Blink Consulting
On Language
On Diversity
On Multiculturalism
On Normative Culture
On Whiteness

“The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect.”
- from George Orwell’s 1984

George Orwell understood that transformation is dependent on language. We cannot change what we cannot-or will not-name. But vocabulary is just a tool: language relies as much on usage as it does words, and usage is dynamic. How we talk about diversity, inclusion or equity changes-and in some cases, dilutes-the very words we count on to articulate our ideas and intentions.

The identity box labeled “race/ethnicity” is an example of the muddling of language: whereas “race” refers to a category based on phenotype and ancestry, “ethnicity” refers to a grouping based on shared geography and culture. In the US, where race has a particularly charged history and significance, equating these concepts can undermine the cause of equity. We also compromise our intentions when we tacitly agree to use words as codes: if we say “students of color” but mean “students who receive financial aid,” we impair our ability to act effectively in the interests of either of those groups of students.

Blink believes that knowledge is power, and that the way for people to access that power is language. Thus, Blink urges a critical rethinking of the language we use to discuss identity and culture, especially the terms we take for granted as being commonly understood, including: “diversity,” “multiculturalism” and even the seemingly obvious concept of “culture.”

In our work with schools, Blink offers transformative definitions for the language we use. In addition to denotation and connotation, a transformative definition carries intention and aspiration: anchored in the perspective that education is the crucible of society, transformative definitions reflect the process and values of social change.

Thus, a transformative definition becomes more than a reference point; it serves as a guiding light along the way in our process of re-envisioning our schools.

Bias, prejudice, discrimination and -isms
  • Bias is a human inclination about what/who is normal or right, based on innate hard-wiring, personal experience, cultural norms and circumstance — that we can choose how to act on if we're aware it. We demonstrate bias (for "attractive" faces") as early as 3 months of age (Langlois, 1987). Research and experience demonstrate that unconscious bias influences and predicts behavior (Vedantam, 2010).
  • Prejudice is a bias that has become, consciously or unconsciously, one's default valuation of and attitude toward a specific group of people.
  • Discrimination is an enactment of bias, consciously or not, in favor of what we think is normal or right over what we see as different or wrong.
    • Aversive discrimination (like unconscious bias) is a subtle, often unintentional, form of biased action and speech that is enacted by individuals who possess strong egalitarian values and who believe that they are nonprejudiced. [Although they] do not wish to discriminate against members of minority groups… [they] act on unconscious negative feelings when they are able to justify their actions in non-racial terms (Dovidio & Gaertner, 1986).
  • An -ism is the perpetuation of a systemic social bias through individual and collective language, actions and permission, whether by default or conscious choice, that advantages a people and their culture as the norm or ideal. Note: While anyone can discriminate against another person based on any identity, an -ism has normative cultural and institutional power behind it.
The maintained ways-attitudes, behaviors and knowledge-of a group, understood by members, although not necessarily practiced identically.

The explicit and implicit information transmitted from teachers to their students, including subject matter, habits of mind, study skills, beliefs, assumptions and perspectives. Whether formally acknowledged or tacitly included, it is what students learn in a classroom.

The attitude and practice of a bias, whether by default or conscious choice, to advantage some over others.

Differences in those dimensions of identity that on a collective level seem to correlate with disparities of social experience, including inequalities of privilege, opportunity and access to resources; namely race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, physical ability, geography/nationality and age and learning styles. “Diversity” also refers to a perspective that encourages difference while striving to rectify inequities.

As opposed to treating every individual equally (i.e. identically), equity practice presumes diversity (different privileges/disadvantages, access to resources and opportunities, experiences, statuses) and strives to equalize the ability to thrive by recognizing and addressing unfair cultural and institutional biases and discrimination

Ethnicity and race
Often used interchangeably, ethnicity is defined primarily through geography and lived or claimed cultural heritage, while race is fundamentally linked to one's actual or perceived biology.
  • Ethnicity: An aspect of identity based on shared ancestry, regionality, appearance and cultural artifacts (such as language, religion, and styles of food and clothing) that may impact social status, access to resources and opportunities for members of different groups within a larger society.
  • Race: An aspect of identity based on ancestry, appearance and social context that has historically determined unequal social status, access to resources and opportunities for different groups, and evolved shared identities and experiences within those groups.
    While race and ethnicity are often used interchangeably, ethnicity is defined primarily through geography and lived or claimed cultural heritage, while race is determined by one's actual or perceived biology. In the US, ethnicity and race have had different histories and legacies, and translate into different experiences for identified individuals and groups.
An aspect of identity based on biological sex, phenotypic characteristics and social context that has evolved dichotomized societal categories, experiences, statuses and cultures.

One’s sense of self as an individual, as well as a member of groups, and at the same time, others’ perceptions of who one is.

Beyond simply being nice or prohibiting discrimination, how a group actively creates an environment in which diverse members "share a sense of belonging, mutual respect, being valued for who they are, and supportive energy and commitment from others so that they can do their best work" (Miller & Katz, 2002).

Inclusion goes beyond welcoming you (into my house) to share rights and stewardship of the community.

The processes and practices that encourage everyone in a community to thrive:
  • accepting the diverse identities of individuals,
  • addressing conflict as an opportunity for mutual and social growth, and
  • transforming the social inequalities and injustices that advantage some over others, into inclusion and equity for all.
Multicultural education
The process of enacting inclusion and equity to empower diverse students to thrive in society and strive for social justice. Multicultural education is effected through the whole of a school's culture and practices — from formal pedagogy and curriculum to the tacit values and norms that inform the everyday experiences of all members of the school community.

Normative culture
The core ways — attitudes, behaviors and knowledge — of a multicultural society that members need to adopt, in order to access resources and opportunities.

A systemic social advantage in the form of:
  • entitlement to resources and opportunities;
  • preferential treatment;
  • or immunity from stigma, obligation or expectation
that is attached to a particular social identity or group attribute, and activated tacitly and automatically.

An aspect of identity based on phenotypic characteristics, ancestry and social context that on a group level has evolved disparate societal experiences, statuses and cultures.

Sex and gender
Often used interchangeably, gender is related to sex but not necessarily determined by it.
  • Sex: An aspect of identity based on the biological (reproductive) characteristics of men and women.

  • Gender: An aspect of identity based on characteristics (behaviors, activities, and physical attributes) that a society deems "masculine" or "feminine".
An aspect of identity based on one's emotional and physical attractions, activities and relationships with others; and one's perception of this aspect of themselves. While gender and sexuality are connected, one does not determine the other.

Socio-economic status and class
Often used interchangeably, SES is a variable component of class, like language is to ethnicity.
  • SES: An aspect of identity based on the possession of wealth and other societally-valued assets (including education and employment) that impact access to resources and opportunities.

  • Class: An aspect of identity and culture informed by:

    • SES,
    • access to social resources and opportunities,
    • daily living norms and expectations, and
    • sense of entitlement and constraint in the world

    that has historically and systemically accorded preferential status, privilege and freedoms to economically advantaged individuals as a group, while subordinating groups with less economic power and authority. Class identity and culture are acquired and lost less easily than money.

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