Croatians Excluded from Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

Their exclusion reveals DEI’s double standards, stereotypes, discrimination, and sophistry.

Hamza Kopanja, a 32-year-old Croatian-American, is excluded from diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, although by any definition of “minority” and “disadvantaged,” he fits the bill.*

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He can’t complain about the exclusion, however, because it would be seen in some quarters as proof that he is insensitive to the plight of people of color and maybe even racist.

Meanwhile, the same quarters see the plight of his people as irrelevant and unimportant, because they are deemed to have the wrong epidermis.  Those who make such prejudicial judgments see themselves as deep thinkers but are about as superficial as they come.

Who are Hamza’s people?  They’re victims of the Bosnian War.

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Hamza’s father was killed in 1994 in the war, and his mother was brutally raped, one of an estimated 30,000 women who had been raped in the war.  After the war, she took Hamza and his sister Aleza to the United States as refugees and moved to St. Louis, which has the largest concentration of Bosnian refugees in the US and possibly the world.

Hamza and his mother and sister are three of the estimated 70,000 Bosnian refugees who settled in St. Louis.  Most of them made their home in the former German section of the city, on the south side, not far from my boyhood home.

Many of the Bosnians have since moved to the suburbs or other cities, due to criminals from nearby high-crime areas who prey on the community.  (The City of St. Louis comprises only 10 percent of the population of metro St. Louis, because so many people, including many African Americans, have fled the city for the suburbs over the decades.)

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The fear of crime intensified in 2014, when a Bosnian American named Zamir Begic was beaten to death with hammers by a gang of African Americans and Latinos on a major thoroughfare in the Bosnian community as he tried to protect his fiancé. Many Bosnians saw it as a hate crime, believing that the two were targeted because of their race.

Hamza’s mother works as a maid, and he works as a night manager in a convenience store, where his life is literally at risk.  He had good grades in high school and earned an associate’s degree at a nearby community college.  He had applied to St. Louis-based Washington University and St. Louis University, hoping to be accepted under their set-aside programs, but was rejected.

He tried but failed to land a management trainee position with one of the many large employers in metro St. Louis that tout their diversity bona fides, such as Emerson Electric, Monsanto, Wells Fargo Advisors, Anheuser-Busch, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.  He suspected that he was of the wrong race and not seen as a disadvantaged minority, although his family is poor, and Croatians are one of the smallest minority groups in America.

No doubt, these big companies have departments of diversity and inclusion.  They should be called departments of epidermis.  It’s a safe bet that they had put Hamza into the category of White, not only because of his skin color but also because he doesn’t fit the other official racial/ethnic categories of Black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native American.

These six contrived categories hide the fact that there are hundreds of unique ethnocultural groups in America and the world, each with a unique blend of physical characteristics, culture, religious beliefs, nationality, socioeconomic class, and histories of being oppressors and the oppressed.  The categories erase this heritage and reflect a profound ignorance of anthropology, sociology, ethnography, and history.

The White category encompasses a large share of the hundreds of ethnocultural groups, including Croatians.  It also includes 40 million Americans who live in poverty, some of whom are descendants of dirt-poor sharecroppers, and others of whom live in de-industrialized towns suffering from broken families, drug addiction, blight, and a dearth of economic opportunities.

Hamza knows that the game of diversity roulette is rigged against him.   He also knows that when employers and colleges say that diversity is a strength, they aren’t referring to him.  And when they say that professional jobs, management jobs, and boards of directors should reflect the diversity of the nation, they aren’t referring to Croatians, or to the scores of other minority groups of limited political and economic power who are categorized as White.

He knows this because of the mandatory racial-sensitivity class he took in community college.  The themes of the class were that whites are privileged, that they attained their privilege from oppressing non-whites, that they all have identical values and beliefs, that they are consciously or unconsciously racist, and that they stay in power and keep non-whites down by adhering to white norms and beliefs, such as marriage and capitalism.  As such, they have nothing new to add in the classroom or workplace and should defer to the opinions of non-whites.

Actually, Hamza would have a lot to add.  He knows the history, geography, and ethnic makeup of the former Yugoslavia (a k a Land of Slavs).  He knows the failures of communism, socialism, and one-party rule.   He can look at a map and point out the location of Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Vojvodina.  He can list the main ethnic groups that reside in what is the former Yugoslavia, including Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, Macedonians, Slovenes, Albanians, Montenegrins, Hungarians, Bulgarians, and Turks. And he knows that the dominant religions are Catholic, Orthodox Christian, and Muslim (Sunni Muslim, to be exact).

Most important, he knows what can happen in a multiethnic society when racial and ethnic resentments, recriminations, and revenge are encouraged by the state and/or powerful agitators.  This is what led to the Bosnian War in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a war in which 100,000 people died and 2.2 million were displaced.

No wonder Hamza is excluded from diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and his views aren’t solicited.  If Croatians and the hundreds of other unique ethnocultural groups were recognized and listened to, the entire edifice of DEI would collapse, because it would become obvious that the edifice is built on double standards, stereotypes, discrimination, and sophistry.

* Hamza Kopanja and family are fictional characters but true to life.

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