Sunday Commentary: Davis Commissions Really Do Need More Diversity

By David M. Greenwald

Much of the discussion from Tuesday focused on the issue of whether the council’s selections or non-selections of commissioners were in retribution for opposition to Measure B.  But lost in that discussion was the stated goal of Councilmember Dan Carson along with Mayor Gloria Partida to recruit a more diverse pool of commissioners and then appoint them.

According to Councilmember Dan Carson’s count: of the 23 new commissioners being recommended are six people of color, 11 women, and five students.  That’s a good start.

I have often marveled at the wealth of talent Davis has. People come up who have put in applications with tremendous credentials that blow you away. But even more so than the normal population of Davis, that population skews white.

I don’t have an exact count of the racial/ethnic breakdown of the commissions, but my observation is that they are heavily white.  Looking at a few: Planning was all white, six of the seven regular members of Finance and Budget were white, even more equity-oriented commissions like Social Services (five of seven), HRC (all), and Police (six of eight) were heavily white.

The Davis Police Accountability Commission had just two people of color—Dillan Horton and Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald.  That is a group that is charged with dealing with issues of racial equity where one of the major complaints about the police is biased policing and people of color experience a disproportionate impact.

This is not a new problem. In 2011, I attended the city’s MLK Day event for the first time in several years. I was stunned to see it nearly all white at the event. The Black community, which used to come out in numbers, was gone for the most part.

That gave me the incentive to get on the HRC to attempt to reinvigorate things. During my seven years on that commission, one of the things I worked hard to try to do was get more people of color to apply. We were able to get a few—like Gloria Partida. But it was a struggle.

Before Tuesday, the membership, filled with a lot of great people, was nevertheless white.  Thus it was good to see NJ Mvondo, who has served on the Vanguard board for several years, get an appointment to the HRC.  She has been heavily involved in working on behalf of Black lives.

But of course, six people of color out of 23 new appointments is just a start.

Gloria Partida, who also served on the subcommittee, said,  “The city has a treasure trove of qualified people to serve on commission—and it’s always difficult to choose from this qualified group of people.”

She reiterated Councilmember Carson’s point: “This year we made a concerted effort to cast a very wide net in recruitment of commissioners.  We were successful in recruiting a very large and diverse group of applicants.

“I think that it’s important to open the door to people who are underrepresented,” she said.  “People at the margins of our community have a hard time seeing themselves reflected in even the most mundane city activities.”

The goals of diversity are laudable. But invariably, such calls reverberate back to the notion that inclusion also means exclusion of white voices. I don’t see it that way. I think for too long we have excluded qualified people of color from jobs, educational opportunities, and civic engagement. Opening doors for more people does not close doors for others.

This week, I came across a quote from Stephen Jay Gould: “I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.

The first part of that quote quite obviously refers to the pseudo-scientific backing of racial notions of brain size.  It is the second part that really stands out—we have most likely wasted huge amounts of talent by consigning people to menial jobs without assessing their actual talent.

We hear people say, (more?) qualified white people get denied when we open the doors to people of color.  But who is to say they are more qualified, and is qualification merely the embedded construct of structural racism?

Underrepresented groups face a tougher path, in many cases, to educational and professional achievement, and exclusion therefore becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  At some point, we have to open the doors.

Diversity is misunderstood.  Diversity in the workplace, according to one source, “refers to an organization that intentionally employs a workforce comprised of individuals of varying gender, religion, race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education, and other attributes.”

Unfortunately, we cannot reach a diverse workforce or set of commissioners by continuing the same practices that created the current arrangement.

That is the point that Martin Luther King makes in his 1967 work, “Where Do We Go From Here.”

King is often quoted out of context as opposing things like affirmative action by pulling from his “I Have a Dream Speech.”

He eloquently stated, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

But that was an aspirational goal.  To get there, he believed that we had to affirmatively act to make that dream a reality.

In his 1967 work, he wrote, “It is, however, important to understand that giving a man his due may often mean giving him special treatment. I am aware of the fact that this has been a troublesome concept for many liberals, since it conflicts with their traditional ideal of equal opportunity and equal treatment of people according to their individual merits.

“But this is a day which demands new thinking and the reevaluation of old concepts. A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for him, in order to equip him to compete on a just and equal basis.”

