(This is an archive written by the late Leslie Centanni. July, 2005) One of the biggest corporate initiatives ever undertaken in the modern world of business is "diversity awareness." People are hired specifically to address the issue of "diversity in the workplace". They get paid a hefty salary to study the companies they work for, strongly introduce the concept of "appreciating the differences" in us all, and address problems with the - how shall we say? - un-diversified among us. It's become a discipline of such indispensable merit that whole new college courses have been spawned to study it, laws written to enforce it, corporate committees formed to discuss it, charters created to laud it, and calendars marked with special dates to celebrate it.
But what.. exactly.. is IT? When people say "we celebrate diversity" what do they really mean? What is the celebration all about? And more importantly, who celebrates it and why? Well, there's a lot to learn apparently, because I pulled about a million Google hits off the word "diversity". The dictionary on my shelf was kinder and simpler, and in the case of diversity, a little simplicity proved to be quite revealing. Diversity is defined as "the condition of being different" or "an instance or a point of difference." So then, by definition, celebrating diversity is actually "celebrating the condition of being different." This revelation is frankly amusing, because we are ALL different from each other. So "celebrating diversity" is reduced to a redundancy in one simple sentence. But here's where things get tricky.
The most politically incorrect thing you can do in a corporate setting is state your true feelings regarding anything. Sex, drugs, race, the color of your secretary's hair.. you just keep your thoughts to yourself and move on. No one in a corporate diversity meeting would ever say "but some gay men DO act like women!" Even if it's true, it just isn't "done". And you can bet you'll be "asked" to attend diversity awareness coaching sessions by your local HR ruffian. You learn quickly what is and is not okay to say, a counterproductive learning mechanism that unfortunately creates an atmosphere of fear in which no truths are ever revealed, and therefore little growth obtained.
There are several layers to the diversity picture, the most predominant of which is race. Others layers include gender, sexual preference, and physical disability.. excuse me, challenges. Interestingly, according to my dictionary, race is defined simply as "divisions of mankind possessing traits that are transmissible by descent and sufficient to characterize it as a distinct human type." Nothing in racial diversity awareness training tells you that this is the meaning of race. There is what I call the SUB-meaning of the word race, which is clearly indicated in diversity initiatives, and that is the allusion to race as a MINDSET versus a physical trait.
Referring to race as a mindset, which can sometimes be changed, instead of a physical trait, which usually cannot be changed, has caused a painful schism in our society. If you say "he's a proud black man" ..it means he's a man whose proud of his heritage. If you say "he's a proud white man" ..it means he's a racist. Hatred is being unknowingly built into our society by many diversity initiatives, because their sole purpose is to heap guilt on some, while excusing others. Most diversity awareness consists of exploring the issues faced by blacks, Hispanics, gays, and sometimes women. Forget about Asians, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Indians... their issues are rarely raised. Diversity has become a cult of feel-good political back scratching, elevating the harbingers of dissent while reducing the genuinely concerned individual who seeks to harmonize working relationships, and is concerned about the possibility that people are being abused because of their race, to the role of passerby.
This is a frustrating matter for me, because I take things quite literally, and frankly find the endless parade of diversity initiatives motivated by politics versus concern dispiriting and dishonest. Making any person an icon of hatred and evil based strictly on the color of their skin, or where they were born, or who or even what they look like, is wrong. The funny thing is, there are racial divisions amongst races, too. People with "black" skin could have origins in Africa or the Bahamas. People with "white" skin could have origins in Sweden or Russia. People with brown skin could have origins in Mexico or the Arctic! So how does one differentiate between who to hate or call a name?
Some of us grew up in racially discriminating homes. If we're honest, we'll see that there was a lot of diversity amongst even those in our homes, belonging as we did to white, black and brown people possessing traits that characterized them as a "distinct human type." In other words, racism did not and does not discriminate amongst races. There are people from every race who hate people of another race, and they don't care about diversity, or about what you and I say, or about what's politically correct. Having seen firsthand the expression and effect of racism on others, I can tell you this without reservation: racism in any form is just hatred with another name. Like hatred, anger and pain, racism will never go away as long as there are people who believe they fundamentally are better than others.
So who cares about diversity and why? The response is twofold: people who feel the most disenfranchised from so-called "normal" society, and people who care about the feelings of people who feel disenfranchised. They all agree on one thing.. if they really try hard enough, and ensure everyone else "tries" too, they can make the world a better place. We should applaud the well-intended efforts to educate the unwashed masses. Stimulating positive communication is vital.
But I do not hold to the diversity "industry" itself. Those of us who feel for people that suffer have become the quarry of those who feel nothing. Much like the commercialization of our holidays, diversity awareness was not intended to line the pockets of cardmakers, caterers, engravers, fancy hotels, etc. But our need for validation has become one of their best new draws.
As we go on to celebrate Black History Month, it would help to look upon and enjoy all of our differences as exciting expressions of God's handiwork. Please keep those not able to help themselves in your heart and mind, and reach out to your fellow human being with love in your eyes everywhere you go.
Now THAT's celebrating diversity!