15 November, 2008

Inclusion vs exclusion

I am in America at the moment, and there has obviously been a lot of talk about President Elect Obama this whole week. The interesting and frustrating part of it for me has been the celebration of 'inclusion' that was evidenced by the election result. The election victory of Obama is a great example of democracy, and possibly even equality, but in my opinion it is not an example of inclusion. Why? Because inclusion has to do with attacking social structures that unintentionally (and sometimes intentionally) keep individuals and societies impoverished, disadvantaged or discriminated against. Inclusion is not a process of taking an individual out of the regular structure and placing them in better structure, so they have a better chance to succeed. For example, taking a child with a high aptitude out of a poor school and popping them into a high performing school is not a policy of inclusion. That’s actually exclusion, no matter how well intentioned. How? Because, by moving the student, you are determining that the poor school will not provide the same kind of opportunities as the wealthy school. As a consequence, you have just recognized that the children left in the poor school will be excluded from such privileged opportunities, no matter how hard they work. In my opinion, we should not ‘include’ people using methods of ‘exclusion’. And, in my opinion using positive methods of discrimination such as affirmative action only further compound the issues of exclusion. It’s not to say that the policy of positive discrimination cannot have a positive effect on and individual, or even a whole community. I am simply saying, that if we want to have everyone in our nations presented with an equal opportunity, then we can’t continue to do that through exclusive methods, or applaud exclusive methods as the success of a nation.

Why is it damaging for people to assume that the election was an example of inclusion? Why am I concerned enough about this to blog it? Because in some ways, this result actually sets us back! Because when people see a minority ‘making it’ to a highly sought and powerful position, they think ‘one got through so it must be possible for all!’ So why would we need to make any changes to our residual ineffective policies we have always used? When you complain about the restrictive welfare measures, and the ineffective public education system holding back those who are disenfranchised in our community, the response is likely to be met with comments like, ‘if you want to make it in life, you can. It just takes hard work. After all, didn’t that Obama make it?’ Oh dear…

Let me give you this quote;

"Poverty is not just a personal attribute; it arises out of the organization of society. Poverty in Australia is inseparable from inequalities firmly entrenched in our social structure. Inequalities of income and wealth reinforce and are reinforced by inequalities of educational provision, health standards and care, housing conditions and employment conditions and prospects" (Henderson, 1975)

Why is this relevant? It points out that poverty and future success are not completely up to the individual and their hard work. Poverty is a multi-dimensional, joined up disadvantage that can only be resolved by fixing all problems simultaneously. That’s why we talk about using and inclusion framework when we talk about transforming society. And that’s why we don’t (or rather shouldn’t) convict the poor with moral and social incompetence. For The Salvation Army, this understanding of inclusion is incredibly important. Being friendly, offering soup, temporary housing, detoxes etc, these are not examples of inclusion. They are not in and of themselves measures of inclusion. And affirmative action, like plucking women officers and putting them in high profile positions, are also not examples of inclusion. Inclusion requires a complete overhaul, and it will mean that you have to relinquish some of your power and wealth in the process. So let’s stop celebrating ONE person’s victory, and save our cake till a time when a minority succeeding is no longer an infrequent ‘event’ that calls for celebration.

Wow, another incoherent rant…sorry! While away I am blogging in a common lounge room, and listening to Oprah’s teary goodbye to her dead dog is not helping me focus on the task at hand!

Anyway, hope its enough to stir some thoughts. Whether you agree or whether you think I am a naïve academic, I just hope you do something toward justice this week.

PS Sorry for all the editing mistakes!

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