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Don Roach: Diversity is Overrated

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Don Roach says diversity for the sake of diversity is mindless.

Diversity as we have come to define it is overrated. Way overrated. I read through GoLocal’s thorough analysis of diversity throughout the state’s high schools and the question that kept coming back to me was the simple - who cares?

Who cares if one school has 90% whites, 5% Blacks, and 5% everything else? Who cares if another school has 50% Hispanics, 30% blacks, and 20% everything else? Are we to laud a school because its demographics happen to be more colorful than another’s? High-five yourself Providence, you’ve got diverse schools!! Doesn’t matter that most are failing to actually educate their diverse populations, hang your hat on diversity!

But let’s step back from Rhode Island school diversity and look at the concept of diversity itself. I’ve always had a problem with seeking diversity for the sake of diversity. We live in America where we value people as the cliché goes who “pull themselves up from their bootstraps” and make a life for themselves. We believe America is the place where anyone can and has done this. Sure, it’s not as simple as that but that’s the ideal. Yet, we also have a nagging history of being some of the most racist and insensitive people on the planet. It’s a paradox, but it’s our paradox.

For instance, I remember being around 9 or 10 years old in the late 80s and walking down a street in my mostly white neighborhood. As I walked past a woman she clenched her purse, and quickly shifted away from me. She looked spooked, as if she’d seen a ghost, even though it was the middle of a sunny summer day and I was just a little kid. Perhaps she needed to have more interactions with people who didn’t look like her to know that not all of us black people are purse snatchers and even those of that are believe city streets are better places to snatch purses than a mostly white neighborhood in broad daylight.

I relay that story only because we’re all very aware of how racism has affected our world and we’re reminded often by good intentioned but off-base Americans everyday that one of the things we need to do about it is make sure that our schools are diverse. And in so doing, they overrate diversity because the place too much value on skin color.

Let me pose this question to you – is a school with 100 white kids better than a school with 70 white kids, 10 black kids, and 20 Hispanic kids? You’ve got no other information than that to answer the question, so I’d like you to answer it.

If you said yes, you’re wrong. If you said no, you’re wrong too . The answer is – who knows?! Just because a school has ‘diversity’ doesn’t make it better or worse than a school that doesn’t. In fact, lauding diversity the way we have perpetuates much of the now latent racism that still exists today.

If you applaud melanin diversity for the sake of melanin diversity, you’re only doing a skin deep analysis. You’re not talking about the performance of those schools and you could be applauding a school that is ‘diverse’ but performs poorly – hello, Providence. You also teach young people that diversity is something that we should strive for without giving them a reason why. Also, you don’t look at economic diversity, male/female diversity, or any number of other traits that one could review to give a more accurate portrayal of diversity.

And that’s the kicker, no one ever tells you why diversity is a good ideal but only that we should seek it. Well let me make a case for why we need diversity and hopefully do a better job than many well-intentioned people.

We’re in a global economy with many different and differing cultures and if your workforce is made up of a singular minded culture it’s likely that the company will have difficulty interacting and competing on the global stage.

Consumers do like to interact with people that look like them and share similar backgrounds. It’s not as though they’ll refuse to be served by someone who doesn’t, but companies can often gain a competitive advantage by employing a workforce that mirrors the demographics of the marketplace.

Another would-be benefit of diversity is creating an atmosphere where different perspectives bring different ideas. Take someone from Kenya, South Africa, Australia, and Brazil put them in a room and ask them to solve a problem is a different exercise than putting 4 people from Brazil and asking them to solve the same problem. With different backgrounds come different experiences and often those differences lead to different solutions put forth by the different racial/ethnic groups tasked to answer a question. In a homogenous setting the likelihood that one will get a multitude of differing ideas is less likely because of the backgrounds of the people involved. That isn’t to say a homogenous group can’t come up with the ‘right’ answer or that a diverse group will, it’s only to say that within a diverse environment a likely outcome is a thorough discussion of a number of different ideas which could lead to the best idea resulting.

In my opinion, that’s the point behind diversity – serving a global market and creating a culture where a number of ideas are explored to reach the best possible solution. Diversity for the sake of diversity is mindless and should not be lauded on its own.


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