This is the English version of the article: Perchè non voglio essere Inclusiva (solo)
Where this article comes from
During the organization of WordCamp Europe 2023, there has been a lively debate around Diversity. After the first five speaker announcements, one Tweet noted that only 25% of these were women. This factual observation raised reactions and some controversy. But more importantly, it sparked much discussion around DEI (Diversity, Equality, Inclusion).
I did not participate in the discussion on Twitter, mainly in English: I believe the topic is too sensitive and complex to be debated in tweets. Moreover, my understanding of English must be improved to recognize its linguistic distinctions and cultural nuances.
I have a professional educator, educational supervisor, and over 30 years of social work background, and I consider myself a feminist. I have, therefore, always been attentive to issues related to DEI and women’s matters. All the more so today in Italy, among the least welcoming nations regarding minority rights, where femicides are counted in the hundreds each year.
However, now the time has come to write down my thoughts on the subject. They are not the truth (not even my own), but that is where my thinking has come so far. I might change my opinion on many things, and my point of view will be enriched with new stimuli and considerations. One of my privileges is to know wonderful people who are active on these issues, whose reflections allow me to grow, and with whom discussion is always open.
Why I don’t want to be inclusive
I start here: with the concept of inclusion.
When discussing DEI, we often argue that we should include Diversity. I, too, did speak about inclusion until, thanks to my Internet bubble, I came across Fabrizio Acanfora, who defines himself as a Neurodivergent Advocate, populariser, writer, lecturer, university lecturer, pianist, harpsichordist, and former harpsichord builder with no regrets.
Speaking about inclusion, from his point of view as a neurodivergent person, he points out how the concept of inclusion pertains to an imbalance of power, where the majority can decide whether and how to include, and minorities who are subjected to this process often passively, or with little opportunity to bring their point of view.
Rather than the term majority, I prefer the term dominant group because the issue here is not a matter of numbers but comes down to power. A dominant group is the group of those who have the power to decide and implement (or have already implemented) decisions.
The power to include
In the process of Social Inclusion, even if the best intentions animate the dominant group, the power imbalance remains.
We open up to include those on the outside but based on what point of view? Is the process shared? Is there a path to renegotiating the group’s rules?
The power to include (or exclude) is in the hands of the dominant group. They can decide what conditions and rules are for being included. The included person has little room to have their say, and even when they express their views, they are mostly not heard, and their opinions and requests remain ignored.
The conclusion is almost always that people who are included must conform to the expectations of those who include, that is to say, those in power.
Accepting and valuing differences
Aconfora proposes replacing inclusion with the concept of coexistence of differences, a neutral term that assumes equal dignity for each sociocultural group and each person.
Coexistence means respecting each other, going out of our way to meet each other, caring about the needs of those around us, setting aside pride, and admitting that our view of the world is driven by biases that we are often unaware of having. By paying attention to the narrative of reality we make to ourselves and the world, we can contribute to the well-being of society as a whole.
Is this just a linguistic problem? Possibly, but as it is well known, language shapes thought. What has no name does not exist, and how we express concepts says a lot about how we think, believe, and construct reality. A huge movement of people working on so-called inclusive language has been developing for years.
I recently had a chance to follow a live event on social media, specifically about inclusive language. And again, while acknowledging that it is already a good start, there was some discussion about whether to use a different adjective.
I thought Cozy or Empathetic might be a good substitute on that occasion.
So, I would like to be Open and Welcoming, to be able to meet other people and together create the basis for a more equitable society, where each person is given the right to be as they are and as they want to be, have civil rights and social (and economic) opportunities to fulfill their dreams.
And therefore, should we abandon the term Inclusion?
No, at least not for now. We have to start somewhere, and Inclusion is a term that is used a lot in the DEI discussion.
Inclusive Language is what we have now to promote greater awareness about using words and the need to accommodate differences in our point of view and how we communicate.
However, I propose that we begin to use the term pointedly, circumstantiating its use and bringing it back to its original meaning (The action or state of including or being included within a group or structure, e.g., include a topic in a discussion).
Above all, I would like us to renounce the term Inclusion in the social sphere.
Of normality, labels, privileges, and barriers
The first word in the acronym DEI is Diversity. And when we talk about Diversity, we cannot help but contrast it with normality.
So I start here: What is normality?
The concept originated in the geometric statistical field and comes from the Latin norma (square, drawing instrument). In statistics, the norm (or median) is the value that appears most frequently in the examined group. Beginning in the mid-1800s and increasingly in the next century, as statistical studies of population and bureaucratization processes begin, the concept of normality is extended to the common language, and the adjective normal begins to refer to everything customary and ordinary.
Using statistics as a basis for political choices and the need for rules of coexistence in large urban centers contributed, through the use of mass media, to the spread of behavior patterns, as well as physical and social canons based on the majority. The human need for sociality and belonging has contributed to the identification, or desire for identification, with standardized normality.
