Posted by: bkivey | 28 July 2010

Diversity Disaster

Because I sit on the board of my neighborhood association I got an email from City Hall inviting me to take part in a day-long diversity training seminar. In the words of the email:

“The training will revolve around a variety of sessions focused on leadership, teaching and learning and community as ways to increase cultural competency.”

By ‘cultural competency’ I imagine that the writer is referring to awareness of the cultural differences between Americans and immigrants and possibly cultural perceptions amongst peoples of color. I have always declined offers of diversity training and don’t see this case as any different. This is because a) I’ve lived and worked in several different environments as the minority ethnic group, b) I’ve found that people are everywhere pretty much the same, and c) I reject the premise of the ‘diversity’ movement.

It is my perception that the diversity movement is primarily a product of white guilt and illustrates the shallowness of this type of thinking. True diversity comes from different ways of thinking and not from a population that happens to have different color paint jobs. The ideologue will look at a group of people of different ethnicity and say that they are more diverse than a group of people of the same ethnicity but from different backgrounds.

As currently formulated the diversity movement seeks to give people an elevated sense of self-esteem by telling folks who happen to be non-white that being a person of color is in itself an achievement without having to demonstrate any actual accomplishments. This thinking is divisive and weakens a multi-ethnic society as well as being harmful to the individual.

Consider the effects of racial quotas on college admissions and in the hiring process. Because of the shallow and immature emphasis on race any time a person of color is admitted to a school or hired for a job there is the seed of doubt in the minds of a person of pallor: did the individual get where they are because of ability or preference? This doubt is especially prevalent in organizations where the standards are known to be different, such as universities and public employment. And it doesn’t do the supposed beneficiary any good either, as the organization is telling them to their face that because they are non-white they aren’t expected to be as capable as a white person, but, you know, we’ve got to make these quotas so we can be seen as ‘diverse’.

I am not so ignorant as to be unaware of the historical injustices of white privilege. Diversity proponents say that they are seeking to rectify these trespasses but what they are trying to do is like closing Pandora’s Box and about as realistic. In the first place most of the people who were wronged are dead and in the second place at what point do you say “Okay, we’ve made up for the mistakes of  the past?” You can’t. The best a society or an organizaton can do is acknowledge mistakes, implement policies and procedures that that are fair to the practical extent possible, and move forward.  

The fact that people would even say they are trying to ameliorate past mistakes is an illuminating insight into their thinking. These folks don’t want to move forward into a better future while acknowledging the past, they want to dwell on the past and use it to divide and conquer.

The diversity movement purports to act as a unifying instrument in society but in this aim it fails spectacularly. Indeed, the signature tenant of the movement is to emphasize differences rather than subsume them in a shared cultural identity. It is entirely possible for an immigrant group to integrate itself into society while maintaining a distinct identity; witness the various immigrant groups of the late 19th and early 20th century. To be Irish or Italian or Jewish during that time was no easy thing but eventually these groups became Americans while retaining their cultural identities and not a diversity program in sight.

One might point out that these folks are all predominately white. OK. Let’s look at the Asians and subcontinental Indians and the African and Caribbean blacks. They are all ethnic groups of color who’ve been fairly successful in ‘racist’ America. They didn’t need someone to make a place for them at the table through white guilt, they earned their place through ability and work. Most people don’t want the false respect of mandated acceptance, they want honest respect earned through ability.

Although I’ve never attended a diversity seminar my understanding from folks who have is that the focus is primarily, if not entirely, on white Americans adapting their cultural standards to others. This is a practice I think is necessary and that I’ve practiced; when I’ve lived in other cultural environments. My experience has also been that when in another culture the expectation is that I would adapt to the prevailing mores and standards, not the other way around. To think that people who choose to live in this country should be spared any emotional stress from adaptation to another culture is rather childish and serves to weaken the societal fabric.

Diversity proponents argue that emphasizing ethnic differences somehow makes a society or organization stronger, without offering any proof that this is so. Indeed, one need look no further than Japan or China or South Korea, societies that are near ethnically homogenous and quite successful. The fact that the premise is false is no deterrent to the diversity crowd, who are much given to feeling over thinking.

Everywhere I’ve been I’ve found people are pretty much the same no matter what color their skin is or where they’re from: they want to do meaningful work and do it well, they want a safe place to live and raise their family, they want access to the necessities of life at a reasonable cost, they want the opportunity to improve themselves and their standard of living, and they want to be treated as decent human beings because of who they are, not what they are. The diversity movement undermines the basic dignity that everyone is entitled to by treating people as objects rather than individuals.

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