Saturday, November 01, 2003

Segregation's Not-So-Cute-Grandchild: Diversity

(Here's another one of my essays for my Critical Writing class. This isn't a very strong essay, so any and all comments [constructive comments] are welcome.)

As a first year music education major I am required to take a class entitled “Introduction to Music Education.” One of our textbooks, Vision 2020, is a compilation of prophetic articles depicting what should be the future of music education. In How Will Societal and Technological Changes Affect the Teaching of Music? author Carlesta Elliot Spearman argues that diversifying music education will ultimately allow minority students the chance to succeed they are currently lacking. Spearman suggests several ways to accomplish diversity in music education: simplify certification requirements, avoid developing new barriers, recruit early, provide support in undergraduate programs, and mentor during the first years of teaching.

While I agree with Ms. Spearman on some of her recruitment methods—i.e. recruiting early, providing support in undergraduate programs, and mentoring during the first years of teaching—I am appalled at the fact that she refers to these ideas only in the context of minorities. I believe support in undergraduate programs, mentoring during the first years of teaching, and recruiting early could apply to everyone. Ms. Spearmen uses these only in referring to minorities. She sees them as ways to diversity the workplace. We have to take a step back and ask, “What is diversity?” and “Why do we strive for diversity?”

Diversity, in its simplest form, means merely to have variation. This variation has become a goal that our society seems to strive for. What are we varying from? Our society sees a great need to vary from whiteness. We wish to see more minorities, qualified or not, placed in traditionally white jobs. Affirmative action ensures minorities jobs and placement in college even ahead of a better qualified non-minority applicants. Even if employers and colleges are opposed to placement based on skin color their objections do not matter. Any who oppose diversity are immediately labeled the dreaded “R” word: racist. To our society, diversity seems to be defined as forced variation based on race and race alone.

Racist restaurant owners of the past would have loved the idea of diversity. They could have justified their “White Only” sections and “Black Only” drinking fountains. In fact, they had their own ideology that is the grandfather of diversity: segregation. Ideologically there is no difference in segregation and our society’s definition of diversity. Advocates of each term would argue they both mean variation of some sort with equality—separate but equal versus varied to be equal. A slight slip of the tongue could send diversity into the land of segregation or vice versa.

Why then do we strive for a goal that seems to be reactionary in nature? Those who support diversity policies would argue that diversity is needed to combat the systemic racism still deeply embedded in our culture. Ultimately, I believe these proponents of diversity are trying to apologize, if you will, for the injustices committed against minorities in the past. It is their fundamental belief that racism can only be ended by diversifying every known institution even if by doing so qualified non-minorities lose a position or two. The most common question uttered from these proponents is, “Why would we not strive for diversity?”

I have a better question, “Why strive for diversity when our society strives for equality?” One requires only smidgeon of common sense to see we will never be rid of racism and discrimination unless race-based ideals are completely eliminated. By continuing to put more emphasis on the pigment of one’s skin rather than his or her intelligence, communication skills, and qualifications, our society is dooming our posterity to a life of constant racial tension.

To fully eliminate discrimination, our society must strive for a colorblind culture. When I mention my idea to a proponent of diversity policies, his or her first reaction is to ask if I also mean to eliminate heritage. The answer is, of course, no. To be colorblind is not to be heritage blind. We can still incorporate different customs from our heritage into our lives without putting a value on our skin pigment. For example, two white men who come from opposite ends of the world may have the same skin color but completely different ancestry. Since their skin color is the same, it is not a factor in their lives. They can celebrate their heritage without being judged by the color of their skin. If all people were to accept the principle of colorblindness, race would be eliminated as a factor for anything. Everyone is equal in a colorblind eye.

To be fair, we must also consider whether or not some customs depend solely on race. Honestly, I cannot think of a single custom that is defined in that way. Caucasians, or any other race for that matter, can adopt the stereotypical African American customs i.e. rap music, baggy pants, and Ebonics. Eminem, the white rapper, is a great example. In contrast, any race can adopt the stereotypical customs of Caucasians i.e. business suits, wine tasting, and snobbishness. Our heritage may define who we are, and what our customs are currently, but heritage is not and should not be affected by eliminating emphasis on race.

Proponents of diversity meant well when conceiving of a way to right the wrongs of our fathers, but their ideas of diversity are no better than the segregationist views of the past. These policies are not only self-contradictory; they are harmful to the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement for which so many people fought their entire lives. We must train ourselves and our children not to judge by the hew of one’s skin but by the “content of their character.” If our society is to strive for equality, we must distance ourselves from diversity policies or come face to face with a racist past we tried so desperately to bury.

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