Diversity, outgroups and hate

Alastair Somerville
4 min readJun 30, 2018

I talk about diversity a lot in workshops and this is odd because I’m a 50 year old White British Man.

I’m highly aware that there are a lot of issues with this: colonial thinking and cultural appropriation come high on that list.

However, I am trying to do something specific (and I am writing this post to explain what that is).

White men need diversity

In this period of Trump and Brexit, there is a hardening of identity amongst white men.

At the exact point in time when any stable idea of white maleness should be collapsing and thrown out of the window, it is become stronger.

Less resilient, more brittle but stronger.

That brittleness is what demands more violence. It demands more hate to maintain itself.

It is in this failure of identity and diversity that I hope I can work. It is about that failure of whiteness and maleness to accept the diversity that lies within itself and to stop the rebuilding of walls of hatred towards an Other.

Diversity within

One of the greatest barriers to diversity work is when it identifies diversity as being in other people but not the group it is talking to. There is that dreadful sense of failure when people talk of Multiculturalism as though it is only about other people, immigrants generally, not the whole mixture of a society.

I use the following phrase a lot and I am aware that it is tricky (from feedback and conversations).

Understand your diversity to design for everyone’s diversity

This is the core to how I design and run workshops. I use experiential learning to push people to recognise how they don’t have a unitary way of sensing, feeling and understanding. It all shifts around in time and place and social setting. There are personal preferences but a lot just moves around as needed. This adaptation is quite human but is often invisible to people because we have a bias to thinking of ourselves as stable over time (which is why we either forget or self-justify our previous decisions and behaviours so much).

I need to extend the sense of comfort of people that they are diverse within themselves.

If I can help people feel content that their own sense of personal identity is much broader and changeable than they imagined then I can help them see how edge cases and out groups are not Others, not Out Groups, not to be feared and hated.

Diversity within is to break the idea that white maleness is something that must be clung to and defended thru violence against the Other.

Diversity without

So I don’t and can’t speak for people who are not me. I cannot speak for people with different life experiences, cultural experiences, physical experiences and I should not.

The best training I received on facilitation was from a Gloucestershire charity called the Barnwood Trust. It is a charity for people with learning disabilities. The training was mostly about how to help empower and de-power a mixture of people with wildly different levels of privilege and experience.

It is a way of working to create spaces and places for everyone to talk and be valued. Techniques to get people to shut up and listen is a valid goal when there are systematic social and cultural biases in play.

I cannot speak for the diversity of other groups of people but I can try to create places where it is possible.

No edge cases, no others

That’s really all there is to say here.

I don’t talk about diversity in terms of experiences I don’t have.

I do talk of diversity to people who don’t imagine it’s relevant to them. The poisonous ideal of the white male with all its violence and dislike of what it is not needs to die. I try to extend people’s ideas of what they are themselves as the way in which I can, hopefully, help.

I do try to enable diversity in places I workshop at but there are many, many layers of privilege that exist around that.

What I most try to do now is eliminate ideas of edge cases and Others. By extending the sense of what it is to be human. By being explicit about the value of diversity and divergence, I hope people accept their own experiences, the behaviours of everyone and see more of the wonder in all of us.

I try. I fail. I wrote this so you understand what I’m trying to do.



Alastair Somerville

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. www.linkedin.com/in/alastair-somerville-b48b368 Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX