A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Monday, February 19, 2007

What is Diversity?

We hear about it all the time here at my school. We need a diverse student body and a diverse staff, yet often it seems our efforts to be "diverse" pay at best lip-service to the actual concept of a university populated by a wide variety of ethnic groups, religious groups, people with various sexual orientations, rich, poor, etc., etc. all living together and accepting of each other. Accepting be the key term, and one which cuts in many different directions. If people wish to be accepted for being black, Hindu, gay, poor, etc., etc., they must also be accepting of others who are not as they are and do not think as they do.


But vital if we are ever to actually achieve racial equality, sexual equality, religious equality, and on and on and on. The key to getting there is dialogue-- conversations without confrontations.

In the wake of the Tim Hardaway episode, Chris Broussard, a columnist for ESPN, wrote this blog entry on this very topic, and it's well worth a read. DOBA moment:
I'm not trying to get into a religious or scientific discussion here, I'm just saying that some people will accept homosexuality as fine and others will not.

Some will write me off as a bigot for this article, but folks, this is real talk. Unfortunately, we can't have real talk in America nowadays.

Whites can't voice their real opinions -- no matter how legitimate -- about race for fear of being called racist, and everyone's afraid of offending anyone. It seems the only person who can be openly criticized, or disagreed with, is the President.

How crazy is that?

Until we can honestly hear each other out -- and be civil while doing so -- we won't get anywhere. One thing I hope this article does is encourage people to have frank discussions about sensitive issues such as this one.

Here's the bottom line: If I can accept working side-by-side with a homosexual, then he/she can accept working side-by-side with someone who believes homosexuality is wrong.
Open and honest discussion. What a concept.


Diversity is a good concept which has unfortunately become much maligned because its implementation can often have unintended consequences (i.e., discrimination of those who are NOT different).

However, I think it's a lame argument to say that diversity should also mean tolerance for hatred. In fact, that's the exact opposite of the SPIRIT of diversity, which is in and of itself a good concept.

...And what does that guy you quoted mean by "white people can't talk about race...?" I know lots of white folks who talk about race-- and even reverse-racism. It's not taboo. That is, unless you say something bizarre and stupid a la Kramer. But I think thoughtful, intellegent discussion about race is certainly within question.

Perhaps he simply is afraid he doesn't know how to deal with it sensitively enough (I know lots of guys who don't know how to talk sensitively about just about anything) and therefore that it is off limits to him. In which case, fine. Don't talk about it. Just don't assume that you can't do it because EVERYONE ELSE has a problem which is really yours.
I agree with the lady. For a white guy to whine that he can't voice his opinion is....lame.

His opinion may be reprehensible and widely disdained, but I don't see anywhere white guys have a problem saying whatever foul thoughts they feel like saying. Rush Limbaugh regularly says the most sexist and racist things. Look at the way Glenn Beck talks to the minorities he has on.

If he's worried about offending someone, maybe what he's about to say IS offensive. That's not to say he can't have a meaningful discussion about race.

Usually, however, the white guy who is saying htis is about to also say that he doesn't think racism exists in America anymore.
For the record, the guy writing the article I link is black. Unless you meant me whining? And I'm not saying that diversity means tolerance for hatred. Nor do I think that Broussard is saying that.

I'm saying diversity means tolerance for un-PC opinions like "I believe homosexuality is a sin" or "I believe Affirmative Action is a stupid idea". You don't have to ACCEPT it-- think to yourself, "What an idiot-- he doesn't believe that homosexuality is almost entirely biological despite the clear evidence that it is" but don't call him an idiot unless he's being abusive or hateful.

Just because you think someone's opinion is ridiculous does not mean that you cannot be cordial with him or have a meaningful dialogue with him. The problem, and its an age old problem that is merely finding new forms of expression, is that we tend to pigeonhole people and assume because he's an idiot, in our opinion, about one topic, he's an idiot about everything.

The thing with diversity is that it has to be truly diverse-- not just what one particular group or individual pictures as diverse. Conservative bitch a lot about how they are treated poorly on many campuses because the campuses are so focuesed on racial and sexual identity diversity, that they forget all about intellectual and political diversity. This has become something of a cliche, but as with all cliches, there's a fair amount of truth to the perception. Please note, I'm not saying racial and sexual identity diversity isn't important, but rather that they are only two trees in a VERY dense and tangled forest of diversity.

And quite often people fail to see the forest for the trees.
The problem with the homosexuality thing is that the opposition to it is rooted in religion. Almost always.

And religion is the Big No-No in in arguments. You can't assail a person's religion, even if they use it justify the most heinous opinions and actions.

In years past, religion has been used to justify oppressing women, and blacks, and Native Americans, and just about any other group of people you want to discriminate against.

You want real talk? Let me tell you that when religion tells someone to discriminate and oppress someone else, RELIGION IS WRONG.
If Broussard is black, on what basis is he claiming that whites are afraid to voice their opinion?

What experince did he have that led him to that conclusion?

It's like me claiming that women never get doors opened for them anymore.

