diversity, inclusion

Living in a World Where Everyone Belongs

This week’s ruling from the Supreme Court finding that Abercrombie & Fitch discriminated against Samantha Elauf for refusing to hire her because she wears a headscarf brought to mind, once again, the words of now-former CEO Mike Jeffries:  “Some people don’t belong in our clothes, and they can’t belong.”  In Jeffries’ world, if you’re white, young, and good-looking, you have the very best life has to offer; if you don’t  — well, it sucks to be you.

samantha-elauf-abercrombie-religious-discriminationThe reaction to Jeffries’ 2006 comments, at that time, was a storm of controversy.  The company came under fire for its refusal, until recently, to produce women’s clothing in large sizes, and for relegating older or minority workers to roles in the back of the store, out of the sight of customers.  There was a flood of criticism over Jeffries’ blatant intolerance and small-mindedness.  One man even went so far as to give A&F clothes away to homeless people in Los Angeles.

The ugliness inherent in the belief that some people belong and others don’t is what gives rise to much crime, poverty, and social and psychological stigma.  As a citizen of the world, I cringe at the very thought that some people deserve to have no place in a city or community.  But as a coach, I’m much more interested in addressing the internalized beliefs that hold people back — those mindsets that cause the “not so cool kids” to believe people like Jeffries, and to look for acceptance in a pair of pants or a t-shirt.  I’m angered and outraged by attitudes like Jeffries’, and I’m saddened when those craving acceptance jump through the hoops set in front of them; or, worse, even when accepted, proceed to turn around and exclude others in their turn.

The worst thing about the elitist mindset is that is makes people believe that the coolest party is always somewhere else — the next club, the next beach, that other frat house.  That it’s never where you are.  That in order to have fun or reach your life’s goals, you need the approval of some other group of people — the “cool kids” — and, without that, life isn’t worth living.

I’m here to tell you, for those who don’t believe in themselves, who don’t see their own value, or who think they need the approval of others:  The party is where you are.  Always has been, always will be.

The party is wherever you are.  Whoever you are.  Whatever social situation you’re in, if you think you need to be someone else in order to be accepted, you don’t know your value — yet.  There is some part of you that’s unique, that has something to offer to others that no one else can offer, and it’s your sacred duty, as a human being, to find that part of you, and to consciously offer it as a gift.

I know this because I’ve been at both ends of the “cool kids” continuum; I’ve been both an outcast and a cool kid.  And the ugly truth is that even the coolest of the cool kids feel that they need to find acceptance somewhere else.  There’s just as much loneliness and uncertainty in the elite groups as anywhere else.  There is no “in group”, except in your mind.

Increasingly, marketers who don’t understand this principle are going to have a hard time.  A&F was on the wrong side of this issue.  Sales have been declining for years, and I believe it won’t be long before A&F as a brand becomes history.  All of us offer value; all of us deserve a place in our communities.

Let me know how I can support you in your efforts to claim your place in the world.


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