We’re confused about diversity. As a nation, in our academic, professional and political settings, we give lip service to diversity. We talk about diversity initiatives and we make it a core value. But in truth, we ignore it. We fail to recognize it’s significance and we gloss over its most basic meaning. Because, diversity means difference. And difference makes us uncomfortable. So, we as a society take the paradoxical stance of accepting diversity while rejecting difference.
Don’t believe it? Look deeper. We’re inundated with messages about our sameness by the same circles that promote diversity. The sociologist tells you that race is a social construct. We’re really no different. The feminist tells you that gender is a matter of nurture and not nature. Again, we’re really no different. The politics of disenfranchised minorities try to go above and beyond to demonstrate how the people whose cause is being championed are at root no different than the majority or dominant group.
This muddying of difference comes from a well-intentioned place. Our history in this country, not that we’re alone in this regard, is one of racism (ie white-supremacy), sexism (ie male-supremacy), and a grab-bag of other –isms with accompanying supremacies. And supremacy, which is a doctrine of superiority, cannot exist without difference. In other words, superiority requires difference.
So, what feminists, civil rights activists, sociologists and progressive politicians did throughout the 20th century is to promote the SAMENESS of disparate groups. They did this for noble reasons. As we said above, superiority requires difference. It cannot stand as a logical tenet that one group is superior to another if we establish that both groups are the same. In order for one to be better, they MUST differ. So, if I can poke enough holes in “difference” to cause it to collapse as a concept, then “superiority”, and its flip-side “inferiority”, can’t be long in following. And that is exactly what we went about doing and thus difference as a meaningful concept was gutted. We were left with the husk—diversity.
This plan of attack was misguided. When we should have been dismantling supremacy and leaving difference alone, we attacked the wrong target. Because, while superiority has a logical need for difference, the same is not true in reverse. Difference doesn’t require superiority; it doesn’t even imply superiority. This seems counterintuitive because we’re so used to immediately establishing which of two things is better once we’ve established that the two things are different. If they differ in quality, it’s easy to establish a preference. If they differ in quantity, it’s even easier; 2 is better than 1. But that evaluation is separate from simply noticing that two things are different, whether the difference is qualitative or quantitative. When we register a difference, we make an objective observation. This thing is rough; this one is smooth. There are two of these and only one of this. However, when we sort things into better and worse, we make a subjective evaluation, one based on context and/or our own biases. The superiority of rough or smooth depends on your context. Need to even out a surface? Choose rough sand paper. Need to write something down? A smooth piece of copy paper is more appropriate. Quantities seem more straightforward, but context still matters. More may not be better. For instance, a large number of things IS NOT superior to a small number if the value I establish is the ability to take up as little space as possible.