Donald Sterling's Lessons For Digital Excellence Advocates

Donald Sterling's Lessons For Digital Excellence Advocates

With Donald Sterling’s recent comments leading to banning (and possible removal) from the NBA, discussions around diversity, racism, and inclusion are prevalent. (It also helps that similar conversations are happening in the nerd/geek realm, thanks to two Chicago Nerd Social Club panels at C2E2). When discussing digital excellence – helping non-profits and underserved communities become more literate with technology – these issues become increasingly more prevalent, and need to be addressed. Although we have several key organizations focusing on digital excellence in Chicago communities, the conversation needs to happen.

(Content Warning: some articles linked in the following post contain information about  abusive and harmful situations. Caution is advised)

But why doesn’t it? Why are we only reactive with recent news, or when we have it recorded? For non-profits, social ventures, community groups, these should be at the forefront of our thinking. We should be having open, honest conversations – in a community like Chicago, where we have an extremely diverse pool within our fields, we seem to be lacking in open, honest conversation. This is not just limited to discussions of race and technology – issues around gender, sexuality, class, and age may be discussed, but those discussions aren’t happening out in the open. Sterling’s comments happened “behind closed doors”….and had they not been recorded, we never would have known. If we’re going to discuss issues around digital excellence, non-profits, and underserved communities, it needs to be inclusive, open, and transparent.

But why would anyone not want to discuss these issues? Or better yet – is this post only reaching those people who are like-minded, who are shaking their heads in agreement?

Part of the issue is that open, inclusive, and transparent conversations around diversity issues can be uncomfortable, because these issues are neither simple nor clear-cut.  Talking about them openly means facing our own personal biases and facing some uncomfortable truths. It means that when it comes to tech, we may not be as inclusive as we believe….and that means we become increasingly more accountable. Facing issues around sexism/racisim/name your own ism means calling attention and dealing with the aftermath. (One fine example – a female writer researching sexual harassment in the comics industry wrote a disparaging review of a comib book cover….and received anonymous threats as a response. Although the non-profit world might not have such an extreme reaction, there can be great reluctance to face issues and proceed, regardless of the consequences). 

But this is a blog about tech and non-profits, and thankfully, there are conversations and guidelines for helping non-profits become more inclusive on every level, including board leadershipprofessional/organizational functions, and various other levels. Digital excellence does not make us immune from considering such issues – after all, Donald Sterling worked with a diverse group of players, and still managed to hold some very inappropriate views). Working with diverse and  underserved communities means that we avoid stereotyping those communities, and that being inclusive is as much about looking at our own internalized attitudes and biases as we do external biases (including how media portrays issues of race and equality). It means that everyone is held accountable, and that honest and open discussion results in stronger communication, collaboration, and communication within and among various communities.

It also means being vigilant in avoiding digital, technological, and organizational “gatekeeping”. Recently, a colleague had expressed concerns that comments about gatekeeping might be undue criticism – that the non-profit field needs to be more unified and avoid internal and external conflicts. In a politically-driven city like Chicago, that might be a wise course of action….but an even wiser course is realizing one ultimate, simple truth:

Digital excellence is a basic human right, and that empowering all human beings with knowledge of the digital realm is an extremely most respectful, inclusive, and dignified strategy towards building communities. 

If there’s any key lesson that Donald Sterling teaches us, it’s that we can no longer simply claim “we’re diverse”. We need to be active, open, and inclusive – not just because our communities will benefit, or because it will allow us to look good….it’s because having such open conversations will allow us to stand the sunlight. We can honestly claim success in providing digital empowerment to our non-profits, social enterprises, and neighborhoods because it will be open, caring, and compassionate…and unlike Donald Sterling, we can honestly take the high road.

But what do you think? Please feel free to leave your comments below (and keep it civil – yes, this is a very heated topic, but we’re all grown adults). Please also feel free  to visit and join us on Facebook,  and my private contact information can be found on this blog’s About page.

As always, thanks for reading!

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