In this context, anything that does not fit into the standard, into normality, represents a threat, undermining values and, therefore, the very basis of society.
All behavior that does not conform to the norm is stigmatized as deviant and must be corrected. All people who do not meet the physical and social criteria defined as normal are isolated and considered different.
And they are labeled. Because if we label them, we define them and, in some way, recognize and control them. Labels bring us to a known and, therefore, tranquilizing reality. If we label them, we can identify and isolate them.
Diversity is scary because it challenges our models and certainties. It forces us to confront other models because it makes us feel fragile.
Accepting that normality exists only as a social and statistical construct, and starting from the consideration that each person is unique and special, is the first step to proper integration and coexistence of differences.
But if, on the surface, it is so simple, what holds us back? Our privileges, I believe.
I came to the concept of privilege thanks to my friend Alice Orrù* and her beautiful newsletter Ojalà. In issue 7 of Ojalà, Alice talks about Tatiana Mac and her talk How Privilege Defines Performance.
Privilege means having or being granted benefits, special treatment, or immunity just by being in a specific category of people.
I don’t want to go into it here (even though it is worth exploring), but I believe the fear of losing one’s privilege is at the root of discrimination.
If I accept being open to Diversity and the principle of fairness and civil rights for everyone, I have to accept losing, or at least sharing, my privileges. Who is willing to do that?
The first step toward equity starts from recognizing the wall of one’s privileges and choosing to share those privileges (or to dismantle the wall).
Privileges build walls, which form barriers. Tearing down a piece of the wall to widen the internal space and include does not solve the power imbalance, as I said above.
Break down the barriers
I believe the first step is to break down barriers, all barriers. Not including within the space, but opening the space, removing its boundaries.
Open communities, welcoming events: questions
How do I remove barriers, for example, in a group or an event?
I don’t have the answer. But I do have many questions. Starting with questions helps me identify barriers and find solutions.
1. Physical barriers
These are the easiest to identify, but they are not obvious.
- Does the space I use for the event (or our meetings) have physical limitations hindering mobility?
- Here, we are thinking not only of those who move with mobility aids but also of people with temporary mobility difficulties for whom stairs and long distances are obstacles.
- Is the space I use too bright/too dark? Can it hinder the participation of people hypersensitive to light or who have reduced vision?
- Is the space I use too noisy?
- Are the tools I use accessible to anyone, including those who cannot use their hands or hear?
- Are toilets available even for people who do not identify with the binary woman/man genders?
- Are there secluded places where people can relax and have a moment of silence?
- Are there spaces for breastfeeding and caring for infants?
- Is internal signage clear and sufficient? Am I using symbols that anyone can understand?
- (If there is something to eat) Am I ensuring special meals, considering allergies, intolerances, food preferences, and religious norms?
2. Language barriers
- Is the language I use sufficiently welcoming and open to pluralities?
- Do I use clear, direct, and non-slang terms?
- (For events) Do people feel sufficiently welcomed and comfortable putting themselves forward as speakers? Is the Call for speakers to use a Welcoming Language?
- What are the obstacles that hold people back from proposing themselves? How can we support them? (e.g., Public speaking tracks, mentorship, …)
- If there are different language speakers, can I activate a transcription service? What about translation?
- How do I promote the event, and what terms do I use?
3. Economic and social barriers
- How do I support the participation of those who do not have economic, organizational, or logistical possibilities?
- How do I make the event (community, initiative, …) known outside my social circle?
4. Cultural barriers
These are the most difficult to identify and take action on.
- The question I ask myself here is: “Is there something I take for granted?”
- What might represent a problem for other people (e.g., images used in slides)?
- What bothers me and causes me to react angrily or to shut down defensively?
The list is not exhaustive and must be customized and expanded depending on the circumstances. But it is a start, in my opinion.
Respect and kindness
Meeting and accommodating Diversity is not always easy, and it proceeds by approximations and mistakes. But we can do better next time as we learn from our mistakes.
The attitude with which I want to approach every discussion (not just regarding DEI issues) is guided by four keywords:
- Respect for other people,
- Listening: actively, truly, and honestly,
- Open-minded discussion to accommodate pluralities and different points of view (considering my biases).
- and Kindness, which is known to be the only thing that will save the world.
This article has been in the making for quite a long time and with numerous revisions.
A heartfelt thank you goes to the whole Italian WordPress community, with whom I often discuss these issues. In particular, Stefano Cassone, Lidia Pellizzaro, Margherita Pelonara, Eleonora Anzini, Francesca Marano.
* A special thanks to Alice Orrù. Her valuable comments and critical reading of the drafts helped me to rethink some statements (e.g., the concept of dominant vs. majority group) and to revise my position towards the need to continue using the term Inclusive, even if imperfect.
Lastly, I am grateful to Piermario Orecchioni, who helped me with this English version. Having met him, his kindness, availability, helpfulness, sense of humor, intelligence, as well as being able to call him a friend is another one of my privileges.