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Diversity Training--Has it Backfired?

Updated on September 7, 2013

Pluralism--a New Word for an Old Concept

When my kids were in school, there was a new social program afoot called “pluralism.” In effect, it was the same wolf in sheep’s clothing called in the past by many other names: Cultural Studies; Cross-Cultural Studies; International Friendship Day, and so forth.

While the goals were admirable, namely the learning about other cultures to better understand and appreciate all peoples, from what I have seen, it has not worked.

Instead of getting people to see each other as humans first, all members of ONE race--the human race, it has actually served the opposite, by focusing on all the differences, and that has driven people further apart.

Sure, there are benefits of broadening peoples’ palates in appreciation of different foods, appreciation of natural beauty in other parts of the world, but in the end, the focus remains on differences.

Different Traditions Abound

For example, the Asians may celebrate a given holiday with this celebration and these items of clothing and that ritual; the Italians have different foods and dress; the Blacks have their own culture passed down through millennia; Mexicans have yet other traditions; the Whites are a mish-mash of whatever their individual heritages may be…and so on.

Seen through the perspective of time, these wildly mismatched sets of traditions, (to which each cling firmly), are exactly the root of the problem called racism. In countries such as the United States, often referred to as a “melting pot.” there seems to be a great deal of racist undercurrent. Despite the gains of the civil rights movement, and surface changes, many made by laws and not the will of those most prejudiced, there is still a problem, and I see that problem as the continued emphasis on all the differences between the races and their respective traditions.

Don’t get me wrong--racism flows both ways--it’s not only white against black, as is the common perception, but many other races against each other as well.

Melting Pot?

Were we to instead focus on the reality of our common humanity, I believe we’d see genuine change. Never mind the divisive traditions--look instead to the fact that we all are mammals; we all love, we all can be hurt; we all bleed red blood and share the same blood types; we all need food to eat, shelter to live, and a means to provide for our families. .

Instead of a melting pot, we have instead a collection of sub-societies, who tend to group together and live in areas with those like them. Hence, you have large metropolitan cities that have a “Chinatown,” a “black neighborhood,” an “Italian section,” and so forth. They all cling to what makes them different from each other, and this does not bode well for getting along with others.

Self-Segregation in Action

I have a perfect example of how this happens. When I was in high school, there were numerous fights the first week of school--mostly among the boys. Why did this happen? Well, it was because numerous groups were thrown together when they did not want to be there. The school that year was brand new. My class was the first to go all the way through. The upperclassmen were pulled from other schools to satisfy the new school’s district. Those kids were unhappy that they were not going to graduate from their original school. In addition, within this school’s district was a heavily black area where poverty was common and this was not a good mix with the kids from the other side of the district where families were much better off.

In my journalism class was a boy who was present at the mandatory meeting called by the dean of boys. Many things were pointed out, and rules and expectations established at that meeting. But the point most important to the theme I am addressing is this summary of the underlying problem as reported in the school paper by my classmate.

When the dean took the stage, he said, "If I got up here and pointed out sections of this auditorium and said, 'all the Black kids sit over there; all the White kids sit there; and all the Hispanic kids sit there; all the Asian kids sit there,' you'd all be mad, right?" A chorus of "Yeah, yeah," "right" "F* yeah" and so on rose up. The dean paused, then said, "Well, look at yourselves--that's exactly how you ARE sitting!!

Racism is Taught, not Genetic

We are, therefore, not a ‘melting pot,’ but a simmering brew of volatile chemicals, which when mixed become explosive. We can change this by changing our expectations and our teaching. Stop the focus on ‘diversity,’ it serves only to divide.

Teach commonalities instead. Racism is learned, not inherent in our genetic structure. It is taught. We see young children of various races and mixed races playing happily together. It is not until the parents intervene and find some ridiculous excuse why the child should not socialize with “that kind” of person that the problems begin.

This is what must stop. And it stops with teaching commonality, not diversity.


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  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Rebecca,

    Thank you. I'm glad you liked the article. And I understand your point, and the intention of the diversity training. It is noble and admirable. However, I do believe it is being approached the wrong way.

    There is too much focus on what is different, instead of on what is common. There should be more emphasis on "another way to celebrate," or "another way to do this task," instead of, "The Italians do this; the Jewish people do that; the Africans to this other," and so on. I believe it would be best to find the common humanity first: i.e., study the underlying reasons why the cultures developed differently, and only then does it become obvious why differences arose, depending perhaps upon needs based on climate, availability of certain goods or topography.

    I do think it is possible to overcome racism; sadly, though we've made gains, I do not expect to see it eradicated within my lifetime.

    Thank you so much for your well-thought-out comment.

  • Rebecca Furtado profile image

    Rebecca Furtado 4 years ago from Anderson, Indiana

    This is a good piece. I understand your point, but the point of diversity exposure is so people can learn to respect differences and find common ground. American always has had ethinic neighborhoods. These change in what group they represent , when the old group gets enough economic power to assimilate. Best part is we are all getting distinctively American culture , by the mishmash of the rest. Racism is a little different. No one changes the color of their skin, but with more teachers, doctors, and other people the common man respects are people of color , racism will diminish.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello drbj,

    I have rarely seen a better approach to such an issue than that which was used by that dean; that's why it has stuck with me these many years.

    I thank you much for your comment and praise.

  • drbj profile image

    drbj and sherry 4 years ago from south Florida

    That school dean was a clever fellow who offered a realistic approach to help his students understand their inherent racism. And you, Liz, wrote a thoughtful hub on the subject. Well done!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Suzie HQ--You've been lucky to be able to travel about and see so many cultures and gain an appreciation for them all, and it has obviously served you well in your personal life to boot. I fear I must agree with your bleak forecast, though, as it seems there is some segment that profits from retaining the unrest. So aggravating.

    Thanks much for the votes and share!

    Hi, WiccanSage--Tossed salad--good analogy, indeed! You are right about assimilation causing us to lose the individual cultures; (sort of like the Borg, if you are familiar with Star Trek: "You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.").

    However, I find it to be a double-edged sword...there are both good and bad effects from retaining all the individual practices.. Somewhere, there must be a balance.

    Hello, MsDora--I know what you mean. As a kid, they were just fun things to do--like a party, or a dress-up-and-pretend occasion. But as I got older, and began to see some of the attitudes of the adults (who should know better) behind all of this, I became disillusioned.

    Thanks so much for stopping by and your input.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

    MsLizzy, some of your thoughts are exactly like mine. There was always something about the celebrations of identities that I did not like--that fact that they highlighted the differences. You expressed it better than I could. Thank you!

  • WiccanSage profile image

    Mackenzie Sage Wright 4 years ago

    Very good approach to such a sensitive topic. I've always liked the "tossed salad" analogy better than the "melting pot", I always feel like assimilation just causes us to lose the beautiful, diverse cultural practices and traditions and makes things rather bland.

  • Suzie HQ profile image

    Suzanne Ridgeway 4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

    Hi DzyMsLizzy,

    Another well penned thought provoking article from you. My passion for sport and travel have seen me forge friendships that have lasted decades with every color, religion and background of which i am eternally grateful for. it has carved the person I am today and we all have positives and negatives within our cultures. Coming from a small island with so much history of Racism within two religious backgrounds it has been part of life for many years, particularly in Northern Ireland. My partner is from the North and I am from the South. We are different religions and both from middle class backgrounds yet our day to day living could not have been more different. Violence, danger and racism were part of his daily life unfortunately.

    Will it ever end globally, I cannot see it. We are all humans as you say, living on one planet and need to learn commonalities.

    Up, interesting, useful, shared.