Diversity policies 'not a panacea for centuries of racism', warns Dabiri

Diversity policies 'not a panacea for centuries of racism', warns Dabiri

What White People Can Do Next author Emma Dabiri has urged against "peddling reductive interpretations on social media”, resisting the “holy grail” of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) policies and focusing on liberation rather than anti-racism. 

At the The Bookseller’s Marketing & Publicity Conference on 16th June, Dabiri shared her own experience of publication as well as the concepts discussed in her book, which was published by Allen Lane in April. 

In the session, the academic, writer and broadcaster urged companies to recognise that a D&I policy will not address all racism. “I also question the holy grail that D&I is presented as. I have something of an ambivalence sometimes about how this is imagined. I certainly don’t see it as a panacea for centuries of racism not least because it doesn’t go far enough in questioning the system. The investment in race and the subsequent framework of racism cannot be challenged solely at the type of corporate level that D&I is positioned.” 

What White People Can Do Next came about partly to find progress rather than have repetitive discussions, she said. “One of my motivations in writing this book is that I don’t want us to be having this conversation five, 10, 50 years from now. We can’t just do the same thing over and over and expect different results. And we can’t just reduce D&I to a box-ticking exercise and over-investment in D&I as a solution to racism alone fails to go deep enough into the questioning the system itself.

“To think about diversity, we need to think about the diversity of ideas, not just of bodies. We cannot assume that the latter is the former and it is this diversity that might produce the future of thinkers that we so desperately need.” 

The Nigerian-Irish writer also revealed that pre-publication there was suspicion from some that What White People Can Do Next would be a “cutesy allyship guide” or “self-proclaimed radical manifesto, an instruction for well-meaning white people on how to check their privilege or stay in their lane or any of those common, familiar phrases at the moment”.  

She added: “I think that’s because words like ‘radical’ and ‘revolutionary’ are thrown around the place at the moment and I think we need to stop using words like that for books which are neither. Because calling out racism... is not radical or revolutionary and that’s OK because not everything has to be. But words have meanings and making claims that things are radical and revolutionary when they are neither of those things undermine the power of those words make them an object of suspicion when they are used in the right way. Don’t underestimate people in this way.” 

She suggested that people should be cautious when being influenced by messages on networking sites. “Without a diversity of ideas we end up just peddling whatever has made it on to social media. Which are often reductive interpretations of concepts that were originally generated by expansive and reflexive – dare I say it – radical and revolutionary thinkers.” 

Dabiri urged against a one-size-fits-all approach. “The other thing I think is key is to stop reducing the realities of Black people to one singular experience.” She emphasised the many identities that compose the category "Black", urging the industry to recognise the “immense diversity and differentiation of history and experience of Black subjects.” 

She added: “I would locate my book more in the tradition of liberation than anti-racism... Liberation goes further in joining the dots, it addresses racism, but it goes further in joining dots between various forms of exploitation than the current package of anti-racism does. But it also signifies joy.” 

Dabiri concluded by urging for positivity to accompany revolutionary thinking, saying: “I will paraphrase the anarchist Emma Goldman, ‘Dance: for a revolution without dancing is not a revolution worth having’.”