DEI Lessons from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
To this date, the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill remains Lauryn Hill’s only studio album. This piece of artistry hit the shelves of music stores on August 25, 1998, and was an instant classic. All three radio singles — “Doo Wop (That Thing),” “Ex-Factor,” and “Everything Is Everything” — charted Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, with “Doo Wop” eventually claiming the chart’s top spot. Because I’m a nerd of random facts, I’d like to throw in that “Everything Is Everything” is the first recorded appearance by a young John Legend playing the piano for the track. Back to the story… This album arguably ruled hip-hop in 1998. At the 41st Annual Grammy Awards, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill earned 10 nominations, winning five awards, making Hill the first woman to receive that many nominations and awards in one night. This certified diamond album was groundbreaking and historic in many ways. Fans wanted more, but no response.
Nearly twenty-three years later, Rolling Stone magazine sat down with Ms. Hill and asked why she never made another album after The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. She responded, “The wild thing is no one from my label has ever called me and asked how can we help you make another album, EVER…EVER. Did I say ever? Ever!” She continues, “After the Miseducation, there were scores of tentacled obstructionists, politics, repressing agendas, unrealistic expectations and saboteurs everywhere,” she said. “People had included me in their own narratives of their successes as it pertained to my album, and if this contradicted my experience, I was considered an enemy.”
Here are some quick diversity, equity, and inclusions takeaways:
1. Inclusion without investment into wellness and belongingness is fruitless. We must do more than invite and say, “The door is open for you and you are welcome to enter.” We must be intentional in the removal of barriers and including target populations as partners to develop opportunities to support their engagement and contribution.
2. Learn how to get out of the way. If we are to cultivate a culture of equity mindfulness, it must include the ability to create and for one to own their voice and narratives. Often, we share DEI success using the images and stories of others without giving them creative control over their representation. As practitioners, part of our role is to provide the platform; not take the stage. When we fail to do so, we shift our roles from advocates and activists to co-opters. That said, routinely check your culture.
3. Autonomy and success are intertwined. The outcome of our work is to ensure the liberation and freedom of others. That being said, it will look different for each person or group we serve, and that’s okay because autonomy is a success indicator. For Lauryn Hill, she just wanted to be supported in her attempt to create in ways that best express her artistry. No one heard her, and after a while, this beautiful soul eventually silenced parts of herself and held on to a gift that could have made an even greater impact upon society — especially as it relates to the push of feminist voices into the male-dominated narratives in hip-hop. That last part is my personal and debatable opinion.