What we mean when we talk about inclusion: Sarmishta Subramanian

 from Six Degrees on inclusion. Overall I found it too rambling and unfocussed, with relatively few concrete suggestions on how to improved dialogue and conversation regarding integration and inclusion issues.

While there is value in this kind of high level discourse, there is a greater need for more practical and pragmatic approaches that help different actors address some of the issues:

…There is a principle at stake, of not allowing debates about inclusion to happen in an exclusionary way. The new vogue in the West is for a modulation of the conversation by suppression, a desire for the silencing of not merely hateful opinion, but divergent perspectives of many kinds. The argument made is that certain conversations must stop for other, more productive ones to occur; and anyway, it is impossible to silence the powerful majority. A broader streak of illiberalism is in evidence here, and it’s difficult to see how a modern, inclusive society benefits from it. Does the suppression of some views not logically encompass the potential suppression of any or all views? Can a free society support the kinds of intolerance—including an intolerance of religion—that have become commonplace in modern progressive thought? Freedom of thought and speech are deliberately blind to content; making the freedom contingent on which thought or words defeats the point.

In this mode of thinking, it is not only racism or prejudice that is shut down, but also many other voices, including progressive ones—people broadly aligned with the underlying values who may not speak precisely the same coded language. This is all the more poignant given that these political or social constraints on speech have no effect at all on those fully committed to illiberalism and to the free expression of ideas of xenophobia, racial superiority, sexism, and social injustice. We continue to hear those voices, but less so others in the middle who share the fundamental values of egalitarianism, tolerance, pluralism.

There is also a pragmatic argument to be made. The support of the majority is surely vital to the long-term health of minority rights. Even successful movements that have risen up from the grassroots have found support among the majority, or from cultural or political elites. And while it may be impossible to silence the majority, it is certainly possible for a majority to feel silenced, which is a political obstacle as well as a moral and social one.

The problems of a mildly uncomfortable majority are, of course, not the concern of activists demanding the most basic forms of inclusion for black Americans, or Indigenous Canadians, or any other historically disadvantaged group. Nor should they be. Discomfort pales before real economic and social injustice, and in any case the work of activists has generally been to throw rhetorical grenades, to build pressure in the system, to remind everyone that these debates have stakes, and to shift the conversation from the edges. This is important work.

Yet it is also a fact that a position of discomfort is not one from which people will act with the greatest generosity or fairness. The frustration of activists is understandable; they don’t want to negotiate with people who refuse to “get it.” This cannot then be left entirely to the activists. Responses have to come from other places, too—from minorities who are not too exhausted to talk about it, and from reasonable members of the majority who don’t default to one of a few modes currently available in the popular discourse, which include angry reactionary; sanctimonious, slightly self-loathing recovering white person; and silent observer. They have to come from the middle, and be heard by the middle, which means they may have to come outside the polarized zones of social media.

* * *

Countries such as Canada and Australia have staked a lot in the idea of achieving inclusion by recognizing, and accommodating, difference. That mode of thinking has migrated from courts and parliament houses out into the public arena. In the public discourse, the challenge is in how citizens can achieve that recognition of particularity, and answer its demands, while still achieving a recognition of the universal—respect for all groups, and people. We could do worse than to consider the advice of the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum, who has written about the value of applying the literary imagination in a judicial context. Adopting the posture of “concerned reader of a novel,” she writes, allows a jurist to be merciful. For the lay person too, there is much to be said for viewing the world this way, to approach our disparate fellow humans with genuine curiosity and sympathy, with a desire to understand “the entire complex history of their efforts.” Taking in the lives of others, and their whole stories, would allow everyone to be more compassionate, and like Nussbaum’s reader, to participate, and observe, to expand what we see.

In the end inclusion depends in part on perceptions—of fairness, of equity—which vary depending on the person doing the seeing. In fact, questions of perception lie at the very heart of the question. Inclusion, after all, is not merely about literal rules—legalizing gay marriage or mandating equal access to services. Those rules leave too much room for exclusion. Rather, this is more fundamentally about how we see our place in the world, about our ability to imagine and achieve a good life in every area that is meaningful to us. The capacity of all citizens to have this, in turn, allows a society to flourish.

Inclusion has been described as a “mutually beneficial state for both the community and the individual.” Much rides on that “mutually beneficial.” Discussions of inclusion and exclusion, which often bring into clear view the failures of governments. But what we owe each other is not only a question for governments to answer but also a question for individuals to untangle: what our responsibilities are as citizens, what our obligations are to those different from us, and what we owe to our communities—each of us, and all of us.

via What we mean when we talk about inclusion – Macleans.ca

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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