful big girls are swimsuit models, and the only President my kids know is black, their next President a woman.

Although it might not feel like it all the time, some pieces of our world are changing for the better. Finally, diversity is playing the main stage at the outdoor music festival, albeit at the hottest time of the day. Only good things can come from the gay biracial girl from public housing with the Holocaust survivor Nana getting a leg up on the straight, blonde, blue-eyed, white girl from Texas. Slavery was commonplace only a hundred and fifty years ago, Jim Crow fifty years ago. Male politicians are still trying to stick their penises in Roe vs. Wade and Planned Parenthood.

That said, I wonder if diversity's primary focus on addressing historical inequalities like race, ethnicity, gender, and income has factioned off into an highly sensitive and blindly reactive group, a soft society that reduces complex issues into hyperbolic catchphrases, and a word, body language, or mind-read aggression is cause for moral outrage. Sharing personal perspectives through necessary dialogue isn't the Soft Society's strong suit. Instead, they claim malicious intent, react without context, and then turn their device into a weapon of pinpointed destruction.

Which is the antithesis of diversity. The beauty of real diversity is that it includes diverse people from diverse backgrounds. People who bring with them a diverse way of approaching matters, providing all involved an opportunity to experience one another, learn from one another, by proximity or through difficult conversations that hopefully provide context, intent, and result in empathy.

A homogeneous environment is a breeding ground for the Soft Society because it excludes cultural differences, creating situations where the most innocuous communications can be blown out of proportion. Where tone is projected on the toneless, and we wind up policing each other and ourselves, ending messages with disarming emoticons or emojis - smiles and winks - so not to come across annoyed, dismissive, or aggressive.

"Outrage!" keeps the Soft Society afloat, and "always" and "never" anchor their emotional response, despite facts that speak otherwise. Something as innocent as a GAP ad, featuring a white girl playfully resting her arm atop the head of her younger black sister causes more outrage than a criminal's "hot mugshot" going viral, ultimately landing him a modeling contract. There's more outrage over a few terrible police officers than there is over the more than five hundred black lives murdered by black people in Chicago since January 2015. #OscarsSoWhite, sure, but it's also boring, superficial, pretentious and meaningless. Especially when our girls haven't been brought back yet.

The Internet is to the Soft Society what drones are to war, anonymously destroying lives from hundreds of miles away. All because someone from the Soft Society stepped outside of his or her homophilic safe space of social network communities and friends, and came across an opposing opinion that made him or her feel victimized. There's no introspection, no self-examination, tools we all have in order to go deep inside ourselves in order investigate the origins of our hurt. Instead, there's social media, where narcissism rules and a tree can't fall in the forest without not only being heard but also felt. A hashtag is created, co-opted, and the Soft Society's sheeple mobilize in show of solidarity.

"I expected you to sound different." "I'm surprised you like rock music." "You're Nigerian? See Fela! on Broadway?" It's nonsensical remarks like these that make my defenses go up whenever I'm the only black person in a white setting. It's why I believe there's no better remedy than diversity - real, all-inclusive, diversity, where ill-advised remarks are challenged and discussed, rather than shamed.

With three-hundred-plus million people in the United States, and seven-plus billion on the planet, at some point people have to be able move past the pain and discomfort and come from behind their firewall in order to engage, out in the open, then be okay to agree to disagree, live and let live, love without liking - not for the sake of concession, but because our makeup and condition as a species is the most complex on the planet.

Diversity shouldn't just be a generic idea. It should be taken seriously, practiced in public and private schools, Fortune 500 companies, public sector and union jobs, community centers, churches, and service industries - and on difficult days, my house. Communications between a sheltered, white, suburban woman from a small but intact family and a black man from a large, splintered, immigrant family, who grew up a little too fast, tend to breakdown from time to time. Add kids into the mix and everybody is talking and nobody is listening, reacting without considering differences. A real diversity practitioner within an institution should be as esteemed as the CFO, COO, or house counsel, second or third in command, rather than a moral obligation, the fallback black or gay friend.