Is "De Facto Diversity" Enough? Exploring International Community Building

main.jpgWe rarely ask ourselves "Is this enough?" unless we have a sneaking suspicion that our efforts, whatever they may be, are falling short.

When the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, it clearly applied to laws that imposed segregation, such as in public schools. The practice of segregation enforced by law, or de jure segregation, was a clear target for the forces of integration and equality.

However, there were also a number of schools that provided a more nuanced problem—de facto segregation. These schools were divided along racial lines simply by the makeup of their neighborhoods and communities. While legal segregation ended, de facto segregation has had a lasting impact on our schools and children.

The integration of de facto segregation proved to be, in many ways, much more problematic, raising more questions than answers—Is de facto segregation really that bad? Certainly it shouldn’t be amended with enforcement by law. If the students in a particular school are representative of their community, isn’t that enough? If there are not any explicit laws or rules about who may attend, isn’t that acceptable? How do you bring people from one community into another without making them a token representative of their race? Is this less-than-genuine integration really any better than the segregation that preceded it?

Many of these questions seem out of date to a young professional living and working in a diverse urban area. But issues of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation still stick with us. I recently had a conversation with a number of YNPN-ers about diversity within our own organization and how we can be intentional in reaching out to under-represented groups in our membership. As often is the case in these discussions, we alluded to the goal of being “representative” or “reflective” of the nonprofit community. And in a moment of characteristic analytical clarity we took our discussion one step further—we asked if that is enough. Is it enough to be representative of the nonprofit sector as it currently is? Is it enough to serve those who come to our events or seek out the network we provide? Are we comfortable reflecting the status quo, or do we expect more?

Often conversations and efforts around diversity stop at what I’m calling de facto diversity. We seek to mirror the community around us, to be an identifiable counterpart to the immediate cultural context we find ourselves in. We wait to see who walks in the door, and make sure they look like the people on the sidewalk.

This is not serving us well. This clearly is not enough.

As young professionals who are seeking not only to become part of the nonprofit sector but also to transform that sector and the larger world, we need to push ourselves beyond this practice. We need to think beyond who is currently in our community and focus on who we would like to see present in our community and organizations in the future. It is simply not enough to be who we already are; we must become who we want to be.

The board and committees of YNPN have been clear in their desire to be more than a reflection of the nonprofit world. We are not satisfied with our current membership or the present makeup of our sector locally and nationally. With this awareness comes a responsibility to do something about it. In the coming months, YNPN Twin Cities will be collaborating with a number of partners and supporters to determine how best to reach past our comfortable de facto diversity and to be intentionally inclusive. I hope you will consider how you can be a part of this journey.

Talk to us. 

  • What challenges have you faced in an effort to become more diverse and inclusive?
  • Where have you found success?
  • And, most importantly, what do you want to see the nonprofit sector—our community—look like in the future?

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