King recognized that business as usual was not enough to level the playing field.  We had to make affirmative changes to our workforce, our education system, and our commission bodies.

The council took the first step this week. It was a modest one. Even that ruffled feathers. There is more work to be done.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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36 Comments

  1. Keith Olsen

    “It is, however, important to understand that giving a man his due may often mean giving him special treatment. I am aware of the fact that this has been a troublesome concept for many liberals, since it conflicts with their traditional ideal of equal opportunity and equal treatment of people according to their individual merits.

    I think that’s more of a traditional conservative view as liberals/progressives have a history of viewing and treating people differently based on their race or color.

     

    1. Jacob Derin

      These terms are confusing in American politics because “liberal” and “left-wing” have the same meaning here. This makes conversations about political history much harder because of the philosophical and political history of liberalism in contrast to left-wing politics. Far-left politics is explicitly anti-liberal (a la Stalin, Mao, the Kim Dynasty, etc.) and many American right-wingers draw from the intellectual history of Western liberalism (in the tradition of John Locke).

      Liberalism is, of course, interested in people’s liberty and the rights they inherit by virtue of their humanity. This is where liberalism begins to conflict with left-wing politics, and where King’s statement becomes relevant. Pure liberalism would be truly race-blind, whereas left-wing politics is explicitly class and race-conscious.

      The affirmative action debate is, I think, a reflection of this fundamental contradiction in American politics between the neutrality of liberal analysis towards things like race and sexuality and the empathy of left-wing politics with the oppressed.

      I must say that I share King’s hesitance concerning the “traditional ideal of equal opportunity and equal treatment of people according to their individual merits.” I really do think that race shouldn’t factor into hiring decisions (except under obvious extenuating circumstances such as needing a white actor to play, for instance, a Nazi soldier; it would be quite strange for a Black man to play a soldier in the Wehrmacht). We want people who are good at their jobs, and as you point out, racism is a clear barrier to that goal. There are many talented people who are in a racial minority. Despite a century of argument in psychology to the contrary, there’s just no convincing evidence that your race says anything useful about your ability to perform at the highest levels. We should look for good councilmen/women, not white, Black or Asian ones.

      1. Keith Olsen

        whereas left-wing politics is explicitly class and race-conscious.

        So is this article advocating for “left-wing politics” with its narrative of selecting according to race?

        We should look for good councilmen/women, not white, Black or Asian ones.

        I fully agree.

        1. David Greenwald

          Part of the problem here is that promoting diversity automatically becomes “selecting according to race” which invariably leaves us in the place where you are advocating the continuation of the status quo.

      2. Eric Gelber

        We should look for good councilmen/women, not white, Black or Asian ones.

        These are not mutually exclusive criteria.

        Diversity of representation on advisory and decision-making bodies based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc. will no longer be a necessity when these characteristics cease to be the bases for societal inequities, disparities, and discrimination in such areas as access to jobs, housing, healthcare, education, and application of criminal justice. Until then, we must make efforts to ensure that impacted groups have a seat at the table. (“Nothing about us without us.”) And no, not every group can be represented on every body; but that’s no excuse for doing nothing.

        1. Don Shor

          Just getting diversity to be a consideration has been a challenge.

          If one is on a selection panel for applicants for a commission, there would be a number of informal points to consider. One of those on the checklist might be ‘does this candidate bring a unique or under-represented viewpoint to this commission’ in a manner that is relevant to that commission’s work. That would be one of a number of considerations, along with their credentials, volunteer activities, ability to work in groups effectively, how they perform in the interview process, and more.

          It won’t necessarily be the only or even the primary consideration, but it will be on the checklist. Sometimes the other factors would outweigh that perspective factor, and sometimes it might be the deciding factor between two finalists who are otherwise nearly equal. And a lot of this is subjective. So there is no quota, not even a specific goal, just a conscious decision that the process will consider those factors and outcomes in a manner that it didn’t in the past.

          I think that economic background could be a really useful consideration. Having more renters on some of these commissions could provide a very useful perspective. That is my subjective consideration.

        2. Ron Oertel

          One of those on the checklist might be ‘does this candidate bring a unique or under-represented viewpoint to this commission’ in a manner that is relevant to that commission’s work.

