What is diversity?
Diversity is often desired to gain knowledge and understanding of others who are different from us with the intention of increasing creativity and innovation. But does diversity guarantee that outcome? Is it enough to have students from different backgrounds in the same school? Does this proximity lead to change in core beliefs? NO! This is a fundamental flaw in our thinking. In many ways, that proximity can lead to polarization by reinforcing deeply entrenched beliefs. We often forget the powerful effect of the subconscious mind on emotions and behaviors. We forget the role of culture!
Diversity is not just the beauty of different colors or sizes or shapes; it is a purposeful process of transforming blissful ignorance into understanding and appreciation of the contextual nature of culture and linguistics. Dr. Milton Bennett eloquently described the stages of cultural integration. Unfortunately, most of us are in the “denial of difference stage: the inability to admit cultural differences…” manifesting in a “tendency to dehumanize outsiders” by denying their culture.
In some areas, we have succeeded in replicating the demographic makeup of society, but not in appreciating the inherent beauty and contribution of different cultures. These minority cultures are pressured to assimilate, rather than acculturate, to gain acceptance into the larger society. Despite their assimilation, these cultures are still denied equity, access, and justice.
Social justice has become a four-letter word. It is no longer a compelling incentive for change. I see people cringe or roll their eyes at the mention of such an anti-Darwinist concept. However, shifting demographics and technological advancement have made our world smaller by increasing global interactions and communication. We are now connected through the virtual world. This is disrupting business as usual– issues of access, equity, and justice are ubiquitous.
Our global interconnectivity has become a powerful force, providing both compelling economic and political incentives to be inclusive and appreciate the value and contributions of other cultures. It also highlights the importance of developing multi-cultural perspectives to build stronger, collaborative relationships. The election of President Obama is a good illustration of that point and a reminder of our changing demographics.
As we grapple with our reactive educational and health care delivery systems, as well as their draconian policies, we should keep in mind that 55-60% of health outcomes are determined by socio-environmental factors, in other words society, or rather the culture of our society. (It is disillusioning to know that my twenty-plus years as a physician taking care of patients accounted for only 15% of their health outcomes. Perhaps, health outcomes would improve if providers were able to spend more time listening to their patients with the added flexibility to prescribe exercise and a gym membership instead of medications that far too often do more harm than good.)
I see the urgency to develop not just cultural pluralism, but multi-cultural perspectives where inclusion is the rule. Failure to act will continue the cycle and increase the burgeoning educational, health, and economic gaps between the social classes and ethnic groups.
One cannot learn if one is not healthy, physically and mentally. Without education, we doom many children and families to develop in isolated, unhealthy environments full of lost hopes and dreams, essentially negating our efforts to increase diversity in the workforce and elsewhere.
Failure To Listen #FailureToListen
Twitter handle @aangryblacklady
Bennett, Milton J. “Towards a Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity” in R. Michael Paige, ed. Education for the Intercultural Experience. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press, 1993
Bennett, Janet M. “Cultural Marginality: Identity Issues in Intercultural Training,” in R. Michael Paige, ed. Education for the Intercultural Experience. Milton J.Bennett and Janet M. Bennett, 2000.