What’s It Like Being The Only [Fill In The Blank]?

Diversity and inclusion is stuck in a rut. Well-meaning people know that representation is important, but they don’t always know what to do beyond that. The result is “women’s panels” and “diversity panels” wherein the only thing discussed is women or diversity, respectively. While I can’t speak for anyone else, I know I am exhausted by this.

This was probably a great idea for a panel/story/whatever the first time, but after that it seems like maybe we could have moved on to something else?

Whenever I am asked to host a women’s panel, I always ask my panelists what they would like to talk about first. More often than not, I hear “anything but what it’s like being a woman.”

Part of my frustration comes from the fact that beverage alcohol isn’t really a man’s world. The alembic still was invented by a Jewish woman in Alexandria. Hopping beer to preserve it beyond a day or two was the idea of a nun in Europe. The Old Testament of the Christian Bible, the Torah if you are Jewish, talks about women being brewers. You can learn more about this and more from Mallory O’Meara’s Girly Drinks.

But if we really want to get technical here, what we should be talking about in all these women’s panels and diversity panels is that our history was stolen from us, how to be more mindful of representation, how to tell stories authentically, why glorifying murderers and genocide maybe isn’t the best marketing plan, that diversity is good for business, and that we are stronger when we work together. And it shouldn’t fall to women, people of color, or whoever is the subject of the discussion to do all the intellectual heavy lifting.

My friend Jack Beguedou Le Togolais, better known as The Hood Sommelier, once posted a picture of himself wearing a t-shirt that said, “A Black Man Taught Jack Daniel How To Distill.” We all know the story of Nearest Green by now thanks to the good work of Fawn Weaver and the rest of the Uncle Nearest team. But something about that proclamation centers on the history that was largely forgotten or ignored until now.

People like to complain about historical revisionism, as though it is a thing that is not supposed to happen or that it is sinister in nature. In point of fact, revisionism is supposed to happen when new evidence is brought to light. That’s literally what historians do. “History is written by the winners” is not a cheeky saying about how that’s the right way to do things. It’s a cautionary tale that pushes us to dig deeper.

I find myself growing disillusioned by the practice of reciting talking points at each other instead of engaging in good-faith debate. To be clear, no one owes you a debate, particularly when you are engaging from a place of power imbalance, lack of facts, and a profound misunderstanding of the rules of logical arguments.

But if you truly want to know what it’s like being a woman in a man’s world, it’s constantly being asked how excited I must be to be in the first cohort of women to ever participate in an industry that was built by women while watching my Black colleagues be asked what it’s like to finally participate in an industry that was also built by their ancestors. Cue internal screaming gif.

It’s being told diversity is important but watching the structure of racism/sexism/classism be maintained because the people in power just can’t see the structure and challenging it is a challenge to their unquestioned beliefs. Screaming gif intensifies.

There is a concept in philosophy known as living a well-examined life. Functionally, it means that when you are confronted with new evidence about your beliefs you have to consider it in good faith and see whether you can still hold those original beliefs. It’s hard, and it gets harder the more entrenched you become in an echo chamber. My actual greatest fear in life is the day I stop being able or wanting to learn new things, and to that end, I truly cringe when I hear the phrase, “like-minded.”

I could actually stop learning new things and my life would change very little. This is called privilege. I could have a relatively comfortable life if I could close my eyes to the completely unnecessary bullshit in this world.

I remember learning about intersectional feminism in college and believing, strongly and for a long time, that it was a ruse to give us each too many things to worry about to ever accomplish anything. I also used to be a TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) until I actually took the time to unpack what it means to be trans. As life experience kicked in and I saw repeatedly the structure reveal itself in flashes like glitches in the Matrix, I realized it was all the same structure. What’s more, I was giving it more weight in my personal beliefs than it had earned.

A simple explanation of existentialism a college professor once gave was when you wake up one day and decide to take all the money in your wallet and board the bus for as far away as the cash in your hand can take you. When you start to question the structure holding you to your life, particularly when it comes to decisions that were made long before you were ever born, the structure starts to reveal itself. If you can see the structure, you can question the structure.

If you can’t see the structure, there is a simple remedy. When people tell you they are experiencing the structure, believe them. They know far more about their own lived experiences than you do. You don’t have to understand to offer support, but it helps to try.

And when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the spirits industry and beyond, we have to acknowledge that structural inequality exists and that working to dismantle it is the only way forward, particularly if we don’t want future generations to inherit problems that could have been solved generations ago if people could have just acted in good faith. Looking at you, segregated schools.

There’s a great quote I saw about recycling several years ago, but I can’t remember where it was from. It said something to the effect of we don’t need 10% of people recycling perfectly, we need 100% of people recycling imperfectly. The same goes for diversity and inclusion. We don’t need 10% of people doing DEI perfectly, we need 100% of people doing it imperfectly, acting in good faith, examining new information, and acknowledging that the structure exists, even if they can’t see it.

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