Friday, May 27, 2005

Column on Different Diversities

Understanding Varieties of Diversity

Tibor R. Machan

It is objectionable to fuss about diversity when all that tends to mean
is bringing together people of different ethnic, racial, linguistic, and
related backgrounds. Such diversity is about things no one can help?what
race they are, whether they are men or women, be they of Hispanic or
German origin, and so forth. These attributes are not really, ultimately,
what makes people who they are.

But, let?s face it, many people do invest a great deal in their own
membership in such groups even though they had nothing to do with it. For
some reason they derive their personal identity from them, not from
individual accomplishments. And in some instances this is actually
understandable and worth some sympathy.

Take, for example, being black in the United States of America. While
this really shouldn?t be very important to blacks or anyone else, sadly
often others make it important for them by their racists attitudes. If
blacks are often lumped together by others, treated with prejudice because
they are black, it is understandable that they will see their blackness as
important, if only in a sort of defensive way. Or make it gays or
Hispanics or what have you?in each case if such a fact about someone is
demeaned by others, it can become important to those in the target group.
Moreover, the experience of being treated with unjustified hostility, with
negative prejudice, can forge a uniting feature among those who are so

Of course, the best situation would be if no one were ever treated badly
for attributes over which he or she has no power. It is not sensible,
however, to expect that no choices would ever be made based on such
attributes. In personal relationships, for example, people do invoke their
unaccounted for tastes and preferences for or against how someone looks,
behaves, feels, sounds, and so forth, however harmless any of this may be.
We sometimes regard someone simply based on how they do or fail to appeal
to us. And why shouldn?t we? But when this extends to determining choices
in professional contexts, that?s not admirable, even if in a genuinely
free society it may not be prohibited?the right of free association
requires not banning it. But those who do receive such treatment in
professional and other contexts where it is plainly wrong may feel a bond
with others and even come to treat this bond as somewhat defining of who
they are.

In educational and other institutions it may be reasonable to make a bit
of room for those who have a history of such experiences, especially if
that history of vital to understanding the society where the institution
is located and functions. Of course, the much more important diversity in
education institutions has to do with different philosophical, political,
religious, and similar perspectives that scholars may bring to the various
topics being studied. Sadly, this kind of diversity is not very much at
issue in the current concerns about diversity?centers, grants being
distributed, scholarship being conducted, and so forth. The racial, ethnic
and related diversity has nearly crowded out this far more important
diversity from academic institutions.

Nonetheless, those who lament the abandonment of a concern for diversity
of viewpoints need not condemn completely the other types of diversity
being stressed beyond reason these days. There is something of value in
that, since unfortunately in much of human history, including America?s,
some have had very bad experiences as members of diverse groups,
experiences that have given them useful information and a reason for them
to receive some remedial attention, something with which to balance the
adverse treatment their groups have been receiving all too often.

Those, in turn, who haven?t been lumped in with a group of others and
picked on with more or less severe and hurtful prejudice may not fully
appreciate what it is to be part of a group whose members have been widely
mistreated. And that lack of full appreciation may come across as
reinforcing the prejudicial treatment even when it is the farthest thing
from the truth.

But some serious reflection and patience can contribute to a better
understanding about these matters. It may even help wean many from their
need for what might be called tribal unity and prepare them to begin to
look to their own achievements as the main source of personal identity and

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