What is Diversity?
by: David Ortiz
I sat down in the coffee shop, my foot tapping with the seconds as they flowed away. I had work to do that night, and plenty of it – but while I sat there, impatiently waiting for my cupful of caffeine, my eyes strayed across a sign: support gay marriage, support all families.
What actually is diversity? This concept that we all hear and see and say a thousand times everyday, what is it? How would you, my dear reader, explain it, should an alien from Mars come down and dissect human language and thinking with you as a sample?
My coffee came, I got up, took a sip, shouldered my bag, and walked towards the library; my actions those five thousand others had performed that very same night, and the night before, and would the night after.
As I walked towards Davis Library, my eyes fell across other manifestations of local “diversity”. Over on a bench was a man dressed in exotic colors, next to other men and women in exotic, hipster skinny-jeans. By the cubes, an African-American stood next to a Hispanic woman who stood next to an Asian male. Through the windows of the Union, I could see more groups of students, all filled with different races and cultures. At one table I could clearly see a small group of Islamic women; at another, a group of what looked like Protestants, thumbing through thick Bibles over steaming cups of coffee.
I walked through the doors of Davis Library, and saw the same phenomenon, repeated, only here hundreds sat at desks staring with the same tired eyes into the same dimly-glowing screens. African-Americans, Caucasians, Indians, Asians, Pacific Islanders – Davis is global. This university is, unquestionably, racially diverse. It is, unquestionably, culturally diverse. And these forms of diversity have great value.
What makes racial diversity valuable is the multiplicity of perspectives that it affords. To build a campus, a world, that brings together decidedly dissimilar cultures and experiences has always remained a laudable goal. Indeed, if one looks back through human history, one sees that the great civilizations of the past achieved precisely this racial and cultural diversity. Alexander the Great, Rome, Constantinople, and our own nation bear extraordinary witness to the power of such diversity to enrich a community. It is the great triumph of our nation that, in the furnace of civil war and oppression, we have recognized the inherent equality of all human beings, no matter the color of their skin nor the beliefs of the creed they profess.
And here at UNC, as a short walk through the quad will easily demonstrate, we are indeed racially, culturally, and religiously diverse. And this fact is not only a good thing – but a beautiful thing, to be cherished. Statistics support observation. Roughly speaking, 70% of the school is White, 9% Black or African-American, 8% Asian, 7% Hispanic/Latino, and less than 1% American Indian or Pacific Islander, among others. Clearly, a certain racial group predominates; yet, clearly there is a great deal of diversity as well.
But I question if such diversity is by itself everything. What do we base true diversity upon? Race – but race will fade in time. We will all someday die, no matter our skin, and then we will either live in some spiritual afterlife without bodies or not exist at all. Culture – but cultures arise and fall over the course of centuries. In any case, to absorb the full diversity of a single culture lies beyond all but a Milton or a Dante. Religion – but, like culture, religions wax and wane. And religion is primarily a unifying force, one that binds men and women together in a common belief concerning the divine. Each of these three create a certain kind of diversity: but each is more a manifestation of true diversity rather than the thing that makes us diverse.
What truly makes us diverse is the unique individuality of each person. Each human being represents a life, a lens, a perspective, that cannot be replicated or replaced. We all live different lives, and within ourselves make so many decisions, think so many thoughts, and dream so many dreams that we are each entirely different than everyone else. And, consequently, this diversity of people – their histories, thoughts, desires, actions – makes itself felt in our choice of religion and beliefs. Consequently, it assigns value to the color of our skin and the culture of our birth. And it does not change: it has always been this way, since the human beings arrived on the scene, and always will be.
So, to return to UNC, if we wish to truly experience diversity, we don’t necessarily have to concern ourselves with all the dressings of race and culture and creed. We have only to look towards the person closest to us. Although this diversity cannot be measured by statistics, although this diversity occurs naturally and independently of our efforts, nevertheless it holds immense value. Everyone is different, everyone is “special” or unique because of that difference, and whoever said that was another way of saying no one was is idiotic. True diversity cannot be measured, so why do we spend so much time and effort to do so?
Nietzsche once wrote that, in our heart of hearts, every human being knows they are unique and irreplaceable, never given a second life. I don’t agree with much in Nietzsche, because much of it is insane, but here he rings true.