“How have you worked with diversity?”

In a course I took over the past term, we spent much time problematizing notions of diversity, particularly diversity within the academy and in canadian multiculturalism as assisted by Ahmed’s On Being Included  Coming out of the course, I took home a few key points(amongst many) on the word: 1) Diversity is a veiled way to reference tokenistic inclusion of different bodies, particularly those of varying race, 2) the use of diversity as a de-political, less radical way to fight oppression (tolerance, not acceptance or change), and 3)diversity still frames the white, able, cis, straight, english speaking, thin, male (etc) body as the normal, difference from this (particularly along racial lines) is the creation of diversity in an institution, in an organization, or workplace. Within this brief summary, there is much to analyze and discuss (can the term diversity be used radically?), but I want to hone in briefly on a an experience and discussion I had. 

During a few interviews I’ve been asked “how have I worked with diversity” as part of an organization’s larger culture of seeming to or at least trying to promote positive values within the institution  Another friend of mine and fellow classmates remarked, that that was the question of a white (at least predominantly) organization. I am still reflecting on what this means for myself, and particularly what it means to be called upon as normative, as one who works with diversity. Within a queer organization I am somewhat in the center, one who works with the diversity of others.

When I answered, I talked about accessibility and concrete action to make events and resources accessible to those with a variety of bodies, which functions the question differently than the more indescript working with diversity, which I initially read as being comfortable with people different from one’s self. Rather than the question being about my own comfort, it instead could be about how to actually make ourselves and others better able to serve many different experiences and people within the context of anti-oppression. My own interpretation of the question then was shook when these friends and classmates of color pointed out the whiteness of the question, especially in the context of the whiteness of the org and our course readings and focus.

Fundamentally, diversity propositions a center on which we can judge how diverse a space or is not. This can be a tool, in allowing us to critique spaces for lacking diversity, but it does still rely on a norm. Depending on the space that norm is defined differently. In many queer spaces I don’t represent the diversity, instead a norm against which the diverse is heavily constructed. In other arenas I might be considered somewhat diverse, but still somewhat safe due to my whiteness. This analysis allows us to see how diversity functions then as way of describing the visual images of imaginary multiculturalism.

Diversity, in its dominant, safe conceptions (even when deployed as non or only somewhat threatening tool) does not suggest upheaval of predominant systems, only the inclusion of the margins to the side of the center. How can I make those who are ‘diverse’ welcome and how can I handle the presence of those who signify diversity even as I affirmed as within the center. Perhaps, though, there is room to radicalize diversity or search for other terms. Justice for one.

Related readings:

http://acpacsje.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/social-justice-not-just-another-term-for-diversity-by-paul-c-gorski/

in relation to diversity vs social justice in academia

http://www.racialicious.com/2011/04/07/elements-of-diversity-how-change-agents-activists-advocates-and-other-do-gooders-seem-to-not-get-it-right-after-40-years-of-trying/

interesting challenge to expand what ‘the d word’ can mean, beyond, perhaps, how its critiqued here

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Migrants to the West #10 Religious freedom | Marcus' s Space

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