Monday, July 28, 2008

Diversity for Diversity's Sake? And If So, What Kind?

I said well over a year ago that I intend to write a post on this blog about how America as a society needs to move beyond race in order to be the best nation that it can be. This is not that post, but something in the paper this morning has prompted me to weigh in on the subject.

Columnist Trey Garrison of D Magazine, in a Dallas Morning News op-ed, takes the sacred cow (at least to some) of "diversity" and subjects it to a good old-fashioned Texas cow-tipping. Here's a sample:
When I made the hard decision to forgo buying a house in Dallas (and the easy decision to avoid the Potemkin village of DISD), I knew I was gonna get it. The thing is, I really wanted to live in Dallas, but we just couldn't do it. So we chose Plano.

Once we pulled the trigger, the judgments came a-flyin'. Mainly it was from friends who are, well, urban yokels. You know the kind – hipper-than-thou provincialists, for whom where you reside in relation to a municipal taxing boundary defines you. (Fine, guys, you take the trendy bars and the home invasions; I'll take the bland corporate sports grill and the gated community. We'll split the teen heroin problem.) This was fine. Friends tease you like that. But then I started getting comments from readers at one of my other publications about "diversity," whatever that means. Apparently, in choosing a house in one of the top school districts in the country, in a suburb where the poverty rate is low and the median income is high, I was guilty of the high crime of white flight.

My humbled, guilty reaction consisted of two words: "So what?"
Amen, brother. While true diversity (of opinion, nationality, etc.) might well be admirable, those who use the word as a political bludgeoning tool really only have one thing in mind: Diversity of race. I can't for the life of me understand why one single physical trait has been so blown out of proportion in this country, but a lot of opinions will have to be changed (and a lot of people with political agendas will have to be knocked off their high horses) before it's any different.

Garrison likewise rails at the misuse of the word:
I mean, what the heck does diversity mean? Some of my new neighbors in Plano include people from Thailand, Armenia, India, Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Colombia and the Ukraine, but apparently that doesn't count. And when a school is 85 percent white, it's not diverse, but when it's 85 percent Hispanic, it is?

[...]It's weird. We've made "diversity" into some kind of totem, an end to itself, and we haven't even defined what it is. Do I learn more about a different perspective chatting with my Ukrainian neighbor (whom the census counts as white), or from a guy brought up five miles from me who happens to be black?
Indeed. It reminds me of the question I asked when I was explaining my recent purchase of yet another Japanese car: Which car is more "domestic"--a Ford Taurus made in Mexico, or a Honda Accord made in Ohio? But, sadly, we know the answer to Garrison's question, which is that diversity is in the eye of he or she who squawks most loudly or has the biggest political axe to grind, and this tends to obscure real problems that would have real solutions if only all this noise didn't get in the way.

Garrison brings up one more point that's worth mentioning:
Look, diversity is great when it comes to nightclubs, workplaces, cultural experiences, restaurants and all that. But I don't want diversity in my neighborhood.

Now, put down the pitchfork. I don't mean the superficial diversity of skin color. I mean diversity of values. That's what I don't want in my neighborhood, or my neighborhood school.

I want uniformly boring neighbors with uniformly boring, middle-class values who spend Saturdays working on their lawns and whose kids know to stay off mine. I want neighbors with Home Depot on speed dial. That's how I choose to live. Your mileage may vary.

And isn't that diversity, too?
Bingo. You nailed it, Trey. I'm pretty sure that at the bulk of my neighbors share those values; it's pretty quiet out here, you don't see people hanging out till all hours (my jazz-musician self often appears to be the last one home on many nights), and people tend to take care of their houses and lawns (even if the "front" half of the neighborhood, where I live, does a slightly better job of this than the "back," where there are a few more rental houses). That's the type of diversity that matters to me, although, if anyone cares, it's pretty "superficially diverse" out here as well.

I'll have another post that's somewhat connected to this subject later in the week as I catch up on the stories that caught my eye while I was teaching camp last week.

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