Vocabulary Changes

If we live long enough in interesting times, we will likely experience changes in our language’s vocabulary.  Maybe different definitions for the same or similar words, new words replacing currently accepted ones or, my personal favorite, dialogues so obfuscated with acronyms and protocol that we’re not exactly sure what we might be talking about.

We’re thinking about changing our SDMWVLGBTBE (Small Disadvantaged or Disabled, Minority, Women, Veteran, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered Business Enterprise) acronym to SDMWVLGBTQBE because the community itself is reclaiming the descriptor queer.  A shorter acronym might make it easier to communicate.  When the program began it was called the “Minority Business Enterprise”, or MBE in late 1970s. Every few years another term was added, so we just made our acronym a little longer.  The general term slung about for years was MWBE. As our universe grew, Americans expanded diverse vocabulary so far that most US minorities are now lumped into the phrase “people of color”. What a good trade! Now we don’t have to separately introduce each sub-group: “African American, Hispanic American, Asian American, Native American, Sub-continent Asian American or Pacific Islanders” every time.  Of course, some of us did sit-ins and marches in support of our friends “of color” before our “African American” friends chose to raise their “Black is Beautiful” fists in the face of people who called them “colored” from the sidelines.  The vocabulary word color as it relates to people just came full circle for me in about 40 years.

So, my observation may seem irrelevant or perhaps unkind or worse, racist. But it is what I thought about after reading comments, LinkedIn posts and articles on intersectionality over the weekend. According to Webster’s definition: “intersectionality is the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups”.  In Canada’s Supreme Court rulings they “… have started to acknowledge the need to make special provision for discrimination based on multiple grounds and to recognize the social, economic and historical context in which it takes place.” While we understood the words in these sentences, how we apply the concepts remained somewhat murky, especially because the Canadian article referenced an increase in dissenting opinions. Ultimately, I discovered Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw’s Mapping the Margins paper. It helped me realize the task of relating to each other is far more complicated because of the unique individual experiences one brings to the conversation.  I will never fully understand the reality of growing up in a middle class African American home, nor will my friend understand the reality of a mobility disability (until she acquires one, which I hope never happens). Crenshaw’s article makes me aware that we, none of us, share the same levels of discrimination.  Discrimination that is actually the root of diversity certification and supplier diversity programs.

So what are we SDMWVLGBTQ business owners supposed to do with this kind of information? Personally, acknowledge that we all have unique stories.  When we write the narrative about our social and economic disadvantages for the SBA’s 8(a) program, it will be highly subjective.  These are the singular experiences of an individual over his or her lifetime.  There will be many reasons someone was unable to play golf at the country club with the people making deals.  Gender, race, class, disability or maybe two of them or even all four combined.  When we certify our businesses as diverse, we need to understand that though we all fall under the diverse label the paths we took to get here were likely quite different.

At our office we like to think of the diverse business community as family, people we want to help lift up in the idea of commerce for all. While we might want to know your story, our real goal is to partner with other diverse businesses so we can all grow.