Photo courtesy of NYT Cooking | Staff Writer Ese Obrimah argues that the caf’s Jollof rice presentation is indication of a larger diversity issue within the organization’s employment practices.
Last Thursday, the Hoff Dining Commons served jollof rice for dinner. I was not at the caf that evening, but according to all of my African friends who were, the jollof rice did not bear any similarity to any form of jollof rice they had had in the past, whether Nigerian, Ghanaian or Senegalese (of which Nigerian is the best, but I digress). Xavier’s African Students Association (ASA) has been pushing the cafeteria to serve a greater variety of meals in order to cater to Xavier’s diverse student body and make international students feel more included on campus. Given Thursday night’s menu, it seemed like the Hoff Dining Commons had finally decided to listen.
Although they made an effort to be more diverse, they failed to be inclusive because it was very clear that there was not someone from a country where jollof rice is a cultural meal involved in the making of the dish.
This is an unfortunate metaphor for what diversity currently looks like in the United States. Organizations hire more People of Color (PoC) in a bid to ensure that they have a diverse workforce, but do not put in place any measures to ensure that the work environment is conducive to everyone’s success.
Diversity is treated like a box to be checked or something cool to claim you do rather than an intentional practice. It is harmful to PoC to invite us into spaces where we will experience discrimination and oppression just to make yourself look or feel good. Even if your intentions were to create a diverse space, by not ensuring the space is inclusive, you are still perpetuating an oppressive system.
Intentional diversity does not exist without inclusivity. It is not enough to allow PoC into formerly-exclusive spaces. Efforts need to be made to transform the space into an environment where PoC not only feel comfortable but also have the resources to excel.
Other issues with how diversity are practiced today is White people deciding to plan cultural events without involving people from different cultures and the idea that simply showing up to cultural events makes you an expert on issues pertaining to diversity. Planning African-, Asian- or Latinx-themed events, even for educational purposes, without involving people from those regions leaves room for others to misrepresent and exoticize people’s cultures which perpetuates harmful stereotypes.
On the flip side of that, simply attending a cultural event does not make you an expert on the culture and does not give you permission to replicate the event. Just because you’ve attended an ASA Gala doesn’t mean you are now versed on the complexities of being African on the continent and in America, especially if the gala is the only interaction you have with African culture.
This is not to discourage people from learning about other cultures. This is saying that you need to do the work and not try to take the easy way out.
Attend an ASA, Black Students Association or Muslim Students Association meetings when there are discussions about issues and not just when they have snacks or are doing fun activities. While doing this, keep in mind that it is not anyone’s job to make you “woke.” Affinity groups have the right to protect themselves from the emotional exhaustion that comes with having to explain the issues that affect them. You have to put in the effort. Do your research, read the books and go to educational events.
It’s easy to invite people into a space, it’s easy to attend cool events and it’s easy to host cool events. What’s hard is doing the work to ensure that you do not take advantage of PoC in your effort to be diverse. So, work to transform spaces, educate yourself and your peers, push yourself to engage in difficult conversations and don’t cook jollof rice without consulting any West Africans.
Ese Obrimah is a senior marketing major and staff writer for the Newswire from Lagos, Nigeria.