          If the “unique viewpoint” is based upon factors such as skin color, this would be (both) an erroneous and discriminatory criteria.

          I do recall, for example, an African-American speaker at the council some time ago, who said that he had no problems with the police.  (Something to that effect.)

          Reminds me of the (secret?) criteria that universities (reportedly/allegedly?) use, to get-around the barring of affirmative action. While in effect, implementing affirmative action.

        3. Jacob Derin

          These are not mutually exclusive criteria.

          I never said that they were. There’s a difference between claiming that two criteria are mutually exclusive and claiming that one of them should be irrelevant to hiring decisions.

          There are strong arguments on the other side, and I’m sympathetic to them, but I guess I can’t get over my initial liberal rejection of using race in hiring decisions.

        4. Eric Gelber

          I can’t get over my initial liberal rejection of using race in hiring decisions.

          There’s a difference between using race, etc. to exclude or otherwise discriminate against racial and other historically disadvantaged groups in employment, and using race as a relevant factor to promote diversity in a workforce or representation on an advisory or policy making body.

          Race isn’t just a matter of skin color. It carries with it experiences and perspectives resulting from historical and ongoing societal discrimination that should be but otherwise would not be represented.

        5. Jacob Derin

          There’s a difference between using race, etc. to exclude or otherwise discriminate against racial and other historically disadvantaged groups in employment, and using race as a relevant factor to promote diversity in a workforce or representation on an advisory or policy making body.

          There certainly is a difference, but even positive discrimination is still discrimination. The point about bringing another perspective to the table is a good one, and I don’t discount it, but to me it just doesn’t overcome the inherent unpleasantness of using the variable of race to make hiring decisions.

          One point I might make to this is that I often hear people, particularly well-meaning self-described “progressives” saying things like: “Why did the Latino community turn out in support of Trump in Florida?” This is kind of funny to me, because it’s such a vague question. The “Latino community” is made up of millions of individual people — men, women and children who have experiences as diverse as any other group of people. There are many ex-Cubans in Florida who still remember the violence of the Castro regime and are particularly sensitive to any discussion of socialism or communism. Many of them were targeted by foreign governments for propaganda campaigns which accused Biden of being a socialist, and it probably worked.

          There’s no way to guarantee what perspective you’re going to get if you hire somebody of a given race. Race tells you almost nothing interesting about another human being. (Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t tell you anything. You’re going to want to know somebody’s racial background when screening for genetic diseases, for instance, but that’s hardly relevant here).

  2. Alan Miller

    I don’t have an exact count of the racial/ethnic breakdown of the commissions, but my observation is that they are heavily white.

    I demand an exact count before this discussion continues.

    Planning was all white, six of the seven regular members of Finance and Budget were white, even more equity-oriented commissions like Social Services (five of seven), HRC (all), and Police (six of eight) were heavily white.

    Careful – remember when you ‘mis-ethnicked’ a member of the school board and accidently #gasp!# labeled them as ‘white’.

    And how many Jews are on commissions?  Inquiring Jews want to know.

    And . . . do people get to pick their ethnic identity like they get to pick their sex?  If so, all your assumptions may be wrong – who are you to judge who is white?

    And what if in your judgement call of someone as ‘white’, we later discover that they are a percentage ‘not white’ ?

    Judge whiteness lest ye be judged white———ISH.

  3. Ron Oertel

    I think for too long we have excluded qualified people of color from jobs, educational opportunities, and civic engagement.

    Actually, “we” haven’t. In fact, that’s been illegal for decades, at a minimum.

    Opening doors for more people does not close doors for others.

    Actually, it does.  This is a fact, not an opinion (e.g., when openings are limited).  You have three examples of that right now.  Four, if you include Kelsey. Of course, the allegation is that they were excluded for reasons other than skin color.

    In any case, it’s not difficult to see how “diversity” can be used to cover-up nefarious goals.

    By the way, it’s odd when you start counting the number of women and students, in the “minority” category.

    It’s also odd to lump all “people of color” into one category. Actually, it’s straight-out b.s.

    There’s a reason that the affirmative action proposition failed, and it wasn’t entirely due to “white” opposition. (I think that the failure of that proposition shocked some people.)

     

    1. Eric Gelber

       
      Article: for too long we have excluded qualified people of color from jobs, educational opportunities, and civic engagement.

