Reflection on the Definition of Diversity

One widely used definition of diversity, is as follows.

The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.

It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.  (Oregon DHS, 2010)

Respect for diversity, I believe, has to start with the individual who is seeking to build this acceptance and respect.  That individual needs to assess their own background and differences, to see the inclinations to prejudice that may exist.  That awareness lends them more success in efforts to build a safe, positive and nurturing environment where other differences can be explored.

Banks and Banks (2010) point out the sociology of groups which explains how human beings seek to define their in- and out-groups as a means of defining identity.  The problem naturally comes when group tensions arise from competitions or disagreements.  However, diversity as formulated above urges instead that differences between individuals be our focus and that we embrace and celebrate dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.

I like the focus on the individual in the above definition and heed well the necessary caution that groups are not a determiner of behavior but a predictor (Banks & Banks, 2010, p. 13).  I think multicultural education fails if it loses this focus on the individual, namely individual as impacted by their group-of-origin, but not necessarily bound to that group for all future behaviors.

For example, when acknowledging different races in the classroom, the group African-American, as a truly informing label for members of that group is in question.  One could further ask if students in the classroom that fall into that group are:

  • recent immigrants from Africa (a large continent with numerous macro- and micro- cultures),
  • from the east coast, west coast, southern, or northern parts of the U.S, and thus familiar with various regional flavors of racism and prejudice
  • members of some other differentiating group

As I reflect on the above definition, I realize that sensitivity to diversity starts with me, and that effective embracing of the individual means not relying on the diversity group they are in, but endeavoring to push beyond that and learn details about the individual which happens to have affinities with the group.

 

References

Banks, J.A., & Banks, C. A. M. (2010).  Multicultural Education:  Issues and Perspectives.  (7th ed.)  John Wiley & Sons.

Oregon Department of Human Services. (2010). Diversity:  Definitions of Diversity and Cultural Competence.  Retrieved January 11, 2011 from http://www.oregon.gov/DHS/aboutdhs/diversity/definitions.shtml

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