Friday, June 30, 2017

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: The D-Word

When asked about the inspiration for the diversity in the casting of the new Spider-Man Homecoming film, the producer Amy Pascal, answered “I would say the inspiration for it was reality.”

The word “diversity” engenders groans for some, inspiration for others, and confusion for many. It’s a word that some see as part of their identity and others find exclusionary. It’s a word that helps us understand our countries greatest struggles, failures and triumphs.

In early human civilization, visual markers like hair color and other cultural expressions like clothing were important ways to identify who was in a tribe and who was in a different tribe. This identification was often critical for the survival of a tribe. This is the frame that evolutionary biologist use to help us understand some of our instincts that bring us to stereotypes and prejudicial thinking.

Embracing diversity goes against some of our more primal instincts and in many ways makes creating a peaceful society more difficult. Consider the biblical story of the Tower Of Babel. God saw that people were making a tower and realized that when people had one language, nothing would be out of their reach. So he made it so they couldn’t understand each other and spread them across the earth.

People have understood for more time in our history than not that diversity makes life more difficult. Examples of people trying to make away with diversity are seen in the history of almost every culture. It’s not just in the Nazi Holocaust. It’s the cleansing cleaning in Georgia in the 1990s, and Mao Zedung’s murder of decedents. In every single era of American history we see effort to tamp down diversity from the Americanization of Native Americans, the discriminations of Irish immigrants, laws that limited marriage to being between white men and women and the current wave of anti-Muslim xenophobia.

Guess what? A lack of diversity in some ways makes teaching easier. If every single student in your class is at the same reading level, then you don’t have to spend as much times creating reading groups. If every single student in your class were on the same club soccer team, teaching soccer as a PE unit would be easier to instruct since many basics would be well established. And if every single student came from the same cultural background, lessons in social studies would be a lot more straightforward since all of the students would be coming to class with the same perspective.

If every music student came in with the same level of musical skills and the same learning styles, I could probably get them to perform more difficult and technically impressive music than with my current cohort of students.

Efforts to create a less diverse society have failed over and over again due to the tremendous efforts by courageous individuals that have inspired other individuals to embrace their own authentic identity. As our human society evolves, it has become unethical and immoral for education to not reflect the progress in our world to create more a diverse and meaningful educational experience.

You can put your head in the sand, and move into a gated community, only hang out with people who go to your same church, and try your best to only be with people that are just like you. You can try, but it’s a loosing battle. You want to have kids? They will likely mess up your perfectly homogenous existence. You want to make money? You will probably have to deal with people who aren’t like you. You want to experience art and culture? When you take away all of the foods, and television shows, that are influences by other cultures, there’s not a lot left. Forget music. It’s nigh impossible find a song to rock out to that isn’t an amalgamation of different cultures.

As the producer spoke about, diversity is reality. Our reality. To ignore what is the current state of our world is to reject what is factual, what is real and what is our shared reality.

Because you can’t ignore diversity is not the reason to embrace diversity. It’s a reason to stop trying to ignore it. The reason to lean into what is different is multifaceted and tremendously rewarding and meaningful.

When we think about the different facets of diversity in the human experience, the list speaks to every facet of the human experiences: race, ethnic, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, socioeconomic, biological sex, geography, learning styles, political beliefs, heritage, careers, hobbies, philosophy, religion, exceptionalities, ideas, and physical ability.

In these ways, and even more, we are different from the each other. We rely on what is similar to find human connections initially, but it is what is diverse in our interactions that inspire thinking, interplay, conversations and the building of human relationships.

We come to a sense of comfort, a feeling of ease when we are with others that allow us to be ourselves, people who embrace our differences. Whenever we hide or hold part of ourselves back there is at the least mild discomfort, and at its worst, great pain and depression.

When we are told that parts of our own diversity are inferior, and not to be expressed with pride, it builds a level of insecurity that is far too often expressed through intolerance, and meanness. Our work to embrace diversity is as much about ourselves as the people we encounter in our lives.

Yes, it is work. It is difficult, it is inconvenient, and it is complicated. Being brave enough to embrace what makes you different, things that you were told aren’t right, is very difficult and it can feel very lonely. It means going up against the expectations of friends, norms of society and the words of the ones who claim to love us. Embracing diversity in others means learning to embrace discomfort, and seeing for people for who they truly are, not for what they are in our eyes. It means that we go beyond live and let live and move to truly living together.

On the other side of this work is great joy, unimaginable beauty, and a society that is stronger together.

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