How Racist is a Sense of Urgency?

I tip my hat to Reason magazine for writing about a recent email from the Oregon Health Authority which provides a nonfiction caricature of government efforts to be more inclusive. Before I share that story with you, let’s pause and consider how much better it is that a public health agency is focused on inclusiveness than for the opposite to be the case. OHA has made diversity, equity, and inclusion central to its mission, which is inherently good if done right. The best lesson to draw from anecdotes where DEI efforts go astray is to grasp how poor judgment in the name of DEI can be less inclusive.

The program manager of the Regional Health Equity Coalition Program recently sent out an email to cancel a meeting. The program manager explained: “We recognize that urgency is a white supremacy value that can get in the way of more intentional and thoughtful work, and we want to attend to this dynamic. Therefore, we will reach out at a later date to reschedule.” To see the full context of this email, a screenshot can be viewed here.

Most likely, the schedule for this engagement process felt rushed, and the manager wanted to give participants more time to prepare. Canceling a meeting is not inherently wrong.

But to say that urgency itself is inherently wrong, that it “is a white supremacy value,” implying that urgency is for racists, that is absurd. Ironically such a statement itself can be interpreted as racist. Someone who is not white might take that as a reference to a stereotype of not being on time.

How could someone working at a state agency so focused on DEI essentially come full circle and make racial pronouncements about something so mundane as following through on a planned meeting? The answer is that this is what happens when people jump on bandwagons, doing what is fashionable, without thinking.

Real inclusiveness requires thinking. An organization that wants to be more inclusive just needs to think about how it can deliver services more effectively to more people. That doesn’t require double-speaking ideology. It just takes good judgment and goodwill.

Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there