What does diversity do? What are we doing when we use the language of diversity? Sara Ahmed offers an account of the diversity world based on interviews with diversity practitioners in higher education, as well as her own experience of doing diversity work. Diversity is an ordinary, even unremarkable, feature of institutional life. Yet diversity practitioners often experience institutions as resistant to their work, as captured through their use of the metaphor of the "brick wall." On Being Included offers an explanation of this apparent paradox. It explores the gap between symbolic commitments to diversity and the experience of those who embody diversity. Commitments to diversity are understood as "non-performatives" that do not bring about what they name. The book provides an account of institutional whiteness and shows how racism can be obscured by the institutionalization of diversity. Diversity is used as evidence that institutions do not have a problem with racism. On Being Included offers a critique of what happens when diversity is offered as a solution. It also shows how diversity workers generate knowledge of institutions in attempting to transform them.
Much of what she talks about reflects concerns and experiences I've heard from friends and colleagues of color. Other topics shone a light on things I'd never thought about, but that I recognized as an obvious part of the institutional foundations I've experienced. Ahmed's narrative includes looking at the language we use to describe this work (including why "diversity" is such a beloved term), how whiteness as the norm impacts workers and students of color, what actually goes on in committee meetings, the way an institution can be personified, how documents can help and hinder communication, and she ultimately explores some philosophical approaches to thinking through these efforts in a fresh way.
Although there are aspects of the interviews and assertions that are unique to a UK context, most of what Ahmed discusses is just as applicable to institutions in the United States. And while her philosophy and academic background can sometimes make this a dense book, her clear writing style makes it an easy read (and one that made me want to underline every spot-on sentence). I'd really recommend this book for anyone interested in picking apart the successes and failures of institutional diversity efforts (particularly in higher education).