Diversity: Performative or Real Progress?

By Nadia Johnson, NSU Communications Major/African American Caucus Secretary

As I drive along the highway heading back to college from a long vacation, I glance at billboards along the road. I often use them as checkpoints along my journey to measure how long I have until I reach my destination. As I’m nearing Exit 138 outside of Natchitoches, I do a double take. Something, more specifically someone, has changed. Two Black student leaders stare back at me, in the space where two white students had been previously placed. I can’t help but wonder on the remainder of my drive if this change is a sign of real progress ― or performative action.

In the past, I joked with my friends that my generation has done nothing to leave a mark on the Earth but make the warning labels on Tide pods slightly bigger. Compared to the outspoken and powerful, revolutionary, passionate generations before me, my generation felt lazy in comparison.

The summer of 2020 turned the world upside down. I witnessed thousands upon thousands of young protestors of every race, in every city, in countries all over the world, rain or shine, march in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. They were relentless making their voices heard after the shocking murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd just to name a few. The outpouring of support from passionate and persistent young people was staggering, but the real surprise was the immediate amount of support from companies and organizations, many of which had previously been silent on such issues. Their willingness to step up left many hopeful for a better future, including me.

Seven months later, on Jan. 18, 2021, I laced up my shoes and took it to the streets for the annual MLK Day March held to honor the life and memory of one of the most influential civil rights leaders in the world, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. But this time, I wasn’t just participating. I was leading.

The night before the Natchitoches March for Justice and Peace, I knew I would be getting all the work-out I’d need for the week since the march started at Northwestern State from Caspari Street and ran all the way to the Dr. King monument near Texas Street and MLK Jr. Drive. At first, all I could think about was whether my new shoes would be comfortable to walk in. Then, the thought of all my duties upon arriving at the march became a little overwhelming. All those concerns instantly evaporated when I pulled into the parking lot. Hundreds of people – students, locals, city officials – were present and ready to march. Only one thought came to my head ― I hope someone brought a megaphone.

Turns out I didn’t need it.

As I marched alongside my fellow African American Caucus members on Martin Luther King Drive, signs high and voices loud, it took a lot of inner strength not to cry. Children of all ages gathered outside their houses, waving and cheering. It was like we were superheroes to them.

I’m pretty sure my family down in New Orleans could hear shouting those chants. Too often, our experiences are minimized, and our voices silenced. Not now. Not today.

I basked in the feeling of euphoria and pride for the rest of the day. I drove home fulfilled, the sun shining bright, not a cloud in the sky, feet aching like I’d just run a marathon. I was on the phone with my parents before I could even take my shoes off and prop my aching feet on the coffee table.

“It was awe-inspiring,” I said to my family. “We’ve done this march for years and I’ve never seen that many people! There were even reporters from the local news stations, so you know I tried my best to get on TV.”

My father jokingly replied, “When you get good like me, the camera will find you, not the other way around. But, seriously, I’m proud of you. I know you were working hard, I’m glad you got a great turn out, and I hope you keep it up. This is an experience you will remember and share for the rest of your life.”

While it was the most fun I’ve had all year, I was disappointed about one thing; we didn’t get more participation from white people, especially those in powerful positions on campus and around Natchitoches. This was their chance to literally walk the walk.

To establish real progressive change, you must continue to walk the walk. Stay consistent, stay persistent, and have open ears and an open mind. Progressive actions that advocate change are developed through constant, conscious efforts to advance your goal and promote diversity and inclusion, concepts that have been a trend for far too long. A trend is a sign of significant development or change, but the defining characteristic of a trend is that it is ultimately finite.

You can replace billboards, you can rename the Iberville stage to honor the first Black students to integrate Northwestern State, and you can put out as many diversity statements as you want, but if the image behind closed doors does not match the image being portrayed to the public, authenticity is absent and trust between the establishment and the people is broken. Diversity and inclusivity are about more than just the token person of color in the room. It’s about creating a space to include different voices and perspectives so that everyone feels seen, heard, represented, and appreciated. Diversity cannot be a trend; it has to be a way of life.

The views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Natchitoches Parish Journal.  If you have an article or story of interest for publishing consideration by the NPJ, please send it to NPJNatLa@gmail.com.

