Recently, a Confederate heritage apologist blogger posed the following questions of a fellow New Yorker:
The diversity you appreciate… Is it cultural? racial? something else?
And do you consider it superior, morally or otherwise, to prefer dissimilarity over similarity? That a group of people who are diverse is better — in some ways, in all ways? — than a group of people who are alike? I’m sure you’ve heard the meme, “Diversity is our strength.” Would you say that diversity is always strength, and homogeneity is always a liability?
Would you advise me how important it is — compared to other important things in life — to have a level of comfort with people of all cultures?
I find these questions most revealing of the person who asked them. Doubtless one could point out that they are problematic and reflect assumptions that one might reject. But let me offer a few observations:
First, one should not define diversity too narrowly. There’s gender, race, ethnicity, faith, ideology, sexual preference, and class, for beginners. All too often diversity’s reduced to race, which is a rather narrow view of diversity.
Second, diversity depends on interaction: it is not only who one is (and who everyone else is) but how the people in the group interact that tests a commitment to diversity. Let me offer an example: say you like to take and circulate pictures of your group, and in those pictures you feature a non-white face in a sea of white faces. Does that make the group diverse? Of course not. Now, what if that non-white person wants to date someone within the group … that might test the group’s commitment to diversity. Moreover, let’s not limit those dating choices to people of the opposite sex. Now how diverse is the group? How tolerant is it? How accepting are its members of diversity, and how comfortable are they with it?
The question as to whether diversity is “superior” to sameness betrays the questioner’s fears about diversity and its consequences. Some people will argue that diversity is indeed superior to sameness. For example, major league sports benefit from embracing diversity in assembling their talent pool. You want the best athletes, regardless of race or ethnicity. Take the recent IIHF tournament. Teams represented nationalities, but many of the players were under contract or were draft choices of NHL teams. You could spot future NHL prospects on many of the teams.
One could also argue that what’s important here is what one makes of that diversity that tells us whether it’s a strength or weakness. Again, diversity is more than a matter of descriptive demography. That said, I haven’t heard much of an argument about the superiority of sameness unless someone assumes that they belong to the group in question: thus the superiority of sameness is a treasured belief of white supremacists. Such people reject not only diversity but also equality. I think that’s a weakness born of fear: a fear that one can’t compete in an open field against other people. Thus white supremacy barely conceals a fear of white inferiority.
Intellectual sameness leads to staleness: it is the interplay of various ideas that helps advance understanding. As for the impact of diversity, that depends on how people address the opportunity offered by that diversity to learn from each other, engage in new experiences, and understand how other people think and act. I don’t think those are bad things.
Finally, I think it is very important to have “a level of comfort” with people who are not like me. Otherwise I shut them out and betray my own fear of the different (that the questions are framed as exercises in “superiority” and not “enrichment” tells me that fear is at the root of the questioner’s questions).
Those are some of my thoughts in brief.
What say you?