Next up: Diversity.
What we’re doing here is a sort of entry-level class on “diversity, equity and inclusion.” Those are the buzzwords at the root of some very divisive issues in recent months. Those issues include “critical race theory” and the Indian mascot debate.
Here’s the thing: Everybody agrees on supporting “diversity, equity and inclusion.” Nobody is for the opposite. The question is: How do you define those terms, and what does supporting them require, or at least imply?
Equity is pretty easy. It’s just equality of opportunity. We went through that in the last class...err, column.
Diversity is not a terribly complicated concept, either. The nub of it is embracing differences. Diversity means a variety of viewpoints, and, in practical terms in 2021, means including the perspectives and interests of people with different racial, ethnic, gender and sexual orientation backgrounds. It might also include a variety of religious and political viewpoints, although that’s less certain.
The belief in the value of diversity stems from the notion that the inclusion of a variety of viewpoints leads to better conclusions, better policies, and better decisions. That’s not always true, of course, since some viewpoints might just be wrong. What I mean by that is best illustrated with an example: Would it improve decision-making to include the point of view of an Islamic terrorist, or a Nazi? Well, probably not. So there are limits.
“Diversity” also does not mean that viewpoints expressed by people from minority groups are inherently better or more valuable than viewpoints of people from groups that have historically been in the majority. It just means that they should be included.
But a commitment to diversity does imply, in 2021, that an assertive effort to include those viewpoints needs to be made. Those interests do need to be sought out and actively considered. We have to recognize that there are barriers (historical, cultural and otherwise) to participation for people from minority groups, and so we as a society need to actively try to lower those barriers.
That is good and right, and beneficial for all. I presume most people can agree with that concept, although I of course welcome disagreement.
Where it gets tricky, of course, is in the allocation of scarce resources. Should preference in Harvard admissions go to kids from minority backgrounds? Should vaccines go first to minorities, or poor people? Should a woman get preference in hiring for a management position? Should a Black man get a job — because he’s Black — over an equally qualified white man?
That’s where we have the disagreements. Some argue that, yes, those people should get preferential treatment because a commitment to diversity requires it. Others argue that a color-blind society (which is the ideal we have generally agreed upon) should never sanction preference based on skin color, or gender, or sexual orientation.
In a way, that repeats the issue we discussed before — equality of opportunity vs. equality of results. We generally chafe, in this country, and “equality of results,” since that implies quotas or redistribution. We generally agree on the idea of everybody getting an equal shot. But when the so-called equal shot ends up with results that seem to favor the majority, then we get into arguments about whether the process is really as fair as we think it is.
What we can agree on, though, is a commitment to including diverse interests and viewpoints, and the value that diversity can bring. That gets us to “inclusion,” which will be our last class, I promise.