      Ron: Actually, “we” haven’t. In fact, that’s been illegal for decades, at a minimum.

      Ron – Thanks for reminding us that discrimination and exclusion ceased to exist with the enactment of civil rights laws. It’ll be a real time saver.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Eric:  Show some evidence regarding how “discrimination and exclusion” is a factor regarding political appointments in Davis.

        (Other than discrimination/exclusion based upon political opposition to a favored development proposal, for example.  Or, support for continued “whiteness” and “oldness” of the community itself via the Davis buyer’s program – of which people like Gloria apparently supported.)

        1. Eric Gelber

          Show some evidence regarding how “discrimination and exclusion” is a factor regarding political appointments in Davis.

          Not all discrimination is intentional. Turning a blind eye to the lack of diversity, or the failure to establish policies to promote diversity is a form of discrimination, through neglect. The historical data on the composition of advisory commissions is evidence.

          Here’s an interesting article on the significance of diversity in the context of corporate boards: https://hbr.org/2020/08/why-do-boards-have-so-few-black-directors

           

        2. Richard McCann

          Discrimination is shown through statistical analysis, not criminal or civil proceedings against individuals. The statistics are overwhelming. The discrimination doesn’t occur through a single action–it’s an accumulation of decisions over time. For example, we don’t see Blacks with advanced degrees which are typical for those on several of the commissions because our education system throws up numerous barriers along the way that cause Blacks to drop off the educational path along the way. The City is left in the end with few or no candidates. That’s a result of discrimination. And because we are a representative democracy that allocates resources through our votes, we are all responsible for this discrimination.

        3. Ron Oertel

          because our education system throws up numerous barriers along the way that cause Blacks to drop off the educational path along the way.

          What “barriers” are those?

          Financial aid, for example, is usually available for those who need it. Which, I would assume may be disproportionately minorities. (Probably more African-Americans, than other groups.)

  4. Bill Marshall

    Was thinking I’d sit this one out, but it is getting ‘too delicious’…

    So, a white guy (author) goes for a commission positio and serves for seven years, to promote diversity… got it…

    And the graphic he uses shows only the female images “have hearts”… priceless…

      1. Bill Marshall

        Well, Eric, will assume you meant that as a ‘fair question’, so my response assumes that…

        Skirts… you will see those as ‘universal’ logos on bathrooms in public places… (as a person of Scot ancestry, kilts on males don’t stick out that much… hence the question of what are Scot males wearing under their kilts… if they stuck out that much, we’d all know)…

        I am on the liberal side of moderate, but don’t wear skirts… my bad, perhaps, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it… your assumption is strange.

  5. Ron Oertel

    During my seven years on that commission, one of the things I worked hard to try to do was get more people of color to apply. We were able to get a few—like Gloria Partida. 

    Thus it was good to see NJ Mvondo, who has served on the Vanguard board for several years, get an appointment to the HRC.  She has been heavily involved in working on behalf of Black lives.

    How does that work, when non-profits are prohibited from advocacy for a candidate?

    For example, if/when you’re on a commission, as noted in the article?

      1. Ron Oertel

        They are in fact “candidates”, though I don’t know if the IRS rules cover that type of candidate. Nevertheless, a commission appointment apparently functions as a “springboard” for further candidacies, as well.

        Gloria Partida was definitely a candidate under the rules.  As was Robb Davis, Dillan Horton, Cecilia, etc.

        As was the DA race.

        1. Richard McCann

          You’re interpreting the IRS rule MUCH too broadly. The rule is based on a percentage of time and resources that go towards advocacy. Many non profits advocate for a wide range of issues.

        2. Ron Oertel

          I don’t need to interpret it:

          Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.  Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.

          https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/charitable-organizations/the-restriction-of-political-campaign-intervention-by-section-501c3-tax-exempt-organizations#:~:text=Under%20the%20Internal%20Revenue%20Code,candidate%20for%20elective%20public%20office.

  6. Matt Williams

    I don’t have an exact count of the racial/ethnic breakdown of the commissions, but my observation is that they are heavily white.  Looking at a few: Planning was all white, six of the seven regular members of Finance and Budget were white, even more equity-oriented commissions like Social Services (five of seven), HRC (all), and Police (six of eight) were heavily white.