BP, actually, I get doors opened for me-- but primarily by other women! When I didn't have a kid, guys were still opening doors for me all the time. Now that I do have a kid, perhaps they think, "Well, she's some other dude's problem".

Anyhow, back to the fray:

Nick: I agree with you that intellectual and political diversity is also important. However, I think there is a certain amount of self-selection that goes on in academia. You are much more likely to find a professor with conservative political view in the arenas of Business or Poly-sci than you are, say in English or Women's studies.

And the question is: do you think that a conservative English professor should be chosen over his/her perhaps more qualified peers based solely on his/her political views?

Also, in terms of the guy who you quoted, perhaps then he is talking about black-on-black racism. There's a heck of a lot of that. Whether it's based on how light or dark you are, or in Obama's case, whether you are descended from slaves or not.

Perhaps the guy is then talking about an attitude in the black community that somewhat discourages discussion of internal racism because they want to focus on positive role models and cultural pride. In that sense, he would have a point-- there are some corners where talking about black-on-black racism is taboo.

Despite the fact that I may fall under the raving liberal rubric, I actually have a lot of respect for people who hold views that are different from mine-- that is, so long as it is not based on hate. I actually very much respect people who are against abortion. In a perfect world, I would be against it in all but the most difficult situations, too. However, we are not living in a world where women are supported (by their families, by the-- gasp!-- government), so I am not against it. And let's face it-- abortion is an icky, icky thing. I can totally agree with that and with people who are really upset about it being used as birth control.

However, I totally DISAGREE with people who frame the debate by saying that abortion is a sin and therefore wrong. I don't believe in sin. BP is right-- you immediately disqualify yourself from the conversation if you use religious terminology and dogma instead of reason to justify your intolerance or disagreement with something.

Think about it: we summarily object the argument in this country that female circumcision is acceptable because it is religious-based. Religion does not and should not give you carte blanche to discriminate or (in this case) mutilate.
When religion says to discriminate and oppress, it is wrong, sure. This is a main reason I think trying to appease radical Islam is a really bad idea. And why I despise that the base of the Republican party has become primarily fundamentalist Christians.

However, by the same token, when it tells people to love one another and to forgive each other, it is right. Religion gives many billions of people hope, joy, grace, humility, peace and charity. It helps mankind grapple with the huge questions of why we are here and what we are meant to do with ourselves before we shuffle off this mortal coil.

And if we got rid of it, would it solve all of the hate, death, and destruction in the world? Not a chance. Because it's not religion, as a concept or as a particular manifestation of that concept, that is to blame, but rather the inherent flaws of mankind. Everyone has the capacity for tremendous good and despicable evil within them. Religion helps many people, most people, grapple with that dichotomy.

The fact that it is often used as a justification for evil and horrific deeds doesn't make it wrong. Any more than the actions of Mother Theresa make it right or unassailable. It is what it is, and if there wasn't religion, mankind would find something else that could both inspire great good and rationalize horrible evil.

Oddly enough, I think one of the best examples of what I'm talking about was recently on South Park. Cartman is unfrozen two hundred years in the future, and they've done away with religion, basing their society on science. Only now everyone is fighting over what to call themselves, and who's science is better.

If you want plain talk, then don't give just one side of an argument. I also don't agree at all with the contention that "...religion is the Big No-No in in arguments. You can't assail a person's religion, even if they use it justify the most heinous opinions and actions." Perhaps the problem is that you are ASSAILING a person's religion, rather than having a polite, if spirited, discussion?

Many years ago, I remember having a discussion with my friend Greg, a staunch Catholic and quite socially conservative guy. Also a very smart and insightful guy. We had many long and far ranging discussions about morality, abortion, sin, evil and good. I disagreed with him on many points at that time, though I've moved closer to his views in recent years, and I know he disagreed with me on many points as well. But we always respected the other person's opinion, and we always let each other express that opinion.

Honestly, it's not that hard. But entering into a discussion with preconceived ideas like "Religion is wrong" or "Anyone who believes in sin disqualifies themselves from making any rational points" is going to make it really hard. Because you've already prejudged.

And who is the intolerant one, then?

A couple of final points in response to particulars:

No, a conservative professor should not be hired over a liberal candidate if he or she is less qualified. By the same token, neither should a woman or a black person. If, however, we are going to try and find ways to instill diversity into faculties and student bodies, then we should be trying to find ways to ensure that diversity doesn't mean just race, gender and sexual orientation. Those are all important areas, but they are not diversity in and of themselves.

I don't completely accept the contention that most opposition to homosexuality is based on religion. I do think much opposition to homosexuality is justified using religion, but I suspect that a lot of the opposition is based in a much baser, more visceral foundation. Many people think of it as unnatural or gross or weird and then find religious writings to support their internal misgivings.

And many don't even bother draping their disgust and hate in any religious trappings at all. They just hate the whole idea and anyone associated with it.

That said, I do find the Catholic Church's postion on homosexuality to be incompatible with Jesus' teachings. And I will readily admit that many people lose all semblance of reason or tolerance when religion is brought into the conversation. But many don't, as well, so let's not paint with an overly broad brush is all I'm saying.
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