The diversity of diversity

Sam Smith – One aspect of diversity that doesn’t get enough attention is its diversity. With considerable help from the mediaand the voices it cites, we learn that we are black, white or Hispanic, gay or straight, religious or atheist. . . and so forth. 

A number of aspects of my life have caused me to view people differently. I was, for example, one of six children, ethnically alike but otherwise quite different. I majored in anthropology that taught me how complicated the world really is, as well as little facts like there are more genetic differences within what we call black culture than between your average white and black. I became a journalist, a job in which part of your effort is to figure out what is different about the person with whom you’re talking. And I lived most my life in a majority black Washington DC, where you learned that just calling someone black didn’t tell you much. 

All this was quite helpful because it taught me that we not only are members of different ethnic groups, each of us also represent an ethnic group of one: ourselves.

We could solve a lot of our problems around racism if schools just taught their young students how culturally complex their neighborhood, town and world really are. Instead, we learn – whether decent or mean – to condemn those of whom we don’t approve. And we don’t learn useful things – like why black and white musicians or football players often get along better than society as a whole. Could finding things in common be part of the answer that we ignore?

And we can get pretty rigid about it all. For example, I’m trying to understand the new trans pronoun rules and it’s difficult for someone who’s gone through eight decades without applying the word they in the singular. But instead of just being a dumb old guy who screwed up, here is where Delgado Community College Libraries would place me: “Using an individual’s chosen pronouns is affirming and respectful. Conversely, using binary pronouns for someone who uses non-binary pronouns, such as singular they, can be alienating and dismissive. For the non-binary person, this can feel marginalizing and even as though they are being erased altogether.” Up to now, not even using split infinitives would have gotten me in as much trouble. 

The point is that part of diversity is that we all speak, act and think differently. And part of the way to make this work is to help people understand your culture and values but not to expect that they’ll be there all the time. Better ethnic relations, for example, are ultimately not dependent on complete comprehension of another culture or on laws and their prosecution, but rather on the recognition that the world for the most part is different from from ours and that we should learn, enjoy and be kind to those who don’t do things your way. And that one of the virtues of diversity is its diversity.