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I had written this text some time ago, and its introduction talked about coincidences. Now it seems to me that the news of Co-Vid 19* invites me to a new, updated introduction. Indeed, what could be better than confinement to make us experience a form of exclusion, which in turn calls for reflection on inclusion? In times of confinement, we are blocked out. Prevented from circulating as we wish, stopped from meeting each other physically, unable to get medical care for some, restricted from digital learning for others… While the effects of isolation have been discussed at length, it seemed interesting to me to understand how exclusion can nourish inclusion.

If I put it differently : could rejection be a driving force in favor of inclusion?

Here are three books that envisage it from different angles.

The human stain, Philip Roth

In this novel of post-war America, the plot begins on the day that Coleman Silk, the light-skinned dean of the University of Atlanta, is accused of racism for uttering the word spooks in class. In its original meaning, spooks means ghosts or spies. But spooks is also used in slang to pejoratively refer to African-Americans.

From then on, Coleman Silk begins a fierce fight to defend himself from the racism he was accused of by two students and soon the campus and the entire city. This ferocity is on a par with the violence of the rejection mechanisms that have been silently at work for much longer in America and that have impacted Dean Silk. We discover how a word, interpreted in its excluding form, can cascade in a tragic repetition of a fractal story, to trigger the exclusion of its author. We finally understand what might have led Coleman Silk to pronounce this ambivalent word.

Mismatch, Kat Holmes

This book, with an educational aim, is intended to describe the issues of inclusion in design[1].

The sense of inclusion comes from what happens at the interface with the world. The products and environments we design, in addition to our human interactions, are the media. How can we make these media accessible to the greatest number of people?

In product design, the choice of the perimeter of inclusion is directly linked to the subjectivity of the designer, in his relationship to his own abilities first of all: if I am left-handed for example, I will naturally create an object that I can manipulate. It would thus be difficult, without being irrelevant, to put oneself in someone else’s shoes and understand the barriers to use as one imagines them.

The author also questions the Gauss curve model, or normal law[2] : where 80% of the population stands, in the jargon. Used as a reference of what is considered to be “normality” for designing products, 20% of people are de facto excluded from the perimeter. Is that a lot, 20%?

Without revealing all the contents of the book, I will end by mentioning that it deals with breakthroughs in inclusive design, giving evidence that they can lead to major inventions, which often go beyond their primary purpose.


[1]What happens when a designed object rejects us? A door that won’t open. A transit system that won’t service our neighborhood. A computer mouse that doesn’t work for people who are left- handed. A touch-screen payment system at a grocery store that only works for people who read English phrases, have 20/20 vision, and use a credit card. When we’re excluded by these designs, how does it shape our sense of belonging in the world?” (p4, 2018, Holmes).

[2] A reference to the laws of probability that have fallen into the common “understanding” in business, and whose more precise knowledge would allow us a more adequate use?

Dreams from My Father, Barrack Obama

The story of Barrack Obama’s early years, raised by his mother and maternal grandparents in a humane acceptance of his mixed blood. A story that highlights the predominant influence of his father, Kenyan. It is both a moral and physical influence that transcends time and space. In this book, Barrack Obama never ceases to question how to live his own identity, and, through it, how the United States can live its multicultural identity. Barrack Obama’s quest is nourished by his commitments on the ground, with African-American populations, who are sometimes resigned, sometimes combative. These populations carry both the imprisoning weight of rejection and the secretly contained hope of belonging. Not the belonging to their community, nor the belonging to the “white” community. That of belonging to an America that has become and is becoming: the America that is multiple.

I’ll leave you to appreciate, if you have the time and the inclination, these three books in light of the question: “Could rejection be a driving force for inclusion?”. I believe so…