The McGeorge School of Law (where I am employed) held its third annual “Diversity Week” last week. The week featured a variety of on-campus events sponsored by the various minority groups and organizations the school recognizes. Among these are the Latino/a Law Students Association, the Black Law Students Association, the Asian-Pacific Law Students Association, the Middle-Eastern and South Asian Law Students Association, the Women’s Caucus, and the Lambda Law Students Association.
Members of all of these organizations were present at the big Diversity Dinner that ended the week’s festivities on Saturday night. The dinner was co-sponsored by the McGeorge Student Bar Association’s Diversity Committee, and was attended by a mix of races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and, of course, genders. My observation was that no particular group (white Anglo-Saxon males most definitely included) appeared to be either in the majority or the minority of those in attendance.
That fact alone seemed to mark progress of a sort, at least in my mind. In earlier years, McGeorge might have been hard pressed even to accumulate a group of similarly diverse students and faculty, let alone have enough of each identity to make majority status impossible to define.
But my observation was soon eclipsed by the remarks of one of the speakers at the event.
“Diversity,” he said, “refers to all of us. We’re all diverse, in one way or another.” He went on to describe the kinds of differences that mark us as individuals. He included in his list religious and cultural differences, political identities, age, sex, and national origin, just to name the more obvious (more obvious in one sense, in another, perhaps less so).
In the current politically-correct lexicon, “diversity” is the way minority status in America is identified, and in the nation’s recent history, minority status has not been a designation to celebrate, having been reserved for groups whose members have suffered or are suffering discrimination in some de facto, if not de jure, sense.
Therefore, most male Caucasians, even those of Armenian heritage like me, would not normally be considered to be members of a minority group. We aren’t sufficiently “diverse” in the commonly accepted definition of the word. We may be too small an ethnic group to qualify for inclusion as a distinctly diverse ethnicity. Or maybe the discrimination that many of our forebearers suffered – not just in Turkey, where over a million were massacred in the first genocide of the twentieth century, but in the early years of American migration, when parts of communities were literally designated as “Armenians only” (nearby Fresno was one such community) – was too long ago to justify continued recognition.
And maybe it’s that latter point that suggests real progress. For if we are all diverse, as the speaker at the dinner stated, then maybe diversity is no longer a meaningful means of discussing the inherent differences that exist amongst and between us.
Maybe we have reached (or at least are reaching) a point in the development of our society where prejudices are a thing of the past and the need to recognize minority status no longer exists, because no one group, no individual who is identified as being a member of any group, has reason to feel less accepted than anyone else.
Maybe that is the point the speaker was making. We’re all diverse, because we are all uniquely different, and our differences are cause for celebration, not discrimination.
Ah, if it could only be so. But, of course, it’s not, because racism, sexism and homophobia are still very much a plague on our land.
True, we elected a black man as our president, but no sooner was he inaugurated than the attacks against him began. To be sure, some of those attacks are purely political; many Republicans refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of any Democrat who ascends to the presidency. But much of it has a racial undertone that is hard to ignore.
Racial prejudice is still a fact, albeit it is less obvious and less invidious than at any time in our history. It is now consigned to our inner cities, the remnants of the “Deep South,” and parts of rural America (where African-Americans are rarely seen, much less reside).
Sexism is also far less prevalent (at least in most business and professional settings) than at any other time in our history. We have had three female secretaries of State in the last 15 years and now have a female Speaker of the House. Two (and perhaps soon to be three?) members of our Supreme Court are women. More women are breaking through the glass ceilings in business and industry. Many more women are attending medical and law schools, with many more female doctors and lawyers serving their communities as a result. But we are still a largely male-dominant society, and true feminists are still regarded as radicals by many members of both genders in America today.
But perhaps the biggest area of continuing prejudice is with respect to sexual orientation. Gay and lesbian couples still engender scorn and are rejected by large segments of American society. Most of this prejudice comes from those over 30. Gen-Xers and Millennials are far less concerned about whether a person likes to sleep with people of their own gender or of the opposite gender.
Homophobia seems to have its roots in religious doctrines and teachings, which always seem to be hung up on sex in one way or another. It’s an odd effect of the deep faith that consumes the most religious in our society. They may say they hate the sin but love the sinner, but most of the faith-driven homophobia is rooted in the sense that sex is “supposed to be” between a man and a woman, and that it’s just “unnatural” for two men or two women to engage in sexual intimacy.
It’s a strange hang-up, especially when it is carried so far as to deny state-sanctioned marriage to those who want to express their love in the most traditional of ways.
And so, we may all be diverse, but some, sadly, are still more diverse than others.