Dear President Biden,
A couple of weeks ago I read something where someone was taking diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts to task. He was focused on the inclusion aspect and concluded that it’s beyond a bad idea to just invest in including more BIPOC and other varieties of under-represented people in the same old oppressive power structures and that instead, we need to be about the business of transformation. He wasn’t buying it that simply diversifying and being more inclusive would automatically get transformation (he didn’t address equity directly, but I’m guessing he would have talked about the performative nature of most of our progressive talk about equity since we can’t even get a handle on equality). He didn’t exactly make the point that just stuffing increased numbers of diverse people into the same size and shape pigeonholes we’ve always reified (i.e., requiring people to act and dress with a cookie-cutter sort constrained decorous “professionalism”) would do violence to their personhood, but his argument was along these lines.
I should have tracked the source so I could tell you who said this, but if I remember correctly, at the time it seemed like a very basic and not especially novel idea, and honestly, that’s still the case today. A lot of us have chaffed at your campaign slogan “build back better” and there’s long been the idea that we just need to tear it all down and start over in a truly transformational way since it doesn’t make sense to keep putting different colors of lipstick on the same pig. Nothing against pigs, but cosmetic changes, whether it’s different lipsticks or more variety of peoples around the same tired tables controlled by old, wealthy, white men pedaling the scarcity myth isn’t going to be life giving or get us where we need to be to create a sustainable, just future.
Since reading that passage by this now unknown person I’ve been somewhat obsessed with the idea of incorporating “transformation” or “transformational” into the DEI framing, since it’s clear to me that there can be no useful transformation if it’s driven by the same old White, monied (largely male) power structures. As you have probably already figured out, the letters T, D, E, and I can be rearranged to form two different English words; DIET and TIDE. I landed on DIET first since it’s closest the original DEI acronym and would be “Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Transformation.” It’s not bad – it’s all in there and surely we’re talking about a change in our collective diet where we eschew things that are bad for us like toxic masculinity, subjugation of one another, dominion over the Earth, etc. in favor of a healthier diet of compassion, respect, dignity, and sustainability (obviously these two lists are flexible).
Still, though, I much prefer the option of TIDE: “Transformational Inclusivity, Diversity, and Equity.” Isn’t that nice? I think it does a pretty awesome job of summing up what I think we need to be about and it has the bonus of hearkening back to the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats – no one gets left behind in this framing and it doesn’t conjure that damn scarcity thinking.
I know that it could be confusing to adopt this new acronym since TIDE is a real word while DEI obviously isn’t, but how about it? I think it works pretty well and could infuse the work with even more imagination and creativity. And watch, tomorrow I’ll probably come across some article or blog where someone’s already fleshed this idea out super well. Actually, that’d be kind of cool – I’d love to see what they’re thinking and doing. In the meantime, though, I’d love for you to go more radical and really embrace an openness to real transformation. How about it?
May all our boats be safe as we navigate from here to there.
May we be willing to loosen our death grip on small thinking.
May we know we are strong enough to risk radical openness to possibility.
May we accept that nothing short of transformational inclusivity, diversity, and equity will save us.