8 thoughts on “Diversity: Performative or Real Progress?

  1. Thank you “Old RN” for clarifying the term “systemic.” The liberal media has used it so often that I am concerned that many in our country have bought into the concept regarding racism without truly understanding the meaning of the word.
    Ron Brown

  2. Thank you Ms. Johnson for your article.
    I must say we have all been lazy in this respect for generations. I have been fighting against racism, sexism since I was in elementary school. I’ve fought to protect our environment as well.
    “But there are still some racists. But they are dying out if people would just let this die.” They would love nothing better than to once again sweep all the overt murders of African Americans by certain racists under the rug. Put a hood on it, hang a noose, burn a cross, and say it wasn’t us. Yes, thatll fix the problem. In other words, the murders happened but just forget about it. Then it won’t happen again…until it does.
    I read your article with open ears and open eyes. Thank you again my young sister. Keep talking.

  3. George Floyd died of an overdose, Breonna Taylor was dealing drugs with her new bf, the facts about Ahmaud Arbary have come out…let me ask one question. Would you welcome a White American Cause at NSU, or protests from White Lives Matter. I bet you are calling me a racist..what is Diversity, except for an excuse to promote one group above others. Diversity is a falsehood, promoted by people looking to enrich themselves, gain prominence or make a name for themselves. Black Lives Matter founder just bought FOUR expensive homes, how many homes do average Americans, who work for a living own…ONE.

    Booker T. Washington said “There is another class of coloured people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they gave grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs–partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.” (Note to editor..this is an exact quote of Mr. Washington).

    I notice in your diatribe young lady, you don’t mention Democratic Party. They invented Poll Tax, Jim Crow and segregation, do you know first twenty-three African- American Congresspeople were Republicans..because Democratic Party refused them entrance to their party.

    Before you start throwing jingoistic slogans, remember Jesus died for ALL mankind, not a specific race or people.

    BTW President Obama had a Federal Medical Examiner do an autopsy of Michael Brown (a name thrown out there), the ME found powder burns from gunpowder of Police Officer’s gun on Brown’s hands…meaning the falsehood of “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” is a damnable lie still spewed today .

    Stick to FACTS young lady because the facts will be found out, also they are not protestors they are RIOTERS. When you steal from someone, or destroy their property they worked for…you are not absolved of guilt no matter how just your cause ..you simply hooligans looking to do harm. Thank you

    • Well said Anonymous.

      “Systemic” racism is a lie. The word systemic is used in medical diagnoses to mean that an illness is affecting the entire body down to the cellular level. To say racism exits to that extent would be saying all religions, schools, lawyers, doctors and other medical professional health care worker, all industries, all politicians, and all homes and more, are racist. That would be systemic. But there are still some racists. But they are dying out if people would just let this die. So the opposite of systemic is local and so there are some environments that are racist. But to accuse all white conservatives as racist is a false accusation.

      Again, along the lines of what anonymous said, Biden was a racist back in the sixties. He was against school integration. He said something like he didn’t want his kids to live in a jungle. I was there in the sixties.. His views were definitely not everyone’s views. Biden also promised an African American female for his running mate. Kamala was an African American counterfeit. She did not experience your battles. And yet most African Americans believe the democratic party when they spew lies about your welfare that never come to fruition. What have they really done for you? Reread Anonymous. What did BLM DO for you and your people to show your lives do matter?

      So I am offering you an olive branch. I never held any beliefs that you and yours were not my brothers and sisters: people to be loved. Try reading Candace Owens’ book. There is a leader who is bright, beautiful and truly loves her race with all her heart. And she is speaking out. But she is mostly sensored by the liberal media. Because they do not want you to know the truth.

  4. Well said. Thank you for writing this. I do a lot of work in the area of racial justice and equality by understanding the construct of institutional racism and therefore how to dismantle it, and the diversity movement gives me pause to reflect. Diversity of gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation are definitely needed. But we need to be very aware that when it comes to the construct of race, that we don’t allow diversity to be just another form of institutionalized racism that doesn’t bring about any substantial change in the operations of our institutions.

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