    I went back to the July 9th 2019 Commission appointments.  There were ten applicants, nine of whom were white.  The Council appointed three white applicants and one non-white applicant.  How could Council have improved on that?  The prior appointments were on December 4th 2018 with eight applicants, all of whom were white.  It is hard to achieve diversity when the applicant pool is not diverse.

    The December 4th 2018 applicant pool for the Planning Commission was eleven in number, and eleven were white.

    Regarding the PAC the graphic below shows the December 4th 2018 appointments highlighted in green and the preple who didn’t get appointed unhighlighted (in white).  What was the “color” makeup of the 12 who didn’t get appointed?

    https://www.davisvanguard.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Screen-Shot-2020-12-06-at-10.03.22-PM.png

    1. Bill Marshall

       It is hard to achieve diversity when the applicant pool is not diverse.

      We could institute ‘the draft’, with obligation to serve!  [tongue fully in cheek… your point is taken… gets to an old ‘saw’, “what if they gave a war and nobody came?”…]

  7. Bill Marshall

    In today’s Bee, there is a call for “increased diversity”, where the Bee editorial Boad ‘demands’ that a woman be appointed as Senator to fill Kamala Harris’ incomplete term… they point out that since 1992, both senators from California have been women… and insist that should continue… 38 years of only female senators, in a State that has about 50% males…

    They note that both Black (to preserve Harris’ identification) and Latinx groups insist it should be either a Black or Latina woman… they use the arguments that from 1850 to present, CA has had few women Senators (ignoring that until 1920 there were no women voters), and that CA needs to make up for the US deficit of women and POC folk…

    Newsom ‘got a pass’… Becerra as been named to Biden’s cabinet, so he doesn’t have to deal with a male ‘POC’ prospect… but he still needs to deal with the ‘tension’ of Blacks, Latinix “interests”… obviously, no one of any race/gender can understand/represent the needs/issues that affect other genders/races/orientaions/students/seniors/working families, etc., etc., etc.

    It is what it is… still find it interesting that a white guy (author) applied for, and got a Commission appointment, served for 7 years, to promote “diversity”…

    I do not fear diversity… it is indeed good… in context of otherwise somewhat equal choices… voters will do what voters will do… that is, arguably, representing ‘diversity’… not so much with the fiat of appointees… in employment decisions, when I had influence on who got chosen, I went with qualifications, “works and plays well with others”, folk that I could depend on to challenge me if I was doing a “stupid”… almost all were female, a few were POC.

    So yeah, I’m a flaming white, privileged, male bigot, in the eyes of some on here… and yes Eric, feel free to tell me I “don’t understand”…

  8. Ron Glick

    I’ve never been big on identity politics and diversity for diversity sake makes little sense. As Thurgood Marshall said when asked about Clarence Thomas “A black snake can bite you just as hard as a white snake.”

    That being said there are places among our commissions where greater diversity is justifiable. I can think of at least three examples. Obviously the Police Accountability and Human Relations Commissions should have representatives  from diverse backgrounds. (That the functions of the two commissions could be combined into a single body seems obvious but that is besides the point.)  As an old white guy my experience with the Davis Police is completely different from the complaints I hear from other voices in the community. Those voices need to be heard.

    Another less obvious place where diverse voices are needed is on the Planning Commission. With, as Matt Williams points out above, an all white Planning Commission an obvious question arises as to whether they represent the diverse voices in our community. Davis has a long history of exclusion in housing but the descendants of the victims of those policies aren’t represented in our planning process on the PC. Some recent votes at the Planning Commission that were overturned by the City Council call into question if the lack of diversity on the PC is providing the community with a representative enough perspective.

    1. Eric Gelber

      Ron – Diversity focuses on more than race/ethnicity (e.g., gender, sexual orientation, disability). Diversity of representation should be a goal for all commissions. But if we’re prioritizing, I’d add at least the following, where the perspectives and experiences of racial minorities and other historically underrepresented groups are important to the issues addressed: Bicycling, Transportation, and Street Safety; Finance and Budget; Senior Citizens; and Social Services Commissions.

  9. Alan Miller

    the descendants of the victims of those policies aren’t represented in our planning process on the PC.

    the descendants of the victims of those policies aren’t well represented in our electorate either (see recent and recent-ish votes).

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