Thursday, August 21, 2014

On Diversity

                Yesterday, my office had its annual ‘diversity training,’ in which the message ‘don’t be rude to people just because they are superficially different than you’ was clumsily presented for our consideration. Because, I guess, if we somehow missed the message that every piece of media in this country has been screaming at us for the past few decades, an hour’s review of company policy will do the trick.
                Okay, to be fair, if you do encounter actually discriminatory behavior, it’s good to know the procedure for dealing with it internally.
                Another valuable lesson we learned is that Orientals are stupid. No, seriously; that’s the takeaway. They explained that stereotypes are always ‘wrong’ and that one stereotype is that Oriental people are smart. So, apparently, to avoid that harmful stereotype, we must assume they are stupid. Diversity ftw!
                On that subject, one of the videos they showed us was a brief clip of a talk being given by a charismatic gentleman from Vietnam. For the first part of the video, he spoke with a very thick ‘Asian’ accent, only to switch to perfectly normal English for the second part. We were then asked to consider why we assumed an Oriental person would speak with an Oriental accent.
                I pointed out that we assumed he spoke with an accent because he was, in fact, speaking with an accent. Apparently, proper diversity means assuming that anyone with an accent is faking it in an attempt to be amusing. At least, I can’t conceive any other lesson to take from the video (I was told that we weren’t supposed to think about it that deeply. Alrighty then).
                The whole ‘diversity’ thing rubs me the wrong way, and not just because in practical terms it usually translates to “confess your blood guilt, white-Christian-male!” In the first place, I need to point out that ‘diversity’ is not a noun of value. ‘Diversity’ is not positive and ‘uniformity’ negative, as ‘strength’ is positive and ‘weakness’ is negative, or ‘beauty’ is positive and ‘ugliness’ is negative. The mere fact of being diverse does not make a thing better or worse in any way.
                For instance, imagine two groups of six executives: one is comprised entirely of white men. The other has one white man, one black man, one Oriental woman, one Indian woman, one Hispanic homosexual man, and one Jewish homosexual woman. Only with the information provided, can you tell me which group is likely to come up with a more profitable idea than the other?
                Of course not! Because none of the factors listed are remotely relevant to the task at hand. For all we know, the ‘uniform’ group is made up of Nobel Prize nominees and Mensa members, while the ‘diverse’ group is comprised of a variety of deadbeat executive offspring riding high on a wave of nepotism. Or the reverse could be true, and the diverse group could be comprised entirely of geniuses (except the Oriental woman of course, because that would be a hateful stereotype) while the uniform group was made up of janitors from a special needs work program who snuck into the executive office on a whim.
                You simply don’t know. ‘Diversity’ tells you nothing about a person’s skills, interests, education, background, intelligence, thought-process, experience, integrity, or any other element that actually matters in business or society.
                Incidentally, it doesn’t even give you an idea of how truly diverse a group actually is. For all we know, the group containing the white man, black man, Oriental woman, etc. all grew up in the same town, went to the same college, subscribes to the same beliefs, vote for the same candidates, watch the same shows, and eat at the same restaurant. The only thing you know about them is that they all come from different ancestors (and two of them have different sexual habits). The group may be, in fact, as bland and uniform as drywall, once you get passed the superficial facts of sex and skin color.
                On the other hand, the group comprised entirely of white men may include one man who is an ex-Belgian Special Forces Commando haunted by the terrible things he had to do in Zaire, another man who spent twenty years in Greenpeace until he was kidnapped by a drug cartel, had his left thumb chopped off and mailed to his family, then escaped by tearing a guard’s throat out with his teeth, another man who was an Olympic curling champion from Miami despite the fact that he lost his left eye in a training accident and who regularly volunteers at children's hospitals, another who is struggling to decide between his love for the curling champion’s daughter and his dedication to the Buddhist way of radical detachment, another who was born in the Alaskan frontier where he killed and ate his first grizzly at the age of five, and another who graduated from Harvard business school.
                My point isn’t that ‘diversity,’ as it is generally thought of by our current society, is bad. My point is that it’s not good. It simply doesn’t matter. No group, no organization, no community is better or worse for having members showcasing a wide variety of different ethnic and religious groups. Diversity, as we generally think of it, is neither an advantage nor a defect; only superficial nonsense. It’s a big fuss over nothing.
                Though, I must add that I think if it does have any moral character, it must be a bad one. Focusing on diversity necessarily means emphasizing the various boxes people can be imagined to fit into, and though the ostensible point is to encourage us to look beyond these boxes, I think the practical upshot is more often that the habit of lumping people together into faceless categories is reinforced. I heartily agree with Justice Clarence Thomas in his assessment that it makes no sense to try to get beyond issues of race by constantly talking about it and emphasizing it. I mean, does it really help us look beyond differences in appearance and ancestry by making the presence of such differences a major selling point of your organization? “Look at how many blacks and Hispanics and women we have! Now if you make an issue of their sex or race, we’ll fire your ass. Isn’t it great to work in such diverse company?”
                With regards to corporations, the only thing that should matter is a person’s qualification for the position, not an eager desire to be ‘diverse’ and ‘inclusive.’ If you end up with all white men, or all black men, or all Orientals (blindly advancing the racist stereotype of their vast brain power in the process), then so what? As long as you select for qualifications and no other reason, you haven’t done anything wrong.
                With regards to people, there’s a largely-forgotten notion that encompasses all you need to know to navigate a diverse community: ‘courtesy.’ Just be polite, for goodness' sake! Don’t try to list all the different boxes of people you can think of and resolve to acknowledge their ‘okayness:’ just learn your manners and use them. It’s a one-size-fits-all solution. Don’t think about what box a person may or may not fit into, just be polite and courteous.
                Personally, I have all the social skills of an autistic rat snake, so I’m probably not the best person to be offering advice on this point. But it seems to me that all this talk of diversity and inclusiveness which is drilled into our heads over and over and OVER again is not only clumsy, ill-conceived, and often counterproductive, but unnecessary. Why go through all the complex sorting of people into a variety of different categories and then explaining how those categories are used against them, and then emphasizing that you really shouldn’t do the thing we just spent ten minutes going over? Instead, just say something like “this is the way a gentleman treats others. This company only employs gentlemen.”
                This policy worked well for Robert E. Lee. Do you think you know better than Robert E. Lee? (dials) "Hello? State of Virginia? I'd like to inform you of someone who hates Robert E. Lee. Yes, I'll hold for the National Guard."  

“We have but one rule here, and it is that every student must be a gentleman…what do you mean I’m fired? I only said Mr. Sakura showed great intelligence…'racial slur'?!”

Vivat Christus Rex!

No comments:

